31 August 2020

I've Had The Time Of My Life

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When I walked out of Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk back in 2017 and declared that “I would die to see his next movie”, I didn't expect the director to actually hold me to it. It's now 2020 and after several global pandemic related delays, the new Nolan film Tenet has been released at a time in which sitting in a room with a stranger is liable to lead to your immediate death. Although if you've sat anywhere near me in a cinema over the last few years and dared to so much as fucking breathe too loudly then you've very much been at risk of death already. On average I tend to go to the cinema literally about three times a week and yet it has now been five entire fucking months since I was able to visit. Sitting down to watch Tenet was like returning to a church but better because although God might not really exist, big explosions, thumping soundtracks, and mind-bending visuals thankfully do. Plus I'm relatively young, pretty healthy, and have at least one older member of my immediate family that I really can not stand. As I ran up the stairs to the screening room whilst licking the bannisters and door handles, I decided that, although I might not be prepared to die to see Christopher Nolan's latest film, I was more than happy to at least risk the passing on of a deadly virus to my bitch of a step-mum. 
Seeing what Nolan had put up on the screen with Tenet was like having a lecture on rocket science from a stripper as they danced with their tits out, because I had no fucking idea what was going on and yet I still had quite a lot of fun watching it unfold. Feel free to flip the stripper analogy to “danced with their wang out” too depending on your personal preference, if you like. Although like the film's structure and title, the word “tit” is a palindrome and so slightly more on topic. In fact, the film seems so obsessed with this palindromic theme that even some of the stunts appear to adhere to its structure. I don't know if “palindromic” is a real word but I certainly felt authoritative using it. At one point we see the characters bungee up a building only for them to then bungee down it a few minutes later. Also, like a bungee cord, about midway through the movie a man six seats away from me decided to have a coughing fit which caused my bowls to drop straight out of my fucking arsehole. On its most basic level, Tenet is a Bond film. It's the story of a spy that must save the world from a megalomaniacal super-villain that is hell-bent on destroying the world. But unlike the Bond films, the main character here isn't a problematic imperialist with a difficult-to-stomach history of rape, misogyny, and racism. Or if he is, then I really didn't understand this fucking film at all. Also unlike a Bond film, there's an overt sci-fi element to Tenet in that certain items have been tampered with to go back in time. Not that this film is about time-travel of course. It's more that, as we move forward in time, they move backwards, much like the attitudes of an old-aged voter. 

To say that Nolan is obsessed with time is such an obvious thing to observe that already the bulk of this sentence feels like a complete and total waste of it. In Dunkirk, he condensed three wildly varying durations into one tensely edited ninety-ish minute thriller. With Interstellar he quite literally made time the primary villain, with certain planets working on their own time-scale like a shrooms-edged stint in a Las Vegas casino. But perhaps the closest thing in Nolan's filmography to the ideas that we can see on screen in Tenet can be traced all the way back to the first shot of his first proper movie Memento. There we see the murder of a man take place in reverse, with the bullet firing out of the victims head and back into the gun that shot it. Perhaps this obsession is an interest in cinema itself, with the editing process being a way to show and contrast the passage of time in a way that almost no other medium can. Or maybe Nolan is just constantly late for shit and so uses his work to highlight the fluidity of time to justify his own lack of punctuality. Either way, this isn't the only trait of his work to find its way into Tenet with the film superficially sharing a lot of themes with some of the others in his back catalogue. Like Inception and Interstellar, the emotional hook comes with a character wanting to get back to their child. If Inception was his OHMSS then Tenet is his You Only Live Twice. Also in the way that Bane mumbled his way through a mask, and the music blasted over the dialogue in Interstellar, one of the loudest things coming out of Tenet is the audiences regular complaint about the director's supposed inability to mix his sound correctly. Although if people visiting the cinema are that particular about catching every line of dialogue then perhaps they might want to consider shutting the fuck up themselves once in a while. 

I suppose at this stage there'd be no point in either defending or condemning Nolan's increasing insistence that dialogue might not be the most important part of telling a story whilst working in a predominantly visual fucking medium. Hmm. That started out as quite a neutral point before becoming quite loaded at the end there, didn't it? Because personally I quite admire how he seemingly has people talk, only because it'd be weird if they didn't whilst moving us through the narrative in other more inventive ways. Oh, I guess I am going to defend it anyway after all. Also when it comes to the mechanics of the plot, and why various things are moving backwards through time, I haven't a clue as to what the characters are waffling on about and so who the fuck cares anyway? I'll figure all of that 'smart shit' out with multiple viewings when I inevitably return to watch the action go 'boom' again. We all understand the structure of this kind of movie well enough to intuitively know roughly where we're up to in the story, and so why not just sit back and enjoy the insane level of bat-shittery taking place on screen? With the characters of the film also telling each other to ignore the details in favour of feeling their way through the various events, it seems obvious that Nolan is more interested in our visceral response to his set-pieces than an intellectual one to the plot of the film. Although “ignoring the finer details in favour of feeling your way through” does admittedly sound like the mantra of a fucking sex offender. At one point the villain of the film asks his girlfriend, “Did you understand anything you just heard?” in regards to his evil plot and to which she responds, “no, but it sounded important”. Not only is the film littered with meta-references as to why we shouldn't be paying too much attention to the detail, but I'm pretty sure that “did you understand anything you just heard?” Followed by “no, but it sounded important” is an actual-daily exchange I have with my boss in work. 

Nolan is essentially making a Fast And Furious film here too, in which everything is set up simply as an excuse to just show off another cool piece of action. But rather than risk being criticised for making something hollow and vacuous, I think he's decided to cram in so many ideas and so much exposition that it'd be impossible to take it all in in one go and so eventually you simply stop trying. Christopher Nolan is to plot what a parent is to their teenage delinquent when forcing them to smoke an entire pack of cigarettes found hidden in their bedroom. “You want ideas”, you can hear him shout, “then why not have fifty ideas, you dirty bastard? Come on. Choke them all down you entitled prick!!”. Although I'm yet to find out how audiences will respond to this movie in general because I've been socially distancing from people since before it became popular, and I'd be surprised if it found itself well-liked. I suspect that most people will simply be left feeling dumb and so seek to nitpick whatever contradiction they perceive to have found in the film's internal logic as a way of relieving their cinematically bruised ego. The irony, of course, is that with the film constantly telling us to ignore the details of its plot, the real reason to feel stupid is for having allowed yourself to be made to feel stupid in the first place. What an Inception-like Russian doll of idiocy we find ourselves in here! I'm also aware that the subtext of that point is in me massaging my own elitist ego as a film lover that 'gets it' over the 'normies' turning up to the cinema to graze in confusion over their noisy buckets of fucking pop-corn but you know.. fuck'em. I probably am a better person than them. And now that I think about it I've probably got a bigger dick too. Fucking idiots. 

In fact, the real miracle of Tenet is not in whatever bullshit it's yammering on about, but simply in the fact that it was allowed to exist in the first place.. because if we're being honest, what in the actual fuck even is it? With over two hours of incomprehensible dialogue and visuals straight out of a David Lynch film, this is a $205million art-house film and I have no idea how Nolan convinced the studio to allow him to make it. Does he have a blackmail video of the money men fellating a farmyard animal? Because this is an original property with a diverse cast of characters and no real major A-lister beyond the director to try and sell it with. If he doesn't have footage of some high-up executive sucking a horse's dick then I'm genuinely at a loss as to how it happened. I'm glad either way though because I fucking loved the experience of seeing this movie and not just because I was back in the cinema after months away and it was now illegal for any old prick to sit anywhere near me. Perhaps you could criticise the film for being overly complicated in that by remaining somewhat detached from the events on screen, it's harder to understand the emotional motivation of the characters involved. But then there are a few moments near the end in which we're hit with a couple of revelations that really smashed me in the feels and placed a few of the characters relationships into a completely new context. Or perhaps it just felt impactful because after two hours of emotionless explosions, even the slightest hint of humanity was like a gasp of fresh air in a hot box full of farts. 

But at no point was I ever under the impression that the film was anything less than what Nolan intended it to be, and for that I found myself in constant awe. Perhaps you could accuse me of being a Nolan fanboy, but I just think that to drag this film into existence and then present us with some of these images and on such a scale is an incredible achievement. Also, fuck you for trying to dismiss everything I've just said by calling me a “Nolan fanboy” you piece of shit. I was looking up the trivia for the film afterwards and apparently there are over a third less visual effect shots in this movie than there were in Dunkirk which itself was made with mostly practical effects, insane considering its ambition. When we see a massive plane explode on screen in Tenet, it's not because some fucking nerd has made it happen whilst shitting into their pants because of the long hours spent creating the visuals on their computer, but because Nolan and his crew bought a massive fuck-off plane and then crashed it into a fucking wall. Where else can you see a plane of that size crash and explode beyond YouTube? And with that, I tend to spend the rest of the day left with the worrying thought that my curiosity might have resulted in me being a bad bad person for watching it. And masturbating. But even if you consider this film a complete failure and a total mess, you have to agree that Nolan has made the film that he intended which is an achievement in and of itself. I can't even make a plate of fucking scrambled-egg on toast without then trying to convince people that I'd intended to make a traditional local delicacy called, “crunchy black bread in a sort of goopy fucking omelette”. And yet with Tenet, Nolan has managed to out brain-fuck his entire back catalogue as though we're now watching Inception through an Interstellar bookcase whilst suffering from a brain disorder that prevents the creation of new short-term memories. I don't know what the fuck I saw in Tenet but in a year in which you can apparently destroy the world by fucking a bat and then coughing into a strangers face, I'm glad that I got to see it. Thanks for reading, motherfuckers, and see you next time.

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