Complete Tenet Movie Walkthrough

Tenet Movie Walkthrough for Patreon Subscribers - a detailed dive of Nolan's latest mindjob.
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Christopher Nolan is one of my favorite directors, if not my favorite. His movies Inception7 Dream Layers of Inception, Primer, and The Prestige are the bedrock foundational movies that literally got me going here at THiNC. They helped me get a clue about what I wanted to do here on the site, and pushed me to really find other movies in this same mindjob headspace that were also worth enjoying. But today I’m doing something differently. Instead of releasing this walkthrough of the movie Tenet to the world at large, I’ll be saving this entire walk through, from beginning to end to my favorite people in the entire world… the Patreon THiNCers. So thank you so much for supporting the site, and myself. I really appreciate you guys very very much. Alright, let’s get to this thing, shall we? Here we go – my Tenet Movie Walkthrough for Patreon Subscribers, and only my Patreon THiNC. Subscribers. It goes without saying, just because you are a subscriber, doesn’t mean you should read this unless you have watched the movie. And yes… please don’t endanger yourselves by going to the theater too soon. Only go when you will be safe, okay? Great.

Alright guys – there is a lot… a lot to unpack here. This movie is one of the most dissonant movie experiences I’ve ever had. This film will crush your larynx going this way, and crack you in the skull going that way. It’ll get you coming and going and it will giggle all the way there. Which is what is so cool about Nolan. He isn’t going to pander to you. You either keep up, or go home. He doesn’t care. Either way, he’s got your $12 anyway. hahah.


The Timeline of Tenet

First, you have to understand that time in the movie Tenet is best if thought about like as if it were a halfpipe. I initially thought it a circle. But that isn’t true at all. That would be the movie Predestination – and that isn’t what this is at all. Instead time moves from one lip of the pipe, down, and then up again, then back down, and up again, in sort of a swaying momentum back and forth. We start the movie by following The Protagonist (played by John David Washington) at A) on the left and then wing down to the B) explosion at the “end”, then C) up to Kat’s (played by Elizabeth Debicki known for Gatsby, and the Cloverfield Paradox) saving, then back down and around to D) the Protagonist’s initial meeting and pitching of Neil (played by Robert Pattinson, who I loved in The Devil All the Time, The King, and The Lighthouse)… here, let me scribble you a sketch of what I mean:

Tenet Movie Walkthrough for Patreon Subscribers - a detailed dive of Nolan's latest mindjob. Because yeah, this movie needs a primer.

OBVIOUSLY, this little scribble of mine is not even close to comprehensive. If you want to make it more representative, take a marker and just scribble indiscriminately in the middle of that halfpipe and you got a pretty good idea of the timeline for this movie. You could even take this halfpipe idea, and place one on top of the star – the movie explosion section – as Neil and the Protagonist go back and forth and back and forth to resolve failures or issues. You know?

Reverse Entropies and Positrons

Once you begin to think outside of time, the movie sort of opens up to you. And, I will admit, after watching the film the first time, I was only just beginning to start thinking correctly. Which is funny, because the characters say this to one another as they each begin to really grok what is going on in the film. The first time I watched the battle towards the end of the movie, I was so maxed out mentally blue teams going that way <——- and red teams going ——> and then there are the moments when they meet each other in the middle? WHAT? But with my first viewing I would catch myself noticing things that were unexplainable – the honking truck – what? No one’s in a truck. What’s the honking? Oh, that’s a collision with a different timeline. Or the race on the interstate – where are those two cars coming from? Oh, that’s another collision with a different timeline. Right? But the interesting thing that you can rest assured in is that Nolan has it all there for you the first time. What’s on the screen is the finished time travel solution. Even though that is impossible with our first pass. Right? Like Tony Hawk screaming back and forth on that halfpipe? Nolan is weaving a brilliant canvass for our viewing pleasure, even though it’s literally impossible that first time around.

The interesting thing is that Nolan builds us up to these ideas slowly. We start with items that have had their entropies inverted (Just such poppycock it’s flipping brilliant.) Guns that fire bullets back into their chambers. Items that fall up, not down. And then we build up into humans that are inverted as well. A non inverted human heads that way ———-> in time and an inverted human heads that way <———– in time. Right? Where Nolan blows up the genre of time travel is that instead of immediately zooming back in time, people move against the normal headwind of entropy until they arrive where in time they want to get out… and then they invert again. Right? It’s crazy. Which means you can walk right by yourself as you move your way backwards in time. It’s mental. But it’s brilliant.

Tenet Movie Walkthrough for Patreon Subscribers - a detailed dive of Nolan's latest mindjob. Because yeah, this movie needs a primer.

The Characters of Tenet

After you have finished the movie for the first time, your eyes can only then really be opened about what is really happening from the outset. But it isn’t clear after only one viewing. At least, it wasn’t for me.

The Protagonist: he is the head of an organization called TENET that he creates in the future, in order to affect the events of the past. Was that clear with your first viewing? Ok, what about this one?

Sator: The Russian super terrorist responsible for working with people from the future in order to pull all 9 artifacts back together again in order to make time travel possible again. He is also determined to destroy all life as we know it with his own death by overwhelming the positive flow of time by the negative flow. “End of play”.

Kat: Sator’s estranged wife that is refused time with her son by Sator. Her whole world is her son, and nothing matters for her but Maximillian. She sells Sator a forged Goya, which he uses against her.

Maximillian: Okay, did you catch this one? The son of Kat, the wife of the super-terrorist… Sure, you caught that one. So what? What about this one?

Neal: Neal is Maximillian inverted. Get it? Naillilmixam? Nail? Neil? Neil is Maximillian. Maximillian is Neil. The Protagonist comes to Maximillian in the future in order to convince him to join Tenet and work with him to save the world from his father.

Tenet Timeline Unraveled

First, I have to say, further down, I’ve created the definitive Tenet Timline infographic. And if you are unclear on how this movie goes down (which, I don’t blame you for) just scroll down until you find the blinding light. Ok? Great. But until then, let’s see if we can walk through the film narrative of the TENET timeline. Knowing what we know now about the characters, the TENET organization, and the general events of the movie, let’s see if we can walk back through what we saw on our first watching, and make sense of it linearly. If that’s even possible.

The Protagonist, knowing that he needs an organization to save the day for the world… creates an organization in the future named Tenet. He then hires Maximillian after he earns his Doctorate in Physics, or what have you, and he teaches him all the ins and outs about time inversion. Maximillian changes his name to Neil, and then he goes back in time to save The Protagonist at the Kyiv Opera House. During the operation, The Protagonist notices a strange masked soldier that has the ability to unfire a bullet. The Protagonist captures a weird artifact, but is then captured and tortured by Russian mercenaries. Ultimately, the Protagonist commits suicide, only to be saved by Neil to learn that his team is dead, and that he passed the “test”. Whatever. That was just a ruse.

After the experiences of the Opera House, the Protagonist realizes he is now a member of this elite team called Tenet (or the creator of said group, he just doesn’t know it yet.) And Tenet’s main goal is to keep the entirety of the earth, all mankind, alive… and that that there is a time technology out there that is threatening the world as we know it. He then meets Barbara (played by Clémence Poésy who I adored in the film In Bruges) a scientist that studies inverted objects and their reverse entropies. Items that actually move backwards through time. After the Protagonist traces some of the bullet cartridges to Mumbai, and an arms dealer there, Priya Singh (played by Dimple Kapadia). The Protagonist and Neil, a local there in Mumbai, confront Priya who, also happens to be a member of Tenet. She informs them that the bullets she is in possession of were inverted by a Russian oligarch named Andrei Sator. And better yet, that they come from a “closed city” named Stalsk-12, where Sator can actually communicate with people from the future.

Tenet Movie Walkthrough for Patreon Subscribers - a detailed dive of Nolan's latest mindjob. Because yeah, this movie needs a primer.

We know that then, the Protagonist meets with Sator’s wife who had sold her husband a fake Goya sketch. Kat let’s the Protagonist know that her husband keeps her on a short least because of the sale, which, she didn’t know he was the buyer of. So, in order to get Kat’s help in getting to Sator, he promises to steal the Goya, releasing her from her husband’s tyrannical rule which is keeping her from her son Max. The painting is contained inside a maximum security location within the Oslo airport. After crashing the facility with a jumbo jet, Neil and the Protagonist discover a machine called a turnstile. While there, the encounter two men, one inverted, one not. (Inverted meaning, traveling backwards in time. Inverted entropy. Whatever you want to call it.) The ensuing fight ends with Neil having “taken care of his guy” and Neil preventing the Protagonist from killing his attacker. (???) Later we learn from Priya that the Turnstile was created in the future and can cause humans to begin traveling backwards in time. She also explains that the two men were actually the same man moving two different directions in time.

Jump back to Kat and the Amalfi Coast. The Protagonist implies to Kat that the painting has been destroyed. Which leads her to introduce the Protagonist to Sator. And during a boating excursion, Kat tries to drown Sator – BUT! the Protagonist saves his life. (Phew! Knowing what we know at the end, wouldn’t that have caused the end of the world?!?) With his introduction and intentions secured the Protagonist, posing as a contractor promises to retrieve a case of Plutonium. Jump to Tallinn, where Neil and the Protagonist ambush a convoy and steal the plutonium. Oh, and by the way, there is no plutonium… but rather an artifact, which was the same artifact that was lost in the screwed up Kyiv Opera House opening. And during a crazy simultaneously forwards and backwards chase scene, their escape is thrashed by Sator who has Kat hostage. (One time, just one time, I want a woman to save a man that is held hostage. Just saying.) After Sator escapes, he abandons Kat to a speeding car. But Neil and the Protagonist are able to stop the car she is in just in time. Immediately after the harrowing save, the Protagonist is captured and taken to another of Sator’s warehouses where he sees another turnstile.

Inside the turnstile, we witness one of the most confusing interrogations ever to hit the silverscreen. Two Sator’s, one moving forward in time, another moving backwards in time. Backwards Sator shoots Kat with an inverted bullet, and leaves her for dead. Protagonist lies to Sator about the location of the artifact – and a group of Tenet operatives arrive to save them from Sator. The Tenet crew (now including Ives) invert Kat in an attempt to save her life as they begin traveling back in time. The Protagonist revisits the carchase – which if you had been watching closely the first time would have noticed his double as he is actually chasing the receding Sator. Again the Protagonist fails in capturing Sator, but his team, lead by Ives and Neil save him yet again. Where Neil lets the Protagonist know that he has actually been a secret member of Tenet since the very beginning. Continuing their backwards time travel – they arrive back at Oslo during the original attack. And that is where we learn that the individual that fought both Neil and the Protagonist was actually the Protagonist himself. If you aren’t used to this by now, I’m sorry, but it’s the theme of the entire movie.

Un-inverting Kat, the Protagonist learns from Priya that the nine artifacts are part of an elaborate algorithm that can invert the entire planet. And if locked in an inverted state it will cause the destruction of everything we know. Sator is the tool of future humans that have tasked him with reassembling the nine parts of the algorithm. Each of the nine components were placed among the rubble of nuclear left overs. Which is how Sator gets inoperable pancreatic cancer. Kat is the one that figures out that Sator is headed back to Vietnam when the two of them were last happy together in order to commit suicide, and set off his deadman’s switch which will lead to the end of the world.

The Tenet team tracks the algorithm to Stalsk-12. And in a – and I quote, because this is to beautiful to not get exactly right – “temporal pincer maneuver” two different teams attack from two different directions. Red team moves forward in time. Blue team moves backwards in time. Simultaneously in Vietnam, Kat and the Tenet wait for Kat1 to leave the yacht, and then she re-embarks and awaits Sator’s return. Her goal? To keep Sator from killing himself until after the algorithm is safe.

As the battle of Stalks-12 rages around them, the Protagonist and Ives are kept from reaching the algorithm by a locked gate. There also happens to be an inverted masked body there at the gate who has a peculiar trinket on his backpack. Well, the nice thing about running backwards, though dead, suddenly the body springs to life and saves the Protagonist from a gunshot and unlocks the gate. (Or locks it in reverse? I am not sure anymore.) And back in Vietnam, Kat kills Sator early, just as Protagonist and Ives secure the algorithm with the help of a re-inverted (re-inverted now equals forwards? i need Tylenol.) Neil.

The movie winds down with Neil, Ives and the Protagonist splitting up the algorithm’s components and parting ways. And there on Neil’s backpack is that same red trinket!? Neil, about to die by going back in and saving the world from the other direction, tells the Protagonist that he had been recruited by the Protagonist years ago – or years ahead in the Protagonist’s timeline. Better yet, we learn that the Protagonist is actually the leader of Tenet, the team that recruited himself to save the world.

Tenet Definitive Infographic Timeline


The Definitive Tenet Infographic Timeline

Clicking on the image should open a much larger version. As you can see from the Tenet Timeline Infographic above, this story is crazy complicated. And it’s even more convoluted by the fact that all the time travel happens in real time – and oh by the way, it’s all backwards.

Thoughts on the Movie Tenet

It’s possible to be too clever by half. You know what I mean? Did I love the movie Tenet? Yes. I did. But Covid or not, this movie wasn’t going to do stellar at the box. I promise. It is just way too complicated. (Which, works for me – but not for the majority of viewers. A buddy of mine (Hey Adam! Love you buddy.) told me that immediately after he and some friends (yes, he invited me, I promise, I was too busy doing the Covid-Dodge-Two-Step) decided that once it was out on video they were going to watch it all over again with a remote in hand. He still didn’t understand most of what happened. And I felt that way too my first time watching it. The screenplay had a million too many “Reverse-Ion-Thruster-Entropy-Polarizations” lines. He was hard to hear with the dischordant soundtrack and the imploding explosions.

But it’s movies like this that just totally lights up my cerebral cortex. I mean, the infographic literally took me two solid days to create. And I don’t spend that kind of time for movies I don’t enjoy. When I realized that Max was Neil? WHAT?! And when I so the final penny drop and realized that the Protagonist was actually the founder of Tenet, but he didn’t know it yet? hahaha. I howled at the screen. So fantastic. I don’t know, what did you guys think of the film?