The Grandfather Paradox: My Tenet Experience

Let’s preface this with the fact that I am a huge Christopher Nolan fan. He is my favorite director and Inception is my favorite film currently of all time. And let’s face it, however way I can physically see his new film, I would do whatever it takes. If I had to pick to see only one film in 2020 to see from Tenet, Black Widow or Dune, the only 3 movies I care about this year — no question it would be: Tenet.

So yes, there is no inversion needed, you know how this post is going to end.

INTRODUCTION

On the opening weekend of Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan was holidaying in Hong Kong with his family. I saw photos of them in the newspaper and wondered if I would ever get to meet him.

Then that one day as I left the gym and I was walking to the the MTR in Central — I saw that unmistakable blonde hair and suit. It was Nolan and he had just exited the MTR and was making a beeline to LKF most likely for lunch.

I had my chance. But I was still 2 blocks away on a crowded HK street.

Not thinking, or thinking I was in a dream-inside-a-dream, I just yelled out as loud as I could in a knowing and friendly voice: “MR. NOLAN!!!”

He stopped and turned around.

I ran as fast as I could to him, he waited with his family till I got there.

I gushed, he smiled, and we got this selfie.

And then he was gone.

So, you can imagine the excitement of a NEW Christopher Nolan movie being announced. This new film appeared to be a spiritual sequel to Inception about secret agents and time travel. Most excellent and most welcome.

So let’s cut to the chase — this first part will be the adventure in getting to a cinema during COVID-19 in Canada and the second part will be the actual non-spoiler-impossible-to-spoil review of Tenet.

THE SCREENING

So depending on which province you are in, COVID-19 is either uncontrollable or an afterthought. I am in British Columbia and I won’t bore you with all the details but to say there aren’t as many cases in this province as the others and why Warner Bros decided to release the movie in all countries bar the US at the same time.

Since it did open internationally this part of the story is probably not that exciting to some since people wear masks, hand sanitizer and trust the cinema and Warner Bros doesn’t want a giant news story that a batch of infections happened during the screening of this movie.

I knew I had to see it in IMAX so I found the best one in Vancouver in the Cineplex Langley IMAX — I picked the 11:30am showing since there were only 10 seats booked on a Tuesday morning — so this is the Tuesday after Opening Weekend. I am pretty sure that this IMAX can sit 200 people regularly.

The parking lot was empty so I was wondering if the cinema was even open — it was. And I was greeted by a theatre staff for my name and phone number and that was it. He didn’t even look at my ticket. I guess he was like well if you’re brave enough to even come here we’re just happy to have you.

Here is the lobby:

As you can see the concession stand was open too! I have two masks on, a hat and glasses. I am not even taking my hands out of my pockets. So I am freaked out by that, but when I saw the poster:

All common sense disappeared.

The seat booking showed 10 people in the IMAX theatre with me — all spaced out and separated by rows — I usually like to sit at the top of the IMAX seating but had to pick the middle. There was no one next to me but there were 2 people in front of me 2 rows and 2 rows behind me were 2 other people. One other single guy with a full tray of food appeared at the very edge of my row.

Remember this was the 11:30 am screening — the afternoon ones were full with I think 30 people maximum. I usually like to screen a movie in the morning anyways. I don’t think the IMAX movies will change out till maybe November when Black Widow shows up so you will have 2 months to see Tenet in IMAX before it moves out.

This movie was made for IMAX — we have IMAX in Hong Kong but it isn’t real IMAX its what they call “LieMAX” the real IMAX screen basically grabs you by the throat and pulls you into the movie and you know from past Nolan movies his first 10 minutes basically rips you out of your reality and takes you into his, and Tenet was no different only that the sound and screen were incredible. It was like going on a rollercoaster.

So all in all going to a morning screening in Vancouver seemed to be not much of an issue — but being in a room for 2.5 hours with strangers may cause you some alarm don’t go. If you have kids: don’t go. If you are going to be seeing people afterwards: don’t go. I am back to Work From Home and am limiting my outside interactions for 2 weeks. I told myself going in I would take this serious even though I am breaking a lot of protocols by going. But it was absolutely worth it.

THE MOVIE

It’s important to remember that Tenet has:

  • No Batman. (Ok the new Batman but you haven’t seen him yet)
  • No Leo.
  • No Wolverine.
  • No McConaughey.
  • No historical event.

John David Washington (who I loved in BlacKkKlansman and who I found out is DENZEL’S son) was fantastic in the lead. I was watching him going this guy reminds me of someone else and when I discovered he was Denzel’s son you could see it so clearly in his mannerisms.

Shout-out to Indian actors’ Himesh Patel and Dimple Kapadia who stood out in their roles, I loved how they introduced Kapadia’s character as well.

Robert Pattinson was great. I am now excited to see him as Bruce Wayne. Elizabeth Debicki I already liked in The Night Manager (with Loki) and who played TBH a very similar character. And if you saw Chris Pine in Shadow Recruit then you’ve seen Kenneth Branagh play the crazy Russian bad-guy. So those two were good but I’ve seen these shticks before.

This is not a spoiler — but I am sure Benedict Cumberbatch is in it as Kat’s in-the-shadows driver and for one short 2-line scene.

Watching this movie is like figuring out a Rubik’s Cube — at the beginning you are looking at the squares learning the idea and the shape and the possibilities, then you start to twist it to try to solve it, then you figure out you made a mistake and have to go back, but then you slowly start to figure it out and put it together — at the same time people are reciting math formulas to you, while a loud gong keeps going off in the background. THAT IS TENET!

The whole point is for you to experience the puzzle that is why I say this is not a movie and you are not going to eat popcorn and laugh and cry like in Endgame you are going to sit there and decipher a science experiment, wonder how they did some of the action sequences which are RUNNING BACKWARDS, and how the script writers were able to make a screenplay resemble a palindrome.

The Grandfather Paradox is one I subscribe to as is a central “tenet” in this movie. You cannot go back in time and kill your own grandfather (for whatever reason) because if you could you wouldn’t exist and everything in this reality happens for a reason. If this makes sense to you, then this movie is for you.

I for one found it extremely inspiring, I did think Nolan was crazy for trying to get this into the cinema at this time, but it’s much more than a movie, it’s a fantasy, it’s something to look forward to in our lives and it’s something to celebrate.

But I will say it again: if you are not a massive fan of Nolan’s work. Because its all him. It’s unfiltered $200mm budget Christopher Nolan who has built an incredible body of work and has been let loose to create this experience.

If you don’t like to leave a movie wondering what the hell you just watched, if you are just going because of the hype, if you don’t want it to be spoiled, any reason than just for the love of Nolan and the craft of filmmaking DO NOT GO. Stay safe and let others who do enjoy a challenging film, have a chance to see it — you will need to watch it 3 times to understand it anyways and I’m sure it will be on home video by Christmas.

I have only seen it once — but my knee jerk reaction is to place it just behind Inception as #1 and #2 Nolan movies. I just loved it. I thought that Inception was a bit more fun because there were more characters for you to follow. Tenet is all about The Protagonist which makes sense in the movie story and I thought it missed Cobb’s arc with his family. It also shows that I think we all connect to a story when the stakes are smaller and more personal rather than the whole world at stake.

I’ve seen Inception a dozen times, and so Tenet will also be watched at least that many times too. Then I can properly place it, but for now it is everything and more of what I wanted it to be and I caught myself repeatedly yelling at the screen: THIS IS THE MOST AMAZING FILM EVER!

Temporal Pincer Movement — keep that in your head. You will hear it a lot and you will be googling it later.

I will spend the time between now and the next screening reading Reddit and watching YouTube to figure out how inversion works because I still don’t understand it. But it’s fascinating.

If you read this whole thing, then you are a fan — then please go and enjoy Tenet in IMAX and leave a comment on your experience here or on Twitter and tag me @casey_lau.

thoughts on everything from startup ecosystems, conferences, anime, video games, comic books, digital entertainment to cats and ninjas.

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