‘It is the kind of eye candy that has you asking for more, never mind the sugar shock’
There is a scene in the fifth chapter of Through the Looking-Glass, ‘Wool and Water’, where the White Queen bandages her finger, screams like “the whistle of a steam-engine”, bleeds and finally pricks her finger. That is the effect of living backwards as the Queen kindly explains to Alice, even as she wisely comments, “It is a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.”
There is a scene in Christopher Nolan’s time-bending thriller, Tenet, where a character bleeds before being shot that reminded me of Alice and her adventures in weird and wonderful lands. A look at Nolan’s oeuvre shows his fascination with bending the space-and-time continuum and the effect it has on our identity and sense of self. Time is a human construct; a way for us to make sense of a largely uncaring universe. To make sense of the music of the spheres is something that has interested philosophers and poets and the modern-day combination of the two—auteurs!
Nolan has apparently been working on Tenet’s concept for over 20 years and the lavishly mounted spectacle is worth the wait. Tenet is an exhilarating ride through space (it was shot in Denmark, Estonia, India, Italy, Norway, the United Kingdom, and United States) and time.
Apart from the time travelling Alice, Tenet is inspired by spy movies. There is the opening in the opera—what is it about the opera that lends itself to spy thrillers? There was James Bond crashing the Quantum’s party at a performance of Tosca in Quantum of Solace. There is also the hint of Honey Rider’s bikini from Dr No… All we needed was a woman in a trench coat and nothing else, driving up to a secret agent and snapping “get in”.
Tenet has a CIA operative called Protagonist (displaying a singular lack of imagination in a movie that pushes the unities of space and time), who comes across bullets that seem to be “unfired”, which leads him to a secret organization that is trying to figure out who has this time-bending tech. He is assisted in his hunt by Neil, who has various specific skills, including a masters in physics and a nice line in suits. The hunt takes the duo across the globe, meeting Priya in India and Kat, the estranged wife of a Russian oligarch, Sator, with stops in London and Oslo to steal a forged Goya drawing.
The action – forwards, backwards and sideways is jaw-dropping. It is the kind of eye candy that has you asking for more, never mind the sugar shock. The quiet moments are lovely too, giving you time to catch your breath before hurling you into another exquisitely choreographed action sequence. Jeffrey Kurland has outdone himself with the costumes—from the aforementioned sharp suits to thoughtful clothing cues for the ladies.
Of the cast, John David Washington as the protagonist is silky smooth while Robert Pattinson as Neil seems foppish but then nothing is as it seems. Dimple Kapadia as Priya is astonishing while the statuesque Elizabeth Debicki personifies the delicate English Rose as Kat, albeit with a few vicious thorns to spice things up…
Nolan regular, Michael Caine, appears in one brilliant scene as Sir Michael Crosby, a British Intelligence officer commenting that a Brooks Brothers suit will not cut it. There is just enough time to correct the Protagonist’s assumption that the British have a monopoly on snobbery—not a monopoly, Crosby says, more of controlling interest.
Kenneth Branagh is Sator, complete with the rage, control, the great grief and accent—when can we hear him say “murder-rug” as Poirot in Death on the Nile? Douglas Adams’ Restaurant at the End of the Universe is a perfect marriage of space and time just like Tenet is a jolly meeting of James Bond and Alice in Wonderland. Tenet works as a dizzying ride on the Heart of Gold powered by the Infinite Improbability Drive. Yeah baby yeah!