Christopher Nolan Thinks You're Missing The Point Of Tenet

Film critics from the 2000s to 2010s misunderstood Christopher Nolan as an artist.

Back in 2010, The Guardian asked, in light of "Inception," whether Christopher Nolan could become another Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick is known as an uncompromising perfectionist auteur whose movies include 2001: A Space Odyssey" and "The Shining". Compared with Nolan who is often accused of being cold -- not helped by being British gentleman like Kubrick was adopted homeland England -- his layer cake story structures might evoke similar imagery to Kubrick; Nolan admits his admiration of Kubrick ("Interstellar" doesn't exist without his inspiration being from "2001: A Space Odyssey") but in my estimation Nolan has more in common with Steven Spielberg than another traditional director: populist auteur status.

Nolan makes films designed to draw an audience in. That is the point behind "The Prestige", using Victorian-era stage magic as an allegory for how filmmakers use illusion to fool an eager and willingly deceived public with illusions. He ended "Dunkirk" on an upbeat note that foretold victory for allies during World War II while in "Oppenheimer," depicting Trinity nuclear test recreation had me gripping my nails throughout.

Nolan can vouch for that: He loves all sorts of junky blockbusters like James Bond and Michael Bay flicks; as confirmed during an appearance on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert", Nolan also considers himself part of "Fast & Furious's family ("[for those unfamiliar], I would suggest starting off with Tokyo Drift")!

Nolan discussed in that same interview how people getting the wrong impression from his work had an adverse effect on its reception for 2020's "Tenet."

Tenet Is Not a Puzzle

"Tenet" centers around The Protagonist (John David Washington), who finds himself embroiled in an evil supervillain's plan to use time-bending "Inversion" technology against humanity. Thanks to such toys, many action scenes in "Tenet" resemble ones we've already witnessed -- except played out backward. I won't go further explaining Tenet -- maybe Nolan doesn't need me!

Colbert asked Nolan whether his films had meaning and significance - in other words, whether I must purchase his movies to experience them? Nolan answered in the affirmative.

"When people experience my film, they understand it fully - something I feel passionately about. If people experience frustrations with my narratives in the past, perhaps that indicates they were missing my point - my film should not be seen as an intellectual puzzle that needs unpacking; rather it should be experienced - whether in a cinema, at home, or any place else [...] for me personally it's about that emotional experience of viewing films with an audience."

Colbert then proceeded to ask Nolan about "Tenet," its effect on viewers, and whether or not Nolan personally understood "everything" in it. Nolan responded by explaining: "'Tenet' is meant for you not to understand everything; not every scene can be grasped." It's similar to asking me whether I know what happens with the spinning top at the end of "Inception." [...] In order for there to be any valid, productive ambiguities present - which I do - while still leaving much open. [...] My theory allows me to have my understanding."

If a film provokes your thinking, recognize that its effect was due to what made you care and feel something - not because your headspace was taken up with something which didn't engage or excite!

"Attempt to comprehend it at your own peril"

Nolan gives viewers of "Tenet" the option of switching up their viewing style in one scene during which a scientist (Clemence Poesy) gives Protagonist an inverted bullet gun and attempts to explain its mechanism; when she doesn't fully explain things after she gives this advice, she tells him instead "Don't try and understand - feel it!"

This line from Nolan stands out because of its immediate significance in the movie; he tells viewers to simply enjoy their ride without trying to understand every element in detail. It stands out further because Nolan tends to love explaining things; "The Dark Knight Trilogy" details Batman's gadgets while "The Prestige" explores stage magic's special effects.

Nolan's philosophy of experiencing his movies rather than analysing them echoes David Lynch, who generally refuses to engage with any theories regarding the surreality he creates for film and TV. Seeking meaning may only obscure it further and lead you further astray from its essence.

Nolan embraces action blockbusters because he understands their appeal to an audience. While his stories tend to be more thoughtful than Michael Bay or Vin Diesel (he may even have too much of an open heart to emulate Kubrick), even when Nolan includes big concepts into his movies, their goal remains the same - to entertain.

No harm done here - cinema needs its showmen and Christopher Nolan is unquestionably one of them.

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