Christopher Nolan's Tenet: what we know so far

Christopher Nolan makes more than movies – he makes cinematic events. Think Dunkirk, Interstellar, Inception, his Dark Knight trilogy, all major films in their own right, but ones that also transported the audience into epic worlds, both real and fictional.

He’s also mastered the art of playing his cards close to his chest. Whenever Nolan has a new film on the horizon, he only allows us the bare minimum of details – just enough to whet our appetites and build the excitement, but never enough to spoil the surprise. That’s what happens when you’re one of a small handful of filmmakers who can fill cinemas based on their name alone.

His secretive new movie Tenet is scheduled to arrive on 26th August 2020, and Nolan appears to be sticking to that tried and tested formula. But the facts – some, at least – are out there. Here’s what we know for sure about the film with the palindromic title…


What’s the plot?

Surprise, surprise! The details are shrouded in mystery, but what we know so far points towards a secret agent with a vital mission – trying to stop the outbreak of World War III. So we’re in the world of espionage, but it can’t be as straightforward as that; with Nolan, you expect the unexpected. Maybe this means a return to one of his favourite subjects: the perception of time.

One of the film’s stars, Robert Pattinson told USA Today that the script was “unreal”, which just raises our expectations even further. That he’s also said he was locked in a room while reading the script comes as no surprise. See what we mean about secrecy?

John David Washington in Tenet movie

Who’s in it?

Nolan’s most expensive film to date – the budget is said to be around $205 million – boasts an all-star cast, including relative newcomers and regular faces. BlacKkKlansman’s John David Washington leads the ensemble, alongside Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki (Widows), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Nocturnal Animals), Clemence Poesy (In Bruges) and Himesh Patel (Yesterday).

Continuing his longstanding collaboration with the director is “lucky charm” Michael Caine, as well as Kenneth Branagh, who appeared in Nolan’s Dunkirk. Their roles? Judging from the trailer, the aforementioned secret agent looks like Washington’s character, but as for the others, we’ll just have to wait and see.

John David Washington in Tenet movie


Where does Tenet take place?

Nation, world, timeline – we simply don’t know at the moment. But we do know that Tenet has been filmed in the UK, the United States, Denmark, Estonia, India, Norway and Italy. Of course, that doesn’t mean all those countries will feature; one, some or maybe all of them could be used to depict a completely different location, and studio sets will inevitably come into the mix as well. However, a large chunk of location shooting took place in Mumbai, so we’re betting that the city will have a strong presence in the film.

John David Washington in Tenet movie


What does the trailer tell us?

When it arrived in December, the trailer threw tantalising clues into the air like confetti. We already knew the film had the same kind of abstract, one-word title as other Nolan originals, with the added twist that it was reversible. And the trailer was, inevitably, enigmatic.

Phrases like “As I understand it, we’re trying to avoid World War III”, “Welcome to the afterlife” and “Nuclear holocaust? No. Something worse” all adds to a sense of impending doom. There’s some nifty reverse driving, Branagh at sea in a life jacket, Caine in a sharp suit and actor Martin Donovan telling us “All I have for you is a word. Tenet.” Gee, thanks!

Who’s composing the music?

If you bet on Hans Zimmer, you lost. He’s been Nolan’s composer of choice for years – the last movie he didn’t work on was The Prestige in 2006 – but this time he’s handed the conductor’s baton to Ludwig Goransson.

With an Oscar under his belt for Black Panther and credits including Venom and both Creed movies, he’s no stranger to big projects. But Nolan is back together with some of his regular team as well for Tenet, including cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema (Dunkirk, Interstellar) and production designer Nathan Crowley (Dunkirk, Interstellar, Batman trilogy among others). That said, Nolan's regular editor Lee Smith has been swapped out for Hereditary's Jennifer Lame.

What’s Nolan been saying?

Inevitably, he’s not been saying a great deal, but towards the end of last year, Nolan's interview with Entertainment Weekly confirmed some theories – and started even more speculation.

"We’re jumping off from the point of view of an espionage film," he explained, "but we’re going to a number of different places. We’re crossing a few different genres in a hopefully exciting and fresh way. Emma [Thomas] and I have put together a lot of large scale productions, but this is certainly the biggest in terms of international reach. We shot in seven countries, with a massive cast and huge set pieces. There’s no question, it’s the most ambitious film we’ve made."

If ever there was a line designed to raise excitement, it’s that last one. Tenet is scheduled for release on 26th August 2020, conditional on the current world situation. Let us know @Cineworld if you can't wait to see it.


Freda Cooper is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team. Follow her on Twitter.