Christopher Nolan′s ′Tenet′ opens to high expectations | Film | DW | 26.08.2020

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Christopher Nolan's 'Tenet' opens to high expectations

Can Nolan's new film turn the tide in the global film industry crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic? Cinema buffs and blockbuster-hungry teens alike have eagerly awaited it — but some release dates are still shaky.

The coronavirus pandemic has turned the film industry on its head. Some experts are already seeing the demise of the "seventh art," as film shootings have been canceled, film distributors have stopped operations and cinemas worldwide have had to close for months. The industry's financial losses have been gigantic, with many jobs lost or at stake.

Now, distributors, movie theater owners and others involved in cinema are placing their bets on Christopher Nolan's film Tenet. Why is an entire industry focusing on a single movie?

Director Christopher Nolan (l) holding up his hand on set and telling actor John David Washington what he is aiming for in Tenet

Christopher Nolan (right) tells actor John David Washington (l) what he is aiming for in 'Tenet'

Unlike major film studios such as Disney or Sony, Warner Bros. is taking a different approach with Tenet: Christopher Nolan's film is actually supposed to be screened in movie theaters.

Long-awaited blockbusters like Disney's Mulan were forced into the streaming business as the global coronavirus pandemic made a worldwide theater release impossible. Executives decided to rescue the expensive films financially by generating at least some income through streaming sales.

Tenet, on the other hand, is scheduled to open on August 26 in around 70 countries, mainly in Europe. In the days following, launches are also planned for the Asian market and Australia. The United States, South America and India will not be included for the time being, as the infection rates there are still too high. However, in the US, Tenet is expected to open at "selected venues" on September 3, but it is not entirely certain if that can occur.

Tenet eagerly awaited by fans

Tenet is not just any film; it is one of the most eagerly awaited films to be released this year. It is in the league of blockbusters whose production costs are said to be over $200 million (€169.2 million).

And it is not just kids, who normally go to the movie theaters to see superhero and action films, who are excited about the release of Nolan's eleventh film. Cinema enthusiasts with discriminating taste are just as excited, and that largely has to do with the director: British-American Nolan enjoys cult status.

His work is often compared to that of the legendary Stanley Kubrick, as Nolan is also able to skillfully unite two cinematic worlds. On the one hand, his films are highly appealing visually. They are entertaining and imaginative, exciting and full of surprises, and they implement the most advanced technology as well as tried-and-true film tricks. Yet they are also compelling to film lovers, as they are usually based on complex scripts with sensational, intricate plots.

Director Stanley Kubrik on the set during the making of 2001: A Space Odyssey with ac tors dressed in space costumes

Director Stanley Kubrik on the set during the making of '2001: A Space Odyssey'

Nolan's films: Something for everyone

That makes Nolan's films something for both pleasure-seeking teens and tweens, as well as fans of arthouse cinema. Nolan, like Kubrick, is considered to be obsessed with film. He is well-versed in cinema history, loves the classics and old film technology but is also open to new developments and technical innovations. He is an old-school master who also has his eye on the future of cinema.

Filmstill from the Batman movie The Dark Knight showing Heath Ledger as The Joker

The Batman film 'The Dark Knight' (2008), starring Heath Ledger (above), illustrated how Nolan could turn the old into the new

In an interview with German weekly magazine Der Spiegel, Nolan explained what attracts him to the medium: "When we talked to people after test screenings of Tenet, it was young people in particular who were baffled, because they had never seen such images before. We used tricks, some of which had already existed in the silent film era." Sometimes, according to Nolan, you have to "go back to the old techniques to create fresh images."

Loves filming on the street

Nolan loves analog cameras and film material, as well as tricks that are not digitally based. He also likes shooting on the street. "With Tenet, I want to give film an energy boost and captivate the audience in front of movie screens. I want to offer them what they long for when they go to the movies," Nolan said in the Spiegel interview.

Filmstill from Tenet: Actor Kenneth Branagh pushing actress Elizabeth Debicki against a glass wall

Dramatic imagery: Elizabeth Debicki and Kenneth Branagh in the film 'Tenet'

A James Bond film must also be viewed on a big screen, Nolan noted. It is no coincidence that he draws this comparison. In some scenes, Tenet is strongly reminiscent of the films involving the famous British agent 007. Tenet was also shot at many different locations, in seven countries on several continents. "I want to give the viewers the feeling of being immersed in a world that is larger than life, and which is unknown and exciting," the director said. He already thought he had come very close to a James Bond film with Inception, his seventh film, released in 2010). Yet "Tenet' goes one step further," he said.   

Time travel in Tenet

Tenet is a combination of spy, action and science fiction film, and, as is often the case with Nolan, focuses on the phenomenon of time. A kind of superagent (played by John David Washington, Denzel Washington's son) is supposed to save the world from a war inferno.

Filmstill from Tenet showing John David Washington walking across a street

Could be his major breakthrough: John David Washington in 'Tenet'


He is assisted by a colleague (played by Robert Pattinson) who knows more about a very specific phenomenon called "tenet" that can be used to outwit time. The pair's main opponent is based in Russia, which also recalls the James Bond world. But Tenet is without doubt a film of the new millennium, especially since Nolan once again develops a complex arrangement involving time and space.

Expectations are running high: among the cinema owners around the world, who are hoping for major revenue in the coming weeks, after the past months' drought spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic; among young film fans who are excited about a spectacular new blockbuster; and among Nolan enthusiasts, who are anticipating another intricate magical work by the master director.


Adaptation: Louisa Schaefer

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