When I first heard, a couple of years ago now, that Oppenheimer was going to be Christopher Nolan’s next movie, I suspect I had a different reaction from most people. My mind immediately went back to his then-most recent outing: Tenet, Nolan’s bewildering and misunderstood Covid-era release about time inversion that lots of mainstream moviegoers struggled to wrap their heads around (and which, coincidentally, is also returning to theaters for a one-week run in February).
There’s a moment in that 2.5-hour film in which “The Protagonist,” played with tightly coiled intensity by John David Washington, has a conversation with a female scientist. They’re talking about a scientist from the future, the one responsible for the time inversion breakthrough that set the events of Tenet in motion. And a very specific analogy is drawn by way of describing her importance: That scientist is lionized as “her generation’s Oppenheimer.”
I know, I know; I’m probably reaching here. But still, to have that exact reference dropped into the movie — and then for Oppenheimer himself to be the subject of Nolan’s very next picture — it felt at least to me like existential, man-made destruction is something the director maybe has been thinking about for longer than his Oppenheimer audiences might assume.
Of course, that’s neither here nor there when it comes to appreciating his latest movie — as well as Tenet, which I’ve seen three or four times now and appreciate more with each successive viewing. I’d argue that Tenet suffered from its initial rollout towards the end of the first year of the Covid pandemic; I saw it, for example, at a drive-in. It was my first post-Covid movie, and not only was I watching it from a distance, but the already muffled sound was filtered through my car radio.
Not the ideal way to appreciate an espionage-adjacent thriller where so much happens at night, in the shadows, and in an inverted version of the past. (By the way: Can we Tenet fans stop and appreciate the fact that re-releasing a movie from 2020 is such a Tenet thing to do?)
Tenet’s one-week return to theaters begins on Feb. 23, and it will include IMAX screens — the latter being a fantastic way to enjoy the visual mindf*kery of this movie, with its fight scenes and car chases that defy the laws of physics. No less exciting is the fact that Tenet’s re-release will be accompanied by exclusive footage of Dune: Part Two, which debuts on March 1.
Nolan, in a statement, said about the re-release: “Seeing the way audiences responded to our large format presentations of Oppenheimer, I’m thrilled that Warner Bros. is giving audiences a chance to see Tenet the way it was intended to be seen, on the largest Imax and large format film screens, and I’m honored to have our movie warm up the film projectors for Denis [Villenueve]’s jaw-dropping Dune: Part Two.”
Perhaps the most important point about Tenet worth sharing, coming from someone who loves the movie: Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have to understand every single thing in it in order to appreciate the totality. It’s like the scientist tells Washington’s character early on in the film, when she’s blowing his mind about time-invasion: “Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.”