Let us look at the theories that explain some unanswered questions about Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending movie Tenet.
Remember the film Donnie Darko? Or Primer? Some films require theories after theories to just wrap our heads around the film and actually get to a point where you can confidently say that you finally understand what the hell was going on there.
Are you watching it closely? The famous dialogue from Christian Bale’s character Alfred Borden from the film The Prestige describes Nolan films in the best way.
Christopher Nolan is one of the directors who just does not believe in making a straight forward film. He believes in creating a puzzle. An enigma that will capture the audience’s imagination for days once they walk out of the theater.
Spinning top. Dream or Reality? One simple question compelled several fans to watch the film Inception again and again. Of course, fans prodded Nolan for an answer for several years, but he never gave it. He swung the question in a different direction rather than addressing it directly. That is the fun part of his job. He considers himself no different than Alfred Borden; once he will reveal the secret that you are looking for, the veil of enigma will vanish, and he will be nothing to you.
So, right here, we will list five theories that will not only help you untie the intricate knot of time-inverted interconnected events in Tenet but will also help you look for clues that are hidden in layers in each scene in your second watch.
Spoiler Ahead! Obviously.
Neil was Max
The Protagonist’s friend and partner in crime, Neil (played by extraordinarily talented Robert Pattinson), was actually Max, the son of Elizabeth Debicki’s character Kat and Kenneth Branagh’s character Sator.
You may ask the question, how is that even possible? The answer to that lies in the structure of the story, which you can correlate with Netflix time travel thriller Dark.
We come to know nothing about the backstory of Neil and nor do we hear a word from Max in the entire film. The bombshell is revealed not up until the climax when Neil reveals that the Protagonist himself had recruited him. So, it is likely that the Protagonist meets Max in the future and convinces him to head back in time to stop his father, Sator, from instigating a calamity.
One of the fascinating aspects of this theory is that Max could be a shorter version of the name Maximilian, a French name. If you flip the name backward, you will get Neillimixam, which would give Neil for short.
It’s a mind-blowing theory, but it does have some loopholes, such as the inconsistency between the timeline of events and Max’s age.
Who Discovered the Algorithm?
This is actually very similar to some of the events that happened in aforementioned mind-bending Netflix thriller Dark.
We are exposed to the information that a female scientist who invented the algorithm killed herself after realizing the true potential of her creation. This had happened years after the events shown in the movie, but there is no reason to believe that we haven’t seen that female scientist. Clemence Poesy, who played the character, Laura, appeared in the first half of the film and explained the concept of time inversion to The Protagonist. But how did she know all of that? Perhaps her older self taught her through time inversion means.
She never knew how to build an algorithm; the information came from the future. She then built the concept on that knowledge and thus created that deathly algorithm responsible for eradicating the past in order to save the future. After doing that, she sends the knowledge back to the past, completing the whole cycle.
I know this is hard to understand, but the same concept was used in Dark season 2 when the ambiguity surrounding the origin of the book “A Journey Through Time” intensified when the author HG Tanhaus revealed that he never wrote that book. The book had come from the future, which had guided him in building the time machine.
Sator Was Never Meant to Succeed
The antagonist, psychopath Sator (played by Kenneth Branagh), always believed that he had one final trump card with him. “A dead man switch,” which, when activated, would spring the algorithm in action and end the entire world.
Now, in a scene, the future Sator confronts Kat and tells her about the capsule pill, which is a suicide device that he said he had acquired from the CIA and it is capable of ensuring the future. However, we had heard about the suicide pill before when The Protagonist tried to use it in the beginning of the film, and he realized that they are never meant to work because they have been devised only as a “test” pill. It is possible that what Sator was showing to Kat was the same pill that the Protagonist had left on the yacht on purpose because he knew that it wouldn’t work.
One more thing to understand is that if the algorithm had ever been activated, then the past would have wiped out, and the events of “Tenet” wouldn’t have happened. The algorithm was never going to be activated so the “dead man” switch could have been a ploy to keep Sator in the sense of false security.
Have We Already Seen the Glimpses of Tenet Sequel in the film?
Neil reveals in the final scene that though his relationship with The Protagonist has to come an end, he and the Protagonist’s future self have shared a long list of adventures that the Protagonist is yet to live through. It is possible that in the future, we might see Robert Pattinson and John David Washington reprise their roles in another time-bending thriller in a race against time to stop other groups with Sator-like intentions.
Now, it is imperative to remind ourselves about Nolan’s philosophy of a film, which revolves around concentrating on one story at a time without overthinking about the future.
There is a Secret Nolan-Verse in Play
The theory has originated from the twitter account called @movieshardy. It expounds that Inception, Interstellar, and Tenet are stories from the same universe.
Although there are some wacky ideas, the theory is worthy of a look.
One crazy idea about the theory is Laura (Clemence Poesy) and Neil (Robert Pattinson) being children of Leonardo DiCaprio’s character from Inception, Dominic Cobb.
One correlation that the theory alludes to is the similarities between the Interstellar and Tenet worlds; both of them facing an impending doom. Could the mysterious, powerful group from the future that is trying to save the Tenet world by working in the shadows be the same group that guides Cooper to the Black Hole. It’s a far-fetched idea, and nobody knows for sure except maybe Nolan, who is right now more worried about financial gains than anything else.
Theories about a story is a tricky business. Some may make sense and get it spot on while others just float around the fringes of nonsense. At the end of the day, like other things in your life, it is your wish whether to believe in a theory or not. Make a wise decision to ensure you are not disappointed in the future.