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Photo credits: Warner Bros Pictures

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.

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.

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Figure A — How inversion works with events

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

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Sator square — Image credits: Wikipedia
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Figure B — TENET’s plot as an external observer

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).

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Overlapping journeys at the car chase — Photo credits: Warner Bros Pictures

The Protagonist (John David Washington)

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The Protagonist’s journey

Neil (Robert Pattinson)

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Neil’s journey

Kat (Elizabeth Debicki)

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Kat’s journey

Sator (Kenneth Branagh)

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Sator’s jouney

Similar movies

Undoubtedly, this is a new concept for a movie. Whereas, it is clear that TENET borrowed few concepts from some other movies as well,

  • Looper — Future version of a person is coming to meet the present version of himself.
  • Primer — Driving a plot with each replicas’ perspectives

Conclusion

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.

Written by

Software Engineer at 99x | Apache PMC member | Open Source Contributor (Author of Neutralinojs) | Technical Writer

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