Tenet doesn’t deserve a rewatch, it requires it

Christopher Nolan has long been known for his high-flying, mind-blowing and time-twisting story concepts throughout his directing career, from the reverse story of keepsake to the fifth-dimensional time travel tesseract of interstellar, and countless other fantastic twists in between. These mind-boggling concepts often lead to exciting visuals, but are almost always integral elements of the plot and are rarely done as gimmicks. In keepsake, the story told backwards not only leads to a clever twist at the end (/beginning), but the scenes played in reverse also serve to put the audience in the place of the main character, who cannot form new memories and so no idea what just happened to him. In Startthe multiple layers of dreams-in-dreams give both the characters and audience a shaky top kick.

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Those same integrated elements of story, imagery and mind-boggling twists may be more apparent in Basic principle than in any other Nolan film to date; it’s not the best of his films, but it certainly combines the most examples of the unique elements of Nolan’s style come together in one action-packed and almost incomprehensible film about objects, people and storylines that move both with and against the flow of time, colliding with the past and the future in various stunning ways.

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Nolan’s films always give you something to think about when you leave the cinema, and they usually do a great job of transporting audiences into a fascinating world that they will want to return to and watch again. Layers of the complexity of his stories become more apparent when you re-watch any of Nolan’s films, and you’ll almost inevitably pick up more and more nuances that you missed the first (or second) time. Also here, Basic principle is the most dramatic example of this tendency in Nolan’s work. If you saw it in theaters, you’d be forgiven for being awed by the visuals but utterly baffled by the plot (or, to be honest, what the heck even happened half the time. ). However, if you decide to watch it again, you might find that it’s actually a dramatically better movie than you remember. Nolan’s movies always benefit from a rewatch, but Basic principle practical requires a. Whether that reflects well or badly on the film is hard to say, but it’s definitely better the second time around.


One of the benefits of a rewatch is that it primarily addresses one of the film’s most intractable problems: comprehensibility. After you watch it once and start solving the mess of intersecting storylines colliding in time, the movie becomes much easier to understand. Even if you still didn’t understand the concept of “time inversion” after the first time (honestly not even the actors), understanding the idea of ​​the movie and where the plot progresses (and reverses itself) makes for a much smoother viewing the easier the story is to put together.

Another huge benefit of a second viewing is, ironically, something that Nolan himself probably wouldn’t agree with. The director has never been shy about expressing his support for the cinematic experience of watching a movie, but there is at least one major benefit to watching the movie from the comfort of your home: the tender grace of subtitling. To be fair, the visuals and sound effects of Nolan’s films are perfectly suited to the theater and best experienced there, but Basic principle is also a film with a good dose of important dialogue that is often overwhelmed by the same sound effects and the pulsating soundtrack. When you no longer have to worry about straining your ears to hear a line of whispered dialogue, only to have your eardrums shattered by the sound of a gunshot, it’s much easier to understand the story and flow of important follow information in dialogue.


One of the things that most benefit from an overall better understanding of what happens in the plot is that it primarily enhances one of the best things about the movie: the visuals and action sequences. In the cinema, the reverse chase and momentary pincer attack at the film’s climax were stunning to watch, but extremely confusing to follow. However, when the plot becomes more understandable, the action scenes with the set piece get even better, as you can appreciate both the tension of the action and the finesse and artistry with which it was created in the first place.

Finally, perhaps the most significant improvement from a first to second viewing is something that Nolan’s films in general, and Basic principle in particular have often been criticized for: the emotional connections and character development. Basic principle has been singled out in many critics as the pinnacle of Nolan’s tendency to focus on plot and action over character. John David Washington, as the main character, does not even have a name. He’s just ‘the protagonist’. However, one of the things that is clarified by another viewing is that there is actually a surprising amount of depth to the emotional connections in the film, some of which actually strengthens through the intricacies of the plot.


The film’s most obvious emotional character focus is easily Kat (Elizabeth Debicki), whose love for her son forces her to stay close to her emotionally abusive husband Sator (Kenneth Branagh), despite making her life a nightmare. However, one of the more nuanced developments of her character in the film can be seen in the way she moves from someone defined by her fear and emotional subservience to Sator, until she gets to the point where she becomes an integral part of the climax of the plot, and she completely flips the script on Sator, emotionally manipulating him to buy time before she finally has the means to take him down and escape under his thumb.

There is also an interesting emotional journey through the plot for The Protagonist. His friendship with Neil clearly grows with their shared experiences, and the twist at the end where Neil (Robert Pattinson) reveals that their long friendship carries more emotional weight the second time around, as the audience understands that Neil suffers from the turmoil implied throughout the plot: Due to the necessity of the mission, he cannot reveal to The Protagonist that they are friends before the have been life.


This realization also hits harder on a second viewing in the way it affects Washington’s character. One of the more subtle revelations about the film was the idea that Kat’s son Maximilien will actually become Neil when he grows up. A second time through the film, with that understanding, the film’s final moments pack a much harder emotional punch: Neil as a young boy has changed from a friend to more of a son figure in The Protagonist, and his inability to communicate with Kat and her son no longer means that he will always watch over her and his friend protectively, but he will always have to do it from a distance.

Also, one of the more compelling results of a rewatch is: Basic principle‘s recalls to classic movies. It can be easy to miss on a first viewing due to the confusion of the plot, but the final scenes where the three last men face each other before breaking up the algorithm are stamped with the stalemate of The good the bad and the ugly everything over it. The name of “The Protagonist” itself could in that context be a reference to “The Man with no Name” from that film. Neil also writes the rules of Casablanca when he says goodbye at the end: “I think this is the end of a beautiful friendship.”


No doubt there are countless other layers that I haven’t even touched upon, such as those that are almost inevitable in Nolan’s films. but while Basic principle was perhaps one of the most confusing movies ever on a first look, it’s worth looking around again.

See you in the beginning, friend.


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