Tenet trailer breakdown: 14 Christopher Nolan questions we're left with

The new trailer for Christopher Nolan's Tenet premiered early this morning on gaming platform Fornite. Nolan's typically cryptic new project is a mega-budget story of time manipulation and a world in danger, featuring a superlative cast of A-listers.

Here's our trailer breakdown, presented in reverse order from end to start, mirroring the tricksy, elusive qualities of the trailer itself. What, exactly, is Tenet about? Scroll down to find out – or not.

2:47 – Will the movie arrive this July?

That's entirely conditional on the coronavirus pandemic. We're hoping against hope that the answer is yes.

Note how the 17th July release date (update: now changed to 31st July) has been removed from the trailer, replaced with a 'coming soon' message. Given that distributor Warner Bros hasn't yet set a new release date, let's assume it's on course for now.

UPDATE: Tenet is now scheduled for release on 26th August.


2:31: How dramatic is too dramatic?

Tenet actor Robert Pattinson has described each of the movie's action scenes as the equivalent of an ordinary film's climax. Nolan's escalating ambition over the years has taken him from a revisionist Batman saga to a literalisation of our subconscious (Inception), and a journey through a wormhole (Interstellar).

Nevertheless, we love the moment where Pattinson's character "dramatically" suggests crashing a grounded jumbo jet into a building. We wonder how much of the enormous $225 million budget that sequence occupied.


2:19: What are the implications of changing the future?

It's a classic trope of science-fiction cinema and literature: is the future pre-determined, or ours to change? Classic films like The Terminator and Back to the Future have grappled with this thorny issue, as has the recent Alex Garland TV series Devs. And Tenet looks set to join this motley crew.

Pre-determinism vs free will – what does changing the future mean for those living in the present? John David Washington's unnamed central character addresses this paradox at the very end of the trailer, but (and this is classic Nolan), we don't get anything beyond the vague suggestion of an idea.

2:14: Why are the concert attendees all asleep?

Have our central characters intercepted some kind of future terrorist attack in a bid to prevent it from happening? Are the bystanders asleep, or have they been killed, prompting a need to unwrite what's set to happen? Confused? So are we. Not least because members of the orchestra in the scene appear to be alive and well. 


2:04: How does Nolan stage a fight scene in reverse?

A $225 million budget buys you a lot of imagination. Little wonder that Nolan describes Tenet as his "most ambitious" project so far – remarkable when one considers that he's made the Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, Interstellar and Dunkirk.

An apparent fight scene between John David Washington and an unseen assailant is quintessential Nolan, appearing to use reverse motion to suggest the story's themes of time-shifting and inversion. If you thought the subconscious revolving hallway fight from Inception was trippy, you ought to brace for this one.


1:45: On a scale of 1 to 10, how evil is Kenneth Branagh's accent?

We're going full 10 – you can practically sense the corruption and ruthlessness emitting from Branagh's fruitily-voiced character. Weirdly, it's not too dissimilar to the accent he deployed in the 2015 Jack Ryan reboot, starring Chris Pine.

We imagine that Tenet will give him much better material to work with. We love how he mocks the bravery of John David Washington's character, saying he has chosen "the wrong profession" if he wishes to die of old age. In the words of Heath Ledgers Joker, that's cold.

1:40: Why are the characters on the freeway wearing oxygen masks?

Maybe Kenneth Branagh's antagonist character has staged some kind of chemical attack? We're also curious about the presence of Elizabeth Debicki's character, whose imperilled state seems to be central to the whole freeway set-piece.


1:30: Why is Elizabeth Debicki's character key to mankind's survival?

We're assuming that Debicki plays the mistress of Kenneth Branagh's villain. The trailer implies that Debicki sets up the meeting between Washington and Branagh's characters, so perhaps Washington feels compelled to save her from wrongdoing?

She's also shown to have a child, so maybe her family is being blackmailed and used as collateral in some kind of fiendish futuristic armaggedon scheme?


1:18: Who is Robert Pattinson's character?

Pattinson has described his part as a "Christopher Hitchens type", Hitchens being the late, controversial journalist and social commentator for the likes of The Daily Mail. We've no idea how that will translate into the world of a Christopher Nolan movie.

From the trailer, he appears to be channelling the dry humour and suave urbanity of Tom Hardy's Eames from Inception, a role that Hardy based on Nolan himself. Whoever Pattinson is playing, we like the rapport between himself and John David Washington – it helps to have some humorous banter to distract from the mind-melting high concept plot.

0:59: What is time inversion, as opposed to time travel?

Here's the pivotal moment in the trailer, one that underlines Nolan's philosophy. Robert Pattinson recently went on the record saying that his Tenet character "was not a time-traveler" and it's backed up, at least in part, by dialogue in the trailer.

John David Washington's central figure says they're not dealing with time travel but "time inversion". This is demonstrated when he appears to fire a gun at a target, only to be told that he hasn't fired the bullet, but instead captured it inside the chamber.

We recently speculated on the blog that Washington and Pattinson may well have access to a fourth dimension of reality, whereby past, present and future all co-exist, each plane being accessible at will. It seems that Washington's operative figure has the ability to reach out and manipulate a pre-determined course of events – like, say, a bullet fired from a gun that is expected to follow a logical, linear path.

Alex Garland's acclaimed TV series Devs recently alluded to a set of pre-determined "tramlines" stretching into our future, which must not be messed with at any cost. Is Tenet about to show us how these tram lines are set to buckle and distort in the fight for mankind's future?


0:52: Is that edit subtly reinforcing Robert Pattinson as our new Batman?

The cut from the title card reading 'The director of The Dark Knight' to Pattinson stepping out of a car can't be a coincidence, can it? We reckon it's intentional – after all, Warner Bros are distributing Tenet and they're also the gatekeepers of the Batman screen franchise.

Sadly, owing to the global situation, we now have to wait until later in 2021 for Pattinson's comic book collaboration with director Matt Reeves.


0:46: Who is Kenneth Branagh's "Russian national"?

Well, he sports a thick accent, owns his own catamaran and, in the words of John David Washington's character, can "communicate with the future". We think that earmarks him as a pretty dastardly bad guy.

0:35: What could possibly be worse than armageddon?

Perhaps a deadlier threat is someone who has access to the future, and can therefore control an infinite number of armageddon scenarios? This would put said person in an advantageous position as far as blackmailing and threatening the world is concerned.


0:01: What is "Tenet" and what doors does it open?

A tenet is defined as a cornerstone principle of a given philosophy, so what could this mean in the context of the movie? John David Washington's hero only has the word to go on, so we imagine it acts as a code to, in the words of the trailer, "open the right doors".

In other words, it gets him meetings with some very shady figures, one of whom may well be Nolan regular Michael Caine, spotted briefly in the trailer. Washington is also told that the word will "open some of the wrong ones too", which may allude to the dangerous forces he's compelled to cross paths with.

What did you spot in the Tenet trailer? Let us know @Cineworld.