The plot of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet has been one of 2020’s most intriguing mysteries.

The bar for Nolan’s new film is higher than it was for Inception and Interstellar. Plus, there are a lot of details and Settings Nolan didn’t mention, so those who watched it for the first time probably had a lot of questions in their heads.
What’s going on with time travel?
What are the main characters up to?
What are they doing here?What are you doing there again…

Don’t worry, don’t worry, Let me give you an idea of what the Tenet is all about.

First of all, let’s make it clear that the core of the Tenet is not “time travel”?


In a big sense, Nolan’s Tenet is a very tacky story of changing time and space, going back to the past, influencing the future, and saving the world, in the same way that The Supreme Treasure takes out the Moonbox or the Avengers travel back in time.
But rather than simply “Let’s do a time travel,” Nolan has carefully choreograph every step and depth of time travel, giving the time travel time an “explanation” for the first time.
The key to the film’s “passage” is the revolving gate, which, according to the film’s explanation, is a dark technology taught to the villain by a future person, who can “reverse engineer” a person or object.

First, in the normal world of ordinary people, the timeline is from “now” to “future,” and people are from “now” to “future.”Through the revolving gate, man becomes from “present” to “past”, and in the flow of time becomes the action of going upstream (so the whole world becomes inverted).After going upstream and returning to the “upstream” (the past), people will go through the reverse of the gate again, return to the state pointing to the future, and complete the whole “crossing” movement.In Nolan’s design, the concept of “back to the past” was broken down into three concrete actions: turning, going backwards in time, and turning again.And most of the story before the final climax of the film is based on these three steps in the presentation and explanation.

For example, in the second half, after Kate was injured, the male protagonist and his party used the revolving door in the villain warehouse to reverse send her back to a week ago. However, they could no longer turn back through the same revolving door, so they had to go to Oslo airport to use another revolving door (thus meeting with themselves a week ago).
On the basis of understanding this setting, we can distinguish the simultaneous problems of “forward action” and “reverse action” in the film;You can also understand when you need an oxygen mask and when you don’t (only when you’re in reverse, not after the second turn).
So, let’s comb through the hero’s storyline a little bit.


From the beginning, the hero received the task, to investigate the reverse bullet, and then the target on the Russian oligarch Andrei.In order to get close to Andre, he had to go through his wife Kate.In order to win Kate’s support, the hero decides to help her steal a painting stored in the warehouse of Oslo airport, where she is then attacked by the mysterious man.At this point in the story, the basic clue is still very clear. It is almost a conventional spy film story.Although there is a reverse adversary, it does not particularly affect the understanding of the story.

Next comes the “Axis of Symmetry” : the hero grabs the box containing plutonium 241 on the highway, but Andre grabs it and then the heroine is injured. Andre gathers the “algorithm” and the world is in danger.This is the midpoint of the film, and the second half of the story enters into a large display of the “reverse world”, which also corresponds to the first half structurally.Men in order to save the woman, choose to go through the revolving door.
At this time, there is a small episode. The hero wants to get back the box, so he drives in the reverse time flow to prevent the box from being taken away, which actually prompts the villain to get the box.
Because “What Happens happens”, What happens happens, and nothing can change it.

The chase before the axis of symmetry, and the chase after the axis of symmetry, is the same thing forward and backward.Then the hero goes back to Oslo in reverse, and the first half of the Oslo airport is also the same incident in a different direction.
Next is the final climax scene, the villain is ready to go back to 10 days ago (that is, the opening attack on the Opera house) to commit suicide and destroy the world at the same time, so the hero and his party also go back to 10 days ago to stop the villain.The “algorithm” was dismantled at the last minute, and the story is over.

The action scenes in the first part correspond to the great battle at the end, the Oslo airport in the first half corresponds to the Oslo airport in the second half, the car chase in front of the midpoint corresponds to the car chase after the midpoint, and the Tenet completes a structure similar to the triple doll.
There are several key issues in this process, such as the fact that “going backwards” does not change the past.Just as the hero cannot recover the box in the reverse state, in the reverse time, human’s behavior is more like “doomed”, because human’s behavior is from “result” to “cause”, so “cause” is inevitable.

The person who “goes back” cannot change the past, but can only “explain it”.
For example, the hero went back to fight for the box, only to explain the sudden appearance of the car, explain why the box was taken away.Back at Oslo airport, only to explain the real identity of the man in black;And finally go back 10 days, only to explain why Andre disappeared and who jumped out of the boat.
Nolan is careful to avoid the logic of the grandfather paradox here: If we had gone back in time and killed our grandfather, we wouldn’t have been born to kill him.Nolan, through the “What Happens happens” principle, argues that we cannot go back and change What happened.
Therefore, for the film as a whole, future people can not go back to the present to destroy us.


Another problem is that after “going back in time”, there will be a conflict between the two of them.In the final climax, there are two female protagonists;At the same time, because the final battle of the wasteland and the attack of the opera House in the opening scene happened at the same time, in the opera house and the wasteland, there were also two male protagonists and two Niels.
According to the explanation in the film, the two of them cannot annihilate as long as they are not in direct contact, so it is safe for the man to fight with his heavily armed self at Oslo airport.But Nolan does not explicitly address the question of how two individuals can coexist in the same timeline, as long as they don’t meet.

In “Tenet,” Mr. Nolan has actually broken down the “back to the past,” in which time isn’t “going backwards,” but the hero is “going backwards.”So the whole story is still linear forward, which may not be easy for viewers who are used to going back in time and rewriting past genres to understand in the first place.

Compared with the layered structure shown in Inception, the structure shown in Tenet itself is not complicated, but obviously the temporal layer is more abstract than the spatial layer.And Nolan’s new way of understanding and looking at “time” in this structure is enough to give viewers a unique experience.


This, of course, has been accompanied by the renewal and experimentation of various shooting methods and techniques. In this sense, the value of “Tenet” is not in telling such a “complex” and “brain-burning” story.Instead, in Nolan’s own way, he explored richer expressive possibilities while challenging audiences’ viewing habits.
For Nolan, “Tenet” may really be the movie of the future.