Christopher Nolan Offers New Details on ‘Tenet’ Story and What the Hell “Time Inversion” Even Means

     June 18, 2020

Have you heard about this movie Tenet? The massive sci-fi action blockbuster with the secret plot that doesn’t just mark the return of Christopher Nolan but also might save the theater industry? Yeah, it’s been in the news recently, which makes it even funnier that we still kind of don’t have a freaking clue what it’s about. However! In a recent EW cover story, Christopher Nolan got about as candid as Christopher Nolan will ever get, and along with comments from cast-members like Kenneth Branagh and Robert Pattinson, the story of Tenet becomes a smidge clearer.

First up is something resembling the skeleton of a synopsis from Branagh, who stops just short of calling Tenet a spiritual successor to past Nolan films like Memento, Interstellar, and Inception.


Image via Warner Bros.

“It’s an espionage piece that’s dealing with a global threat to the world,” says Branagh, 59. “A nuclear holocaust is not the greatest disaster that could befall the human race. Tenet discusses an even worse possibility, and it is wrapped up in this mind-boggling treatment of time that continues Chris Nolan’s preoccupations in films way back to Memento, through Interstellar and Inception.”

One of the biggest questions raised by the film’s trailers comes from the idea of “time inversion”, a plot device that seems to be driving a movie that Nolan adamantly describes as “not a time-travel film. The filmmaker did his best to better illustrate what the concept means, and it was…kind of helpful.


Image via Warner Bros.

“[Tenet] 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.”

Either way, what is very clear is that Tenet is an espionage film, although Nolan is quick to distance John David Washington‘s main character from your typical, emotionally-distant James Bond archetype.


Image via Warner Bros.

“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.”

The director is a little less clear about Pattinson’s role. “We think he might be called Neil,” Nolan says of the character. “You never really quite know what’s going on with these identities.”

The filmmaker also addressed something that eager fans did not see in any of the trailers: Aaron Taylor-Johnson. The Avengers: Age of Ultron star is prominent on the cast call sheet, but absent from all the teaser footage and promotional images.


Image via Warner Bros.

“Aaron Taylor-Johnson is indeed in the film,” says Nolan. “He’s an important part of the film. Yes, there are no photographs of him, this is true. He is briefly glimpsed in the [second] trailer. He’s also completely unrecognizable. There are all kinds of things that happen in terms of where the story goes as the film develops and where it winds up in the later stages that we don’t want to spoil for people.”

Whelp, there you have it. At the moment, Tenet is scheduled to hit theaters on July 30, two weeks after its original release date and one week after Disney’s Mulan takes the plunge. For more on the film, here’s Nolan on how it was made to be seen in a theater.

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