Christopher Nolan isn’t just a filmmaker anymore, he is a recurring event, a once-in-a-while experience that the world collectively waits to be bedazzled by time and again. After Steven Spielberg, the man who invented the summer blockbuster, Nolan is perhaps only the second director in the history of modern cinema to command fandom to a point where his connection to a film draws more numbers than that of an illustrious actor or actress. If you are a Nolan fan, you can’t watch his film only once. You gotta watch it over and over again. With his latest Tenet that’s now possible, as it has got its much-awaited release on Amazon Prime Video. And fans are delighted.
It says something about the influence and sheer magnetism of Nolan’s cinema, which has managed to create a global footprint unlike any other filmmaker alive. This unprecedented fandom is to large extents justified by the creative and practical boundaries Nolan continues to push. The British director isn’t just about large-scale set-pieces, or fancy CGI graphics, he is also a man who strains hard to write intriguingly complex characters.
That said, over the last decade, Nolan has become the master of defying the practical and plausible. He choreographs and executes bewildering action sequences that defy both reason and, perhaps, even caution. In the Dark Knight Rises, Nolan split a plane mid-air. In Dunkirk, he synchronised battles across swarms of men on land, in water and in the air. The fact that Nolan chooses to act out, rather than digitally create, these bafflingly original action sequences, lends more gravitas to the perfectionist attitude the director expects to echo in each scene. To which effect, Tenet is probably Nolan’s grandest film yet, with action sequences that beggar belief. It’s a boon then that the film is finally streaming Amazon Prime Video and can now be viewed by millions who were waiting to watch it but were forced to wait in a year that has kept us away from theatres. Here are five scenes from Tenet that will definitely floor you.
Straight from the off, Nolan has you gasping for air with this impossibly well-choreographed attack on an opera. As presumed terrorists attack the site, a counterfeit swat team that includes our “protagonist”, played by the graceful John David Washington, infiltrates the original and captures a key piece of the algorithm. Now not all of Tenet can be grasped in one go, which is why you need to watch it multiple times, something you can totally do, now that it is streaming on Amazon Prime Video. Only on an OTT platform do you have the option to go back and replay any scene you want to until you absorb its meaning.
The reason this scene is beautifully effective is for how smartly choreographed it feels. Usually, crowds are shown panic-stricken so as to allow your heroes the leeway of hiding. Here the circular movements of the camera together with a sedated crowd makes for an eerie action sequence that keeps you on the edge of your seat.
Crash a real plane
Nothing’s small scale with Nolan these days. You’d probably struggle to believe it, but he actually crashes a real airplane into a hangar to recover stolen artefacts. Not only is it mind-boggling that such a feat was even attempted, but one must also ponder the engineering brilliance of Nolan’s squad that this real-time explosion was both crafted and captured with such finesse. Even by Nolan’s ridiculously high standards for authenticity, crashing a real plane comes across as an expensive gamble. Alas, no cost must be spared when the result is so beguilingly believable and effective, should it?
Nolan’s action sequences aren’t just wobbly swaps of camera angles exchanging places on the timeliness. He rarely tries to blur the audience’s vision into believing something outrageous is happening. Instead, he chooses to zoom out to let the audience absorb the full picture, the poetic nature of what he has planned. Incredibly, he always chooses to do it cautiously, with the precision of real life rather than the quickness of editing technique. In this high-speed heist to recover a part of the algorithm, there are cars, trucks, a clever plan, and the illusion of reality. It’s preposterous but it feels believable because the director evidently pulls it off.
A heist in reverse
Nolan challenges the concept of physical filmmaking with Tenet and he also puts to test the concept of time. In the latter stages of the film, the protagonist tries to prevent a heist and save Sator, the Russian mobster’s wife. Only this time, everything else but him, is reversed, and is thus moving back in time. This car chase is perhaps the most challenging sequence in cinema history to execute for the number of variables involved and the amount of time it must have taken to script each element’s movement and trajectory on screen. It’s the kind of sequence you want to pause and re-watch for its mastery of detail – something that’s impossible to do in a theatre. That is why a film like Tenet can be thoroughly enjoyed on streaming services like Amazon Prime Video. It gives you the luxury to go back to a scene and relive the experience.
The overwhelming climax
A lot of directors are now synonymous with blowing stuff up on screen. So much so, it defines the cinema they make. But maybe nobody does it as authentically as Nolan. The climax of Tenet is a whirlwind of motion, a fearlessly choreographed dance of chaos, where so much happens, and yet, patterns emerge, threads can be grasped at. It takes a master, someone who sees a picture bigger than everyone else, to not just thread chaos with a narrative flow, but as is the case with Tenet, thread it twice, in moving forward and backward. The explosions, the action sure is grandiose but it is Nolan’s control over it all that leaves you happily puzzled and in awe of his faculties.
Tenet is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video. For the many of us who couldn’t catch it in the theatres, don’t miss this chance.