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Tenet explained | denialpxe teneT

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  1. Saw it twice in theaters.

    Read this laying in bed trying to fall asleep.

    Love most of the explanations. Handful of ‘eh’ comments but whatever, it’s Tenet.

    Didn’t think I’d read a dissertation trying to fall asleep. But here we are.


    • Haha, appreciate it!


    • Thank you!

  3. Awesome explanation! Thanks.

    • Thank you!

  4. This explanation is Chris’ MBDTF, 6/10 ;P

    • Haha I see what you did there

      • Haha, but seriously, fantastic explanation and deep dive into the story. very good read.

  5. Why Katherine barton doesn’t appear reversed on the yacht when she was gonna meet her past self.

    • It’s not shown on screen, but all the characters who go to the past revert so they’re flowing forward again.

      It’s like when Neil and The Protagonist take Katherine back to Oslo to heal her bullet wound. They traveled backwards for a week and were inverted the entire time. But the moment they go through the turnstile again, they’re no longer inverted. So even though they’re in the past, they’re not moving in reverse. They could just age normally from that point on.

      So Katherine inverted to before the encounter on the yacht (which is the scene where she’s on the big ship with The Protagonist and Neil and they’re preparing for their final encounter with Andrei). Found another turnstile. Reverted to forward flowing time. Then made her way to the yacht, not reversed.

  6. Okay, the future created the algorithm, but they knew next to nothing about it. What a chance to destroy the past and stay alive. The grandfather paradox was forgotten by them.
    Did you hire Sator but didn’t know he would fail?
    You said about altering time, I believe they could make decisions that would alter it.
    You see the bullet marks and you should avoid standing there.
    The war scene I wanted more information, because in the end I didn’t understand almost anything about having two teams attacking and I don’t know what.

    • I should add a section about the war section. Honestly, as much as I’ve thought about this movie…the war scene feels almost purposefully vague. Like all flash with little in the way of substance about what was happening and if it mattered. The only real thing you really need to focus on is The Protagonist and Neil. Everything else is just fluff.

      I guess some didn’t believe the grandfather paradox would play out like that. I’m sure they were aware of it but still willing to take the risk.

  7. I just watched the movie, it’s the 4th time, and I’m pretty sure I found a glaring mistake in the movie about- What happened, happened-. A short time ago a youtube channel made an explanatory video of tenet, I asked about changing the past, I was answered that it was impossible to happen. But I am even more convinced that yes it could happen and it was done. The scene in question is the last one. When Kat, -who I don’t know which kat is, the cell phone she uses was handed over by the protagonist, the inverted kat-. So kat is going to school to pick up her son, and she notices a strange car, she leaves a voicemail, i thought it was a realtime call but it was a voicemail. And boom!; the protagonist gets into the car where Priya was and kills her. Happy ending!
    But wait, look at the complexity of the scene, she arrives at school and witnesses a dark car, takes her cell phone and leaves the message recorded, ok, so the Protagonist should be following her all the time! Well, that’s the only way to explain that there would be no change in the past. There was no time for him to get there! And the way he was violent with Priya – he didn’t even try to negotiate -. He just killed it! This implies that Kat dies, the protagonist receives the message, goes back in time and saves her.
    Am I right or wrong? So the algorithm gave the option to change the time, which was avoided as much as possible. Neil was afraid of it, but it could be done.

    • Hey Thalys! The movie is mind breaking. So the more collective mental power thrown at it, the better. If it makes you feel better, I did spend a good amount of time thinking through the specific scene with Kat/Priya/TP. It gets at one of the weird and wonderful things about posterity. To set the scene up. Kat, Neil, and TP all invert and go back to the day of the Opera House attack. The climactic scenes happen at Stalsk and the yacht. Then TP and Kat would both spend a couple weeks hiding out so as not to be seen in two places at once. Eventually they’d catch up to the day they inverted and can safely emerge. So the Kat in that final scene is the same Kat from the yacht. It’s inverted Kat caught back up to the present.

      When she makes that call about seeing the car, the voicemail enters into “posterity”. It becomes a record that, much like Sator’s emails, travels through time. So if someone heard the phone call 10 years later, they could invert, travel 10 years back in time, and arrive at that exact moment between the call and Priya doing anything and prevent Priya doing anything. And there’s no change in the past because the past and future are “concurrent”. There’s no record of anything happening to Kat in the future because nothing happened to Kat because someone in the future came back and saved her. The only way there’d be a record of something bad happening to Kat is if something bad happened to Kat. No one going from the future to the past could change that because if they went back and saved her there’d already be record of her being okay.

      Another way of looking at it is the scenes with the turnstiles. The person always sees themself on the other side of the barrier, entering or exiting the turnstile, before they enter the turnstile. They can’t change that. If you see yourself on the other side, you can’t then not enter. Because it means you already entered. Say The Protagonist tried it. He saw himself and refused to enter. Will he defy physics? No, because Neil pushes him through. So he did go through the turnstile, just against his will. What happened, happened. We just don’t know how/why.

      In the case with Priya, The Protagonist doesn’t negotiate because he knows Priya is serious. That no negotiation is possible. And, also, she is an arms dealer. He mentioned earlier that it’s a very easy trigger to pull. And he’s also very serious about protecting the secrets of Tenet. Priya is, ultimately, a loose end that needed resolving. She did everything she needed to do and was no longer needed. So it’s not just that The Protagonist is protecting Kat. He is. But he’s also doing what’s best for Tenet/the mission. Just like Ives was willing to hunt down TP and Neil.

      And regarding the “there was no time to get there,” I kind of already answered it. But it’s that same thing that The Protagonist could get the voicemail and wait 3 weeks, invert, go back and save Kat, and it’s the same thing as if he was following her, heard the voicemail in real time, and was already following her. At the very beginning of the movie, during the Opera House scene, the Stalsk 12 battle happens and the yacht showdown happens. Neither the viewer or the characters realized it at the time. But Michael Caine mentions the explosion. And Kat mentions seeing the woman diving from the yacht. It’s all already happened. It just “has to happen.” The characters still have to take the actions the bring them to that point, even when they know that things are okay.

      It gets back to why Neil goes to unlock the door. He knows it must have been him that went down there. And it will only happen if he goes down there. So he goes down there. If he didn’t go down there, then it would never have happened.

      I’ll politely go with “Wrong.” But I think it’s an option we all heavily consider at some point. I spent hours and hours sitting there trying to work through some of these things.

      • I legit at theoent in time Lat made the call leaving thesg (my 1st and only time having watched it being 3 hrs ago) that the Kat making the call was the same kat seen mins later meetings g her son at end while protagonist kills pryia … But asy friend pointed out that the clothes were not the same as when she met her son as inverted kat ….

        Anyway I have to admit if it didn’t actually show that inverted bullet in opening moments I wld have possibly lost all interest in trying to understand anything moving forward and than like magic I was popping out details and pints abt the things going on like the fight scene at the Freeport i called it IMMEDIATELY that Neil had sent himself … Now obvious later its actually protagonist that he sees but I CLD tell on the fxe it was absolutely someone inveterld and important and was also when i said that Niel was not who we thought he WS and knew more abt everything which timately was what protagonist said as I thought it but the idea abt Bad Guy not going back to day 1 and or back to when Niel saves ppl and see it then kill the day 2or 3 protagonist …. Because of posterity …. What’s happened happened ….. So the whole THOUGHT of this being possible is REMOVED because of the sneaky thing Inverted KAT does (maybe its the agent woth her) but they literally remove the body of dead guy from that area thus eliminates the potential for the requested “notification of death” as noone knows he was killed at that time so leading up to that time in the “present” the GU that is on the radio taunting protagonist does at the end of the day anyway so if THAT doesn’t answer the question abt why he doesn’t go back and kill protagonist or change that battle situation is because he’s inverted when he’s killed and like suggested above all he KNOWS abt is that the explosion happens which was ALWAYS TE PLAN in that battle only alteration was getting the piece of or the full itm which th inverted guy on the that can’t know abt as he does immediately PRIOR to the guys killing his agent at the hole trying to bury the entire item

        I am 90 percent sure my explanation lacks much context as i get to mind screwed while typing so I’ll hope that my first draft is as accurate as possible having seen it 1x and reading this explaining online to get o my ability of understanding exactly why this is far from a giant plot hole …


  8. Fascinating article. Thanks. I admire the ambition of the movie more than I admire the movie itself. I don’t think it does a good job communicating its concepts to the audience.

    But here are some questions:

    1. Why does future TP arrange for the torture of past TP as a test? If he has already reached the future he knows his past self is good enough to do what needs to be done.

    2. Are the turnstiles actual time machines? If Neil and TP want to take Kate back 14 days to Oslo, does the turnstile move them 14 days into the past – give or take the time to travel to Oslo? Or do they just get inverted and have to spend 14 days living backwards getting back to Oslo?

    3. Where does Tennet get all the money it needs to buy all its equipment, guns, helicopters, and hire all its staff?

    4. Where did Neil get the inverted gun to fire in the opera house?



    • No the turnstiles only invert you. If you want to go back 1 week you have to spend 1 week in an inverted state. This happens several times in the movie.

    • Yeah, I also admire the ambition more than the movie.

      1. The test is more than just proving TP is worthy. It lists him as deceased. So the events of the film can’t be traced back to him since he’s technically a ghost. The movie Six Underground actually uses a similar concept lol. But there’s also just the fact that it already happened in the past meaning he has to go through with it since it was part of the process.

      2. Turnstiles invert the flow of matter. So nothing to do with time. Just perception of time. It’s like if you switch from driving forward to driving in reverse. All the scenery you were just moving toward is now moving away from you. That means time remains 1:1. If you want to go back 14 days, you have to live an inverted life for 14 days. While also traveling, while inverted, to the actual place you want to travel. So the whole thing is kind of a logistical nightmare.

      3. It seems Tenet has some important members. Like the CIA handler who initially tells TP about Tenet. Or Priya. She’s a wealthy arms dealer and I think funds a lot of the military operations? It seems like if TP needs money, he has contacts through which to get some money.

      4. Good question. I imagine someone inverted a gun, he then took the gun to the opera house, left it there, inverted himself to back before the events of the opera house, reverted, found the inverted gun, then fired it? It’s actually really stupid lol.

  9. “ Surprise! There are Russians in the van who take The Protagonist and other agent prisoner.”

    Those guys, who are Ukrainian, were with the CIA agents in the van initially. One of them says “wake the Americans” then gives them the patches to Velcro onto their outfits. Then they swap the clothes of the extracted person saying “the Ukrainians are expecting a passenger”. Then when they get back to the van they say “it’s not the guy” and take them prisoner.

    Unclear to me still why these CIA guys were working for these Ukrainian criminals in the first place though.

    • How I understand the scene was that they initially arrived with the Ukrainians but by the end of the mission they were captured by Russians who interrupted the mission. In the aftermath scene when TP wakes up in bed, the whole “Welcome to the afterlife” moment, the CIA handler says to him, “Private Russians, we think.” I imagine these are agents Sator sent back as part of a temporal pincer to try and figure out what went wrong with acquiring the Algorithm.

  10. Much that is considered a mistake is not a mistake. Bullet traces on the glass – they appeared during smelting at the factory. The worker saw this and told someone, the information reached Tenet and the glass was taken away. Only this glass could be installed in the mechanism. Glass with traces of bullets.

    And I think that’s the key to Neal being alive. First, the bullet didn’t go flew out. So he was walking around with a bullet in his head the whole time? It seems to me that this just means that either the bullet was in the helmet or he was simply wounded.

    By the way, the name of the ship speaks about the return from the Kingdom of the Dead. Magne Viking. The ship is sailing back!!

    • Appreciate the detail of the ship name! That makes a lot of sense and is a cool thing. Regarding Neil, you couldn’t argue it went clean through, so the only time it would be in his head is the moment it’s in his head. But from how the scene was filmed, it didn’t look like the bullet went straight through. Honestly, I think Nolan does stuff like this all the time. He’s less meticulous than you’d think. Not just in Tenet but in his entire filmography. Like in The Dark Knight Rises, Bane robs the Gotham version of Wall Street and it’s broad daylight. They flee and it’s still daylight. And a couple minutes later when Batman starts chasing them, it’s suddenly dark. Or the whole drama with how Batman got back from the jail pit that was on a completely different continent when he was completely cut off from his finances and any known associates. Nolan often hopes people dig too deep. BUUUUUUUT with the glass, he does explain it. It wouldn’t appear at the factory because of the whole wind of entropy. Inverted consequences can only exist for so long until they run out of energy and are “blown away” by the dominate forward moving entropy. So at some point, bullet traces just cease to exist completely. But, because it’s Nolan, this varies wildly depending on what he needs from the situation. Like the wall that’s been shot still has the damage despite it being at least more than a few days. Whereas glass damage erases after a few minutes. It’s weird.

  11. It seems to me that all the characters should be considered. Ives knows more than anyone. And Agent Willer (Willer?) – she’s generally a specialist in moving back in time. She explained to The Protagonist how to behave in inversion in the chase scene, she was the leader of the blue group in Stalsk, Neil helped her when shouted “Get out of there”, she shouts “Neil!” to him when he runs away. Perhaps they also knew The Protagonist in the past. And Willer could help them more than shown. And Ives too. Willer could have pulled the wounded Neil out.

    • It’s definitely good to consider all the characters. I think the issue is that the movie doesn’t quite give us enough information to go anywhere with those considerations. There’s a lot of potential there but just not enough detail to really dig into.

  12. Great article! I’d like to take a crack at solving that plot hole, if you don’t mind.

    First, and briefly, day 1 Kat never witnesses Sator die. She tells the protagonist she returned to the yacht, saw a woman dive off, and Sator had vanished.

    Sator’s plan all along was for the email burst to be sent out upon his s**cide on Day 1. He was going to wait until Volkov had confirmed that the algorithm had been dropped down the chute, and then swallow the capsule.

    Meanwhile, the actual day 1 Sator overseeing the attempted Kiev Opera heist would receive that email, confirming (he thinks) everything has gone/will go to plan.

    So when day 14 Kat shoots day 14 Sator, she sets off that confirmation to day 1 Sator, while telling posterity the exact location of the algorithm.

    And from there, Tenet just allows the future to believe that email. Whenever the day comes the future enemies decide it’s time to dig up the algorithm and invert the world, much like the Nazis in Raiders Of The Lost Ark, they’ll find “they’re digging in the wrong place!”

    • Hey hey! Definitely don’t mind! There is definitely something to Day 1 Sator receiving that e-mail and having some confidence in what would eventually happen. Also, we know that things can’t change. What’s happened happened. So if the e-mail went out, he can’t prevent it from going out. If everything you said is correct, I still think it’s weird that Sator wouldn’t have a recon team at day 1 Stalsk 12 to figure out who was there. And, it seems Sator didn’t make any arrangements, as far as we know, for his body to be disposed of. So it’s still a little strange between Day 1 and Day 14 he didn’t see anything about his own demise. Or wonder why his body was missing. Unless he had planned on his body not being discovered. But if he did that, you’d imagine he would have had someone on the removal team who would have then confirmed with him while he was still alive that the job was done. Hm. Unfortunately, it’s still not solved for me. But I think what you said is valid!

  13. Multiple universes/timestreams. Like in Interstellar at the end when he’s “in” the wall of the library. Time and timestreams (alternate realities) just stream out from McConaghey in every possible direction. I think this is what happens in Tenet: there are so many alternate timestreams, with some joining each other and others diverging. So TP can invert, go back 20 years, meet 14 year old Neil and encourage his mother to send him to school for… physics , etc etc. While at the same time one of the Neils is in the future, geting himself shot in the head (“what’s happened, happened”) while another version of Neil is 20 years down the road and chillin with TP enjoying yet another drink in the Bombay Club, toasting to posterity. I think this is how I’m able to wrap it all together.

  14. This is a great post! I really appreciate the breakdown of the tenet.

  15. Neil is for sure Kat’s son. The Protagonist clearly isn’t “a friend” but a father figure.

    And how the years work? They do not, sadly, but that’s a concession Nolan takes to make the movie better. It also doesn’t completely works the travel back and forth from the Protagonist in that boat. It’s “possible” to travel back years and years there… but it’s illogical and impractical and would make people insane.

    BUT, you “could do it”. You “could” travel back years in there, and is an explanation that Nolan gives us, and “it works”… barely. Same with Neil. I think.

    Regardless, this was amazing (the writing)… like the movie…

  16. Great post! I read it ahead of my first watch last night. Super helpful.

    One question (so far): Is your section re why the algorithm didn’t work missing an answer? You explain well why TP and Neil think the world ends if Sator dies prematurely. But why doesn’t it? Doesn’t he die prematurely? Does this mean the algorithm doesn’t work ? Or is Nolan purposely showing things out of order in that sequence? (Which seems unlikely – it would be a huge cheat that isn’t his style.)
    Thanks for the analysis.

    • Whoa. That’ s a lot to read without any context haha.

      So Sator’s death would trigger an email that would give the location of the algorithm. That would give the future the ability to just go to that location and dig up the algorithm and use it. What TP and Neil did was blow up the hypocentre, making it essentially impossible to reach the algorithm.

      So the algorithm never gets used. It gets buried.

      It doesn’t seem easy for the people in the future to communicate with the past. And anyone who travels into the past has to do so in real time. You can’t just jump back 5 years. You’d have to live inverted for 5 years. So it seems like they would send stuff back, Sator would find it. They’d find a bunch of emails from it. That would culminate with the final location. They’d go there. But it would be “impossible” to get through the rubble.

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