Christopher Nolan’s movies are famous for playing with the audience’s perception of what is happening on screen. Tenet is the filmmaker’s latest, most ambitious attempt to give his own personal twist to the spy-thriller genre. In an interview, Nolan and the rest of the cast shared their thoughts on the new film, starting with the filmmaker explaining the meaning of the phrase ‘time inversion’ that audiences learned about in the trailer.
“This film is not a time-travel film. It deals with time and the different ways in which time can function. Not to get into a physics lesson, but inversion is this idea of material that has had its entropy inverted, so it’s running backwards through time, relative to us.”
When it comes to the idea of Time Inversion, that clears things up… we think. So it’s not time itself that is reversed, but a material, whether a thing or a person, that moves backward through regular time. If you are still fogged on the mechanics of the film, Nolan’s description of the movie’s main character, played by John David Washington, is more readily understandable.
“We’re dealing in a world of espionage, we’re dealing in a world of hidden identities. [John David] is playing an operative who is known by the term ‘Protagonist.’ Tenet is the name of the organization into which the Protagonist gets inducted. He is very much a presence at the heart of the film, but, unlike a Bond, he has a very warm emotional accessibility.”
A mysterious protagonist, and a story that plays fast and loose with the concept of linear time. Sounds like a standard Christopher Nolan high-concept thriller so far. But there is one more element missing from the puzzle. The glib side character whose duty it is to present exposition to the audience in an entertaining manner. In The Prestige it was Michael Caine. In Inception it was Tom Hardy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, while in the Dark Knight trilogy it was Morgan Freeman. This time around, Robert Pattinson seems to be playing such a character, who might be called Neil, a point Nolan himself does not seem too sure of.
“We think he may be called Neil. You never really quite know what’s going on with these identities.[Neil is a] slightly rascally character who operates within what they refer to as this twilight world of operatives in different secret services.”
Then there is Kenneth Branagh’s Russian agent character. The actor spoke about how much emphasis Nolan laid on making him realize he was playing an irredeemably evil character.
“He’s a baddie, there’s no question about that. When Chris cast me in the picture, he was at great pains to make sure that I understood that this character was unremittingly dark and that he was a pitiless, avaricious, mean, desperate, terrifyingly dangerous individual.”
Finally, we come to another significant character in the movie; the background landscape itself. Tenet features more real-world locations than any other Nolan movie, with shoots taking place across seven different countries. For Nolan, going to the physical location to shoot the scenes was an important method of adding authenticity to the film.
“I think if you’re working on a film where you come in on Tuesday and there’s a bluescreen and then you change it on Wednesday to a green screen, no one’s really going to care. But if [you are in] Tallinn in Estonia and then you get on a plane and you’re in Amalfi in Italy, it’s an incredible change of scene and brings with it a feeling that seeps into the movie.”
These quotes were first reported by Entertainment Weekly.