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Christopher Nolan's Tenet: Everything We Know

Christopher Nolan's Tenet: Everything We Know

(Updated 07/27/2020)

Thanks to his trilogy of Batman movies, and films like INCEPTION and MEMENTO, Christopher Nolan has become one of the most popular filmmakers in the world. He makes heady, ambitious movies that also do very well at the box office. That equation means that Nolan gets to do more or less whatever he wants. His new film is called TENET, a somewhat puzzling title that nonetheless heralds a wild and interesting movie.

While Nolan and Warner Bros. have been slow to release details about TENET, there is one major trailer, which offers a just-tantalizing-enough look at the movie. We already knew a fair amount about the film's background, but thanks to the trailer we've got some big questions. Here's everything we know about TENET so far. Just keep in mind that this is a movie about secrets and espionage, and that sense of mystery extends to nearly everything about the film itself.

When Does Tenet Come Out?

Christopher Nolan's Tenet Release Date

The release date for Christopher Nolan's new movie has been set for September 3. That puts TENET in theatres for Labor Day. It's been a long wait, but since the film seems to be all about manipulating time, maybe that's appropriate.

Is There a Tenet Trailer?

The first TENET trailer arrived at the end of December. Well, technically, the first teaser was shown only in theatres; it was attached to the release of FAST & FURIOUS PRESENTS: HOBBS & SHAW in August 2019.

You can see the first official TENET trailer above. It's pretty mysterious, though! John David Washington's character evidently dies — or demonstrates that he is willing to — in order to preserve some secret about his work and/or colleagues. That sacrifice is apparently a test which acts as the gateway to a whole new sort of espionage work. It's all to prevent "something worse" than World War III and nuclear holocaust. But what, exactly?

The second full trailer, released via an event in the video game "Fortnite," elaborates a bit, especially by specifically talking about manipulating the flow of time. Don't expect many more big secrets to be revealed, however. We do see hints of a big setpiece featuring a plane, however, and that is exciting and, as Robert Pattinson's character says, a little bit dramatic.

The Story of Tenet

Christopher Nolan Tenet Story

Having watched that first trailer, you probably have as many questions as we do. Here's what we know about the plot and story of TENET. It is "an action epic evolving from the world of international espionage." That's all we've got. That sentence comes from the "start of production" memo from Warner Bros.

We do know that Nolan wrote the script, as he often does, and that actors such as Robert Pattinson could only read the TENET script in isolation, to avoid plot leaks. "I got locked in a room to read the script," Pattinson told USA Today. We also know, from the production memo, that Nolan is filming in seven countries, with IMAX and 70mm cameras, as he did on DUNKIRK, pictured above. That means TENET will be released, per Nolan's preference, in premium-format theatres such as Cinemark XD.

The Meaning of Tenet

the Meaning of Christopher Nolan's Tenet title

A "tenet" is a core principle or belief, especially with respect to deep pursuits like religion and philosophy. (The Ten Commandments are tenets of Christianity, for example.) What does the definition of the title mean for this movie? Great question! "Tenet" could also mean the core idea of a case or the main principle by which a character goes about their work. Since the film clearly has an espionage aspect, "tenet" could also apply to beliefs about how information is being relayed — and then what happens if those beliefs turn out to be wrong?

Ultimately, what we know is that Martin Donovan's character, who seems to usher Washington into his new line of work, says "all I have for you is a word: Tenet. It'll open the right doors. Some of the wrong ones, too." The word is clearly connected to an important principle, but the specifics remain tantalizingly unclear.

Is Tenet a Time Travel Movie?

Is Tenet a Time Travel Movie?

Maybe? John David Washington's character is called an "inverter," which seems to mean that he can cause events to occur in the reverse of their normal sequence. But what about the scene in which Washington and the Robert Pattinson character are in a car, during which time seems to rewind, or flow backwards? Are these characters moving about in time, or do they somehow exist outside of time?

The Tenet Cast Is Great, of Course

Christopher Nolan's Tenet Cast

In addition to the aforementioned John David Washington and Robert Pattinson, TENET also features Elizabeth Debicki (recently seen in VITA & VIRGINIA), Dimple Kapadia, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Clémence Poésy, with Michael Caine and Kenneth Branagh. That's an interesting lineup, and with the exception of Caine and Branagh, it is mostly made up of actors who are new to Nolan's films. The director has established a pattern of working with actors more than once, but for TENET he has a fairly fresh ensemble.

We're eager to learn a lot more about TENET, but the slow reveal of the film's story is actually a lot of fun. Just think about how we typically know so much about any given movie before it opens. Nolan's previous film, DUNKIRK, was a wonderful surprise because we knew so little about the filmmaker's adventurous approach to a war movie. That holds true for this film, too, and we can't wait for the lights to go down next summer, so Christopher Nolan can surprise us again with TENET.

Want to see how TENET fits into Nolan's career?

All images courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

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