My theatrical viewing of Tenet a few weeks ago in a Flagstaff Harkins plex was a great thundering high. Big screen, booming sound, small buttered popcorn, extra-comfy rocking chair, first indoor viewing experience in over six months…mother!
Plus I wasn’t thrown by my all-but-complete inability to understand the particulars. (I’d absorbed the broad concepts in advance.) I knew going in that Tenet would defy understanding in the usual sense. I hate, hate, hate Nolan’s arrogant sound-design schemes. I couldn’t understand Tom Hardy‘s Bane, and I couldn’t understand half of Inception, and Interstellar, which I loathed from the very depths of my soul, was even worse. So I went into Tenet with an attitude of “go ahead, make my day…make it all but impossible to understand…I won’t care.” And I didn’t.
But time and again, as I mentioned in my 9.5.20 review, I was acknowledging that I’d never seen anything quite like this before. Excerpt: “I was smiling quizzically and a few times literally guffawing with pleasure. Tenet is all but impossible to fully ‘understand’ (certainly upon a first viewing, and even after reading the Wikipedia synopsis I was still going ‘wait, what?’) but my eyes, mind and expectations were constantly being challenged and blown. Pleasurably, of course.”
Yesterday Variety‘s Owen Gleiberman summed up this reaction as follows: “The film doesn’t entirely make sense, but that’s okay, because even when it doesn’t it’s such a bravura spectacle of head-spinning awesomeness (or something) that our heads are spun…sort of.” Yup, that was the reaction of Old Flagstaff Jeffie. And that’s what I’ll hang onto until a subtitled Bluray or the subtitled streaming version comes along, and then I’ll derive a whole new level of comprehension.
OG: “By the last act of Tenet, which is a grandiose action battle full of explosions that run backward (the sand funneling down into the earth, because those forces are moving in reverse), you can see that the effects are cool, and the idea is cool, but how the logistics of it all fit together remains barely coherent, which kind of limits the fun.” HE: “Yes, it’s curious and limiting, but I knew going in that Nolan was going to pull the same shit he did before.”
OG: “But what I discovered, to my surprise, is that Tenet, in all its high-toned kinetic quasi-obscurity, completed the alienation of the [oppressive COVID] experience. Rather than offering a great escape from the COVID blues, the movie was perfectly in sync with the COVID blues. Which is exactly what made it the wrong film for this moment.” HE: Disagree. Tenet rescued me from that climate of widespread depression outside the Harkin plex. For two and a half hours, I managed to forget the dull, dispiriting gloom of face masks, social distancing, no indoor restaurants, no flying to Europe, etc.
OG: “No, the reason that people are going to want to go back to the movies is joy. That’s what they want to feel; that’s the feeling that sitting at home can leach away. And Tenet, while marketed as a great escape, is a movie so tangled up in itself that it turned out to be as joyless an experience as the very prospect of going to see a movie during COVID.”
HE: The kind of joy that Gleiberman is alluding to, the kind of orgasmic, triple grade-A, North by Northwest-style filmmaking enjoyed equally by the knuckle-draggers and the Guy Lodge-David Ehrlich snobs, has been all but outlawed by (a) corporate-funded producers and distributors who decided 10 to 15 years ago to focus almost entirely on tentpole diversions and superhero movies for idiots, and (b) Khmer Rouge scolds and critics who’ve decided that “joy” films are less important than movies that boast sufficient currents of p.c. virtue signalling.
True, a few 2020 films have delivered slivers of Gleiberman-styled joy — Chloe Zhao‘s Nomadland, Polanski‘s J’Accuse, Aaron Sorkin‘s The Trial of the Chicago 7 — but oh, how I would kill to see 2020 versions of The Social Network, Lady Bird, Before Midnight, Zero Dark Thirty, Brokeback Mountain, Holy Motors, Risky Business, Zodiac, Collateral, Heat, Manchester By The Sea, Personal Shopper, an American Les Miserables…please!