Directed by Christopher Nolan
Tenet’s clearly stated aim is to be hard to follow but basically it is just asking the audience to follow three stories and the question I find myself asking is if any of them would be any good taken individually.
The first and most most clear is the basic James Bond plot about an arms dealer trying to steal some Plutonium. The second is a time heist about trying to stop a super villain who wants to destroy the past to avenge the future. And the last is the beginning of the conspiracy to police the time war and the wider implications of conducting a war backwards through time.
The last story is kind of the most interesting but it’s not clear if it’s ironic that’s the one where get the least information or if it’s the most interesting precisely because we are left to fill in the blanks. That’s the plot where you have to start making Primer-style diagrams to show that the main character has to press a particular button 50 years in the future to enable a very specific thing to happen in the movie.
The middle story has the most potential in terms of action and reverse car chases and thinking of clever ways to do stuff backwards but suffers from the audience having to keep up with whatever the fuck is going on and frankly for me that was far too much trouble to bother with, especially when the only thing which is clear is it makes no sense at all. Like when they send characters back in time through a magic door which is never properly explained, only they are just conveniently available. Oh boy.
The first story is actually very passable, largely because the sheer volume of mystery makes you give them more credit for the straight forward plot than it probably deserves, and because it’s all constructed very well and very efficiently if not particularly imaginatively.
Washington and Pattinson do a great job of trying to Bond it up, but thing the main character lacks though is Bond’s ability to discard women as collateral damage at the first opportunity and somehow the film makes this seem like a bad thing. His devotion to Kat and her bloody son seems like the movie trying to make things harder for itself. This seems especially odd when she is then given a mission critical piece of the plan to execute, but with the best will in the world he is risking the space-time continuum for a woman he barely knows to save her from a man who is going to die anyway. Given the clockwork mechanisms required to navigate all the different reverse permutations it seems odd that this wild card would remain so key to the plan.
My last complaint is that swapping out the mcguffins was unnecessarily confusing. Like either go with plutonium or an algorithm. If you are have to get 9 pieces of the magical formula for time travel (or whatever) then that is totally fine. If you have to get some Plutonium (it’s a well established Time Travel component Marty!) then that’s OK too. But don’t swap it for a mysterious algorithm as some sort of rug pull. You could have made the magic formula the central driving force of the movie. Instead the dialogue goes “he needs these 9 things and then it’s all over.” “Well how many does he have?” “All of them.” “Well in that case for all intents and purposes he has one thing, and than one thing could have just been some Plutonium.” Also a physical algorithm is a weird thing to have, it’s just maths!
But for these little bits of clumsy plotting I should say that I really enjoyed the movie and particularly the gloomy atmosphere. It has one of the best soundtracks in a long time and evokes a sort of weird horrifying experiments-gone-wrong creepiness to the film. There’s no rousing heroic fanfare and, much like Joker, never lets up its sense of glum foreboding, reflected in many of the overcast, washed out and dusty scenes.
While this is Nolan’s James Bond tribute, I like there is a sort of post-capitalism pre-eco-apocalypse feel to it. Maybe this is my communist prejudices but while it takes the showy opulence of Bond – the yachts, the tax free art, the trophy wife, and the hired goons it all feels kind of sleazy and brutish. Whether it’s the Indian arms dealer, the Russian oligarch or the people in the first class seats at the opera, the rich in Tenet are all in gilded cages of their own creation and are still not safe. So while the whole world in Tenet is just an Oligarch’s puppet show there is also the implication being everything is so far beyond our control that all the main characters can do is react feverishly to plans and counter plans laid down long in advance. Much like the scientists in Twelve Monkeys the people pulling the strings in Tenet are not really doing much to save the future from the collapse, they are just ensuring it’s in an orderly fashion. I quite like the idea of the escalation of the film that we have fucked things so badly that an outraged future is like “we can’t let’s those 20th bastards off the hook. They have to pay! We’ll show them a fucking twilight world.”
Directed by David Fincher
Zodiac has this big scary rep. This bleak and unremitting stare into the void. A warning about the nature of obsession. A reminder that the universe is a vast unknowable place that laughs in the face of knowledge and certainty and will do it’s best to destabilize any notions of justice and truth in the same way that a black hole eats light.
For a certain type of person Zodiac is the best David Fincher because it’s his most serious one. It’s where he finally grows up and puts away all of his flashy stylistic tricks and toys and finally becomes an adult. There’s no cameras flying through the handles of coffee pots here. No comic book jolts like the moment when Morgan Freeman says “Joe Doe has the upper hand.” No Brad Pitts. Just plain old solid police work that doesn’t get you the results you expect. It might not be that gritty – but it’s all real. I mean Seven takes place in an unnamed city and Fight Club takes place inside the brain of someone who doesn’t even have name – but in Zodiac everything is meticulously created to the point where (according to the making of documentary I watched) they were pulling up trees and sticking them on islands to make sure that the thing looked just like the thing when the thing first happened.
I remember going to see Zodiac in the cinema when it first came out all the way back in 2007 and feeling totally and utterly stoked. Big vat of popcorn in one hand and large cup of coke in the other. All ready and waiting for Fincher to blow my mind into a million tiny bits. I mean before this there was Fight Club in 1999 which was basically everything I ever wanted from a movie and then in 2002 there was Panic Room which is a cool film but felt like an EP between albums. Kinda like he was clearing his breath before taking things to the next step (whatever that was going to be). And then a five year wait and then – holy shit – he’s going to make another serial killer movie? Well that seems pretty audacious. I wonder how he’s going to top Seven? Which you know – I think we can all agree – is probably one of the best serial killer movies (cue Kanye voice:) – of all time.
Cut to: Two hours and forty two minutes later and I’m stumbling out of the cinema feeling like I just got robbed. I mean yeah sure I got the idea – isn’t it great to have a movie that’s more like real life? And don’t you know – not every murder gets solved? And life doesn’t have the tidy endings that you want? etc etc and so on and so on. But man mostly that just seemed to result in a really really boring movie where nothing much cool happened. And you know – I mostly go to the movies in order to see cool stuff happen – right? (Although I can’t escape the feeling that maybe some people go to the movies because they want to be bored – and more than that: they think that that boredom is in itself somekind of artistic experience – but erm maybe that’s another story?)
But yeah my main feeling I guess was one of sadness – that the David Fincher that I knew and loved had gone straight and sold out. It’s as if Kid A came out and it sounded like Travis or something.
(But then you know – he made The Social Network and we were cool again).
Because and I mean this sincerely – Alien 3, Seven, The Game, Fight Club and Panic Room all felt like big screen fuck-off popular movies. While you know – if you chopped Zodiac up into little bits and put adverts in between you’d think you were just watching a TV programme or something you know? (Although obviously TV isn’t the same thing it is now that it was back then).
So yeah I saw Zodiac when it came out and was basically like “never again” because the whole thing seemed like such a boring waste of time (and it seemed like most of the people I knew at the time agreed). But then a funny thing happened – which is that over the years the legend of Zodiac started to grow and expand and become something else. And the narrative around it changed from – dull movie where nothing really happens into something more like that scary rep I gestured towards at the start. And I’d meet people and read things that would say things like “the thing you have to understand about Zodiac is that it’s about the dawn of the internet and the way that information basically makes everything unknowable.” And even tho I’d seen Zodiac and knew it was pretty boring – this kinda dark shadow twin of the movie started to build in my mind. A thing where every question has several answers and time destroys everything until all that is left are ghosts and documents.
I mean – as crazy as this might sound – there were even some people out there that were saying Zodiac was Fincher’s best film which shit – is kinda like saying that Hail to The Thief is the best Radiohead album. I mean it’s just… a little bizarre when you look at all the other options – no?
But what the hey – I thought after 13 years it might be worth giving it a rewatch. And hell speaking of TV – Mindhunter is basically one of the very best things I’ve ever seen and in my head it kinda feels like Zodiac is Mindhunter’s grandpa and maybe looping back would shine a light on something that I didn’t see the first time. Hell – who knows – maybe I would learn something new?
Well – the good news is that I didn’t hate it anywhere as near as much as I did the first time. But then I guess a lot of that has to do with expectations. I knew what kind of movie Zodiac was this time around and wasn’t waiting for some cool shit to happen in the third act (have you guys ever read From Hell? I guess maybe I was hoping for something like that….). And yeah you know – it’s well made and it’s got a nice good grip on it’s tone and all the acting is rather nice (it’s funny watching Jake Gyllenhaal as a punk ass kid with something to prove rather than the kinda distinguished higher level thesp he is today). But you know – blah blah blah.
The funny thing tho watching it this time is how the dark shadow twin of how everyone describes the movie doesn’t really match up with what’s on the screen at all. Namely – this whole business of how there are no easy answers and obsession is a disease that eats into everything and not everything can be explained and there are some mysteries that we’ll never get to the end of is kinda undercut by the fact that the movie pretty much does everything to point towards one person being the Zodiac killer.
I mean yeah ok it throws in a few question marks in here and there but by the end I was pretty much all like
Which you know: means that Zodiac isn’t really quite the movie that a lot of it’s true believers seem to think that it is. I mean ok it doesn’t end with the cops managing to put their cuffs on the guy and saying “bake him away toys.” but it’s still very far away from the nihilistic free for all I was actually kinda hoping to see. I mean if anything if kinda reminded me of watching Joker which everyone said was reckless and amoral and all I could do was shake my head and say it was nowhere near reckless and amoral enough. But you know – I guess that’s modern movies for you?
Maybe watching something that really left you with no easy answers and the sense that meaning is just a construct that we apply over the empty terror of the world just so we can survive living in it day to day would be a stretch too far? Or you know – maybe there’s just lots of other better films out there?
That scene in the basement is cool tho. I’ll give it that.
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