Christopher Nolan's time traveling adventure Tenet, starring John David Washington, Robert Pattinson and Elizabeth Debicki, is now in theaters across the world. Despite its numerous delays due to the current COVID-19 crisis Tenet has seen a strong box office performance internationally and is getting some high praise from critics.
Another not-so-big surprise from Tenet and director Christopher Nolan is the amount of questions we had after catching the film on the big screen. Nolan is a known fan twist endings, non-linear story telling and generally just making his audience say "huh?". I'm going to outline ten of my biggest questions after seeing Tenet but before you read on know that This article is completely and totally filled with spoilers for TENET. Seriously, if you don't want to be spoiled venture forth at your own risk. With that out of the way, let's hop into question number one.
Was The First Fake Goya Drawing Planted?
We already know that The Protagonist used a fake Francisco Goya drawing to meet with Kat and ultimately get close to her husband, Sator. After their initial meeting Kat confronts The Protagonist about the obvious forgery and says that she's been fooled once before, coincidentally by another fake Goya drawing. Her husband now holds the mistake above her head and uses it to leverage access to her son. Here's where it gets crazy.
Kat mentions that first drawing was sold by a dealer named Arepo. This may seem like another high class art dealer with a fancy name, but Arepo is actually connected to the film via the Sator Square, a famous latin palindrome. You will notice other names and events from the film on the Sator Square, including ROTAS, OPERA and the films title Tenet. So my question is, was the initial Goya drawing that fooled Kat also a plant by The Protagonist just to establish the toxic relationship between her and Sator? It's hard to say because the film only explores the second Goya fake but Arepo's connection to the Sator Square seems a little too convenient for me and ultimately leads to my next question.
Who Is Arepo?
We've already established that Arepo is the art dealer who sold the original forgery. What we haven't established is how he connects to the larger picture and if he may be involved with The Protagonist. At the end of Tenet Neil (Robert Pattinson), tells The Protagonist that their friendship is just beginning. Presumably the two are in for some hijinks that take place in the past. Perhaps one of those hijinks is planting not just a second Goya, but also the first under the pseudonym Arepo?
Is Arepo Neil, who already shows skill as an international fixer? Or maybe it's another member of The Protagonist's time traveling team. The film never gives us confirmation on Arepo's identity but because of the connection to the Sator Square, The Protagonist's inversion abilities and the future - (err past?) escapades he must go on to prevent the Algorithm it's definitely a possibility. In fact, it would make for a pretty clever temporal pincer movement.
Is This The First Generation War?
At one point in Tenet Andrei Sator, played by Kenneth Branagh, tells The Protagonist that this whole mess was started because of the future generation's desire to eliminate the past (and a scientist in the future invented time travel). Why? Because the rivers froze over and their world had been polluted to the point of no return. Their whole idea was to erase the past to save the future.
The question is: will deleting the past erase all the damage done to the earth and fix their situation in the future? This is known as The Grandfather Paradox and is mentioned in the film. Unfortunately for the future generation, there's no way to answer that question because it's a paradox. But the minds behind activating the algorithm decided that it was worth the risk because they were screwed anyway. Activating the algorithm was a Hail Mary failsafe to destroy one generation so that it will reverse the damage done to the future generation. After this reveal the Protagonist calls Sator a traitor to his own generation.
But is this the first generation war or does The Protagonist need to go further and further back to prevent the meddling of the future in his own generation? Is this a constant battle spanning generation over generation that The Protagonist and his team must constantly fight? I'm not sure, but what I am sure of is that I would totally watch John David Washington and Robert Pattinson hop through time fighting off tricks and traps sent back by the future generation.
What Exactly Was The Future Sending Back To Sator?
Adrei Sator rose to power because he discovered correspondence from the future alongside a hefty stash of gold. He uses the instructions and the gold to get a leg up on the rest of the world and ultimately become a billionaire. But only when he was diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer did he decide to fulfill the wishes of the future generation and assemble the Algorithm, end his life and the rest of humanity, on his own terms.
This happens after years of correspondence and presumably many, many deliveries from the future. My question is what else was in those little inverted time capsules, outside of gold, pieces of the Algorithm and assembly instructions? Gold is great and all. If you send enough of it back the man is sure to be rich but to become a billionaire is a whole other level. Are we talking stock tips? Maybe oil field locations? I like to imagine that the future generation is sending IPO information al la Forrest Gump investing in Apple.
Why Did The Car Windows Freeze Up?
So there is an awesome scene in Tenet where The Protagonist is chasing down a piece of the Algorithm and Sator's crew while driving in reverse. He is doing all of this inverted for the first time. He ultimately fails, crashes the car and Sator commends him for his efforts, noting that he got his heart rate all the way up to 130, which has never happened before. After the complement, he promptly sets the car on fire and walks away from the explosion cool-guy style.
While The Protagonist is in the car, the heat from the explosion starts to freeze the windows and he blacks out as the car explodes. He is later awakened inside a thermal blanket, saved by Neil and his crew. Neil then mentions that The Protagonist may be the first person in history to get hypothermia from an explosion. This is because inverted particles cause the opposite affect on uninverted particles.
When the car was blown up The Protagonist was inverted so the heat coming from the particles made him cold to the point of hypothermia, but how did the windows start to freeze? Was the car inverted? If so, how was it inverted? Could the inversion machine the protagonist came out of fit a sedan? Was The Protagonist simply perceiving the rapidly dropping temperature? Does interacting with an uninverted object while inverted invert said object? I have no idea. My head hurts just rereading that sentence.
How Did The Protagonist Know The Door Code While Breaking Into The Free Port With Neil?
To get closer to Sator and keep a promise to Kat The Protagonist promises to destroy the fake Goya drawing that he holds above her head. To do this they have to bust into an ultra secure free port. Their plan is to crash a plane into the facility, trigger the fire alarms and hold their breath long enough to crack into Sator's secure warehouse.
Since oxygen is expelled from the rooms to prevent the spread of fire they must work quickly or suffocate. During the break in The Protagonist breaks a lock pick off inside of one of the doors, presumably a death sentence in this situation. But after some fumbling around The Protagonist manages to get the door open via the code. How the heck did he know the code? Why pick the lock if you already know the codes? Was there some tom foolery done by someone ahead of time to a combination that The Protagonist would have guessed first?
Can The Future Attempt To Sabotage The Timeline Again?
In the final scenes of Tenet it is revealed that all the good guys, even The Protagonist, were working for the 'future' version of The Protagonist all along. In fact the movie even tells us that Tenet wasn't founded in the past, it's founded in the future, presumably by The Protagonist after the events of the film. But just because The Protagonist spoiled the future generation's plans this time doesn't mean that they won't be back for more.
Is there a situation where the future can go back and make some minor tweaks to the timeline, like knocking off The Protagonist before the events of the film? What would that do to the future? I'm thinking that despite their first effort, the future generation will be back for more. I mean, their outlook is pretty hopeless after all. Half of Tenet takes place in the present timeline but what happens as The Protagonist moves further and further into the future? Just because Sator failed doesn't mean there isn't another opportunist out there looking for the biggest exit of all time.
Are There Two Versions Of Kat - What Happened To Past Kat?
Just before Sator annihilates mankind he retreats to his last moment of true peace on his yacht with Kat. Unbeknownst to him he is actually hanging out with the 'future' Kat who knows his plans and is attempting to keep him alive long enough to prevent the activation of The Algorithm.
Kat ends up killing Sator just as The Protagonist and Neil are able to stop The Algorithm from going off. Win/win, right? Well there is this whole issue of what happens to past Kat after she leaves the yacht and sees the 'future' version of herself dive off. Does she meet up with 'past' Sator again to ensure she endures the suffering just so that it leads to the success of team Tenet? Does 'future' Kat return to her timeline to live out the rest of her days happily with her son? Or is the entire thing a loop and Sator dying at that moment technically happened all along, thus changes in the past affect the future? I'm starting to confuse myself again.
Why Exactly Does The Protagonist Care About Elizabeth Debicki's Character Do Much?
Throughout Tenet The Protagonist is constantly bending over backwards for Kat. He agrees to destroy the Goya just to get closer to her husband, fails, then manages to get to him anyway. But even after these events, and saving Sator's life, he still fights for her. He rescues her during the first car chase, ultimately giving the final piece of the Algorithm to Sator and risking all of humanity. It's not like The Protagonist doesn't know this either, he is later chastised by Neil, but even after that they continue to work together.
In a film that has very little emotional investment my question is why? I understand that Kat is the only one close enough to Sator to fool him in the end but there is no possible way that The Protagonist knew she was that important at the beginning. Despite not knowing he constantly goes to bat for her. Sator even uses her as an emotional and physical hostage against The Protagonist. Does he have a romantic relationship with her? The film never gives us a chance to see their emotional feelings for each other.
Where Was The ‘Future’ Version Of The Protagonist (The One Pulling All The Strings) The Entire Time?
When the credits rolled and Travis Scott's The Plan started playing, I had a lot of questions going through my head, obviously. Many of them we've gone over already but none of them were as fascinating to me as 'Where was the 'future' version of The Protagonist' the entire time'? It's revealed that the events of the film transpire in accordance to plans laid out by the time traveling Protagonist.
Throughout the film, we watch John David Washington grow into this version of The Protagonist. But where is that version during the events of the film? We are told that you can never, under any circumstances interact with your past self, which is why The Protagonist wears special gear when inverting into the Goya heist. But would he really allow these extremely complex plans featuring inverted time and temporal pincer movements without being there? I doubt it. This is the man who was present for every major operation outside of the actual killing of Sator.
So where was he? Quietly watching in the background, only willing to step in if he had to? Maybe he's off fighting another generations war with the future? Galavanting around with Neil in the past? We don't know, but we can certainly imagine and that is part of the magic of Tenet. I'll be sure to keep my eyes peeled for sharp dressed background characters in my next viewing.
Do you know the answers to some of these questions? Have a theory that explains something I missed? If so, please let me know if the comments because I'm genuinely curious. Maybe future me will be able to understand more clearly than past me. In the mean time, stay up to date on all the latest Tenet coverage with the team at CinemaBlend.
Into tracksuits by Paulie Walnuts, the Criterion Channel and Robert Eggers.
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