A Migraine Pill For TENET — Plot Explained
Simplified explanation of the plot and concepts (contains spoilers)
Maybe you already watched TENET or maybe not. But if you haven’t watched it yet better to read this story after watching it because I am going to reveal very important points of this masterpiece’s plot. It is okay to get confused with the first watch of the movie because the main concept of TENET doesn’t make a clear sense mostly because it breaks several existing rules of natural physics.
First of all, Here are some important buzzwords you heard during the showtime with further explanation.
Inversion is not time travel
We know that usual Sci-Fi time travel is like jumping to a desired moment in the past or future using some kind of magic (normally using a time-machine). Indeed, we are able to understand that the time travel concept is practically impossible. Whereas, the inversion concept is a bit more natural than the time travel concept because there is no sudden jumping between moments breaking a bunch of physics rules. Moreover, speed of the time is not varying in the inversion theory but the direction is swapped.
Inverted objects and Turnstiles
Once a particular element is inverted using a machine called Turnstile, the arrow of time goes backwards for the element. Therefore, if the element is a person he/she can see the whole past events that are happening backwards. If an un-inverted person sees an inverted element he/she can see the particular element goes backwards vice versa. So a Turnstile can reverse entropy of an object and also it will be able to bring back entropy to the normal flow. Also if a person is inverted he/she can feel time goes at usual speed but inverted. If an event will occur in future-past (let’s say in -5 days) then there is a need to wait exactly 5 days to see the event (backwards as usual). I think that’s why they travel using big ships where they can stay a longer time without interacting with unwanted past events.
If you understand what will happen to an inverted person and how outside events are occurring, you will understand the whole movie.
Let’s take a simple example assuming that you are inverted now onward..
When the plane crash happens we saw the protagonist fights with his inverted version. As mentioned in above image colliding events can occur between an inverted version and the past version and also un-inverted version and past version (Past Kat saw future shot Sator). Whereas as I understand those collisions cannot alter the history because from the future version’s perspective those events already happened.
Temporal Pincer Movement (TPM)
As they said in the battle it’s a kind of trick to win a mission using inversion. Several people (or a person) goes forwards in time and several inverted people (or an inverted person) goes backwards in time to achieve a goal. When the first trailer was released many fans said that TENET will be a sequel for Inception. I think it is partially correct, because here we have TPMs inside TPMs very similar to dreams inside dreams concept in Inception. The main mission is to stop what the bad guy (Sator) was doing with the Algorithm which is going to be founded by people from the future. This main mission was started by the founder of TENET organization and he hires Neil to go backwards in time. Indeed, that scenario or the whole movie could be a large TPM. Thereafter, we have sub TPMs such as the car chase scene and the ten-minute battle.
This plot is an infinite loop
Nolan’s past movies had clear starting/ending points even scenes are chronologically shuffled. Whereas I think TENET’s plot is an infinite time loop. In other words you will be able to start watching the movie from any point of time. Therefore, Nolan introduced a main character and named him as “The Protagonist” in order to bring the audience through this infinite loop according to that character's point of view.
If you need to understand TENET, you need to understand TENET first..
Maybe “The Protagonist” is actually the audience who is going through this time loop during the showtime of TENET. If we try to understand the movie with each one’s point of view simultaneously it could be mind twisting obviously. Therefore, the easiest way to look into the movie is being an external observer who is residing outside of this time loop. Importantly, we can assume that time is always going forward for this special observer.
I noticed the following order of major events while I was inspecting the movie as an external observer.
Left side of this graphic has older events than the events shown in the right side according to the view of an external observer. Even though are few major events, main characters are going back and forth in different paths by increasing the complexity of the movie. As mentioned we automatically followed the protagonist’s journey even other characters are having their own journeys.
But if we apply the multiverse theory we are able to get rid of this loop. We can assume that each one who came from the future (with the help of the inversion) and one who is living in the past at the same time (Refer figure A’s colliding events) have completely different destiny. For example, Kat’s version who spent time happily with Sator will end up being shot, on the other hand Kat’s version who shot Sator during his vacation, will live happily with her son. Eventually, the protagonist saved her life when Priya and the team were trying to assassinate her.
Everyone has a story to say
We watched the movie as the protagonist who also interacts with several other characters through his journey in the time loop. In fact, other characters also have their own journey. Whereas sometimes their journey overlaps with the protagonist's path. That’s why we saw the protagonist was interacting with Kat, Neil and Sator at the same time (In the car chase scene).
Let’s check about everyone’s stories from their point of views.
The Protagonist (John David Washington)
Neil (Robert Pattinson)
Kat (Elizabeth Debicki)
Sator (Kenneth Branagh)
I saw many reviewers say “Neil is an older version of Kat’s son Max”. But, I don’t think so. The reason is that according to my opinion, inverted people also age as normal humans and they are not aging backwards. I think the processes inside the human body should be continued as usual even if a person is inverted. Otherwise, imagine if human metabolism worked backwards.
If Neil went backwards in time he might be Kat’s grandfather at least; not her son.
Undoubtedly, this is a new concept for a movie. Whereas, it is clear that TENET borrowed few concepts from some other movies as well,
- Inception — TPM inside TPM concept
- Looper — Future version of a person is coming to meet the present version of himself.
- Primer — Driving a plot with each replicas’ perspectives
TENET is a great movie with a complex concept. I think we need TENET in every character's perspective to understand it crystal clear. However if we watch TENET more than once, obviously we will be able to get a clear summary of events and how those events are connected with inverted/un-inverted characters.