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Christopher Nolan’s ‘Tenet’ Teaser Hints the Director Is Screwing With Time Again

The focus on time, the palindrome title, and more clues from the first look at Nolan's 2020 action epic.

Christopher Nolan2018 BlacKkKlansman Red Carpet, Cannes, France - 14 May 2018

Christopher Nolan

Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Warner Bros. has not made the first teaser trailer for Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” available online around the world, but select U.S. audiences are getting treated to footage from the 2020 action epic ahead of “Hobbs & Shaw” screenings. The surprise trailer release is fitting for Nolan’s longtime commitment to the theatrical experience and marks the first look at the director’s highly secretive new project. Warner Bros. has not given away any plot details about “Tenet,” but Nolan fans looking for narrative clues in the teaser will be rewarded.

The “Tenet” teaser barely runs one minute. The footage begins with a shot of a bullet hole in glass. The character played by John David Washington appears behind the glass and approaches the bullet hole and reaches out to touch it. “Time has come for a new protagonist,” the screen reads. The camera, seemingly holding the shot, moves to the right with Washington as he walks and inspects a second bullet hole that appears identical to the first. Washington repeats the same action and touches the glass. More text pops up: “Time has come for a new kind of mission.”

The teaser ends with a brief shot of a police force running through the streets and then a longer still of Washington’s character wearing an oxygen mask. The title of the film then appears on screen as “TENƎꓕ.”

Many Nolan fans expected “Tenet” to play with time given that the film’s title is a palindrome, a word that reads the same backward as it does forward, but the way the title is stylized in the trailer confirms Nolan has something trippy up his sleeve. Both text blocks that appear in the teaser stress the notion of “time” as well. Nolan’s filmography is filled with stories that play with time structures, be it “Memento” (half told in chronological order, half told backward), “Inception” (the dream-within-a-dream narrative), or “Dunkirk” (three separate stories all taking place at different moments in time). “Tenet” appears like it will follow suit. The stylization of the title, with one half of the word flipped upside down and backwards, brings to mind the narrative structure of “Memento.” There’s also the symbolism of the two identical bullet holes and Washington’s two repeat movements. Whatever is happening in “Tenet,” it appears it has something to do with a duality of time.

Warner Bros. is releasing “Tenet” in theaters nationwide July 17, 2020.

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