'Tenet' Trailer Breakdown: Has Christopher Nolan Made A Time Travel Movie?

Christopher Nolan loves playing with time. Films like Inception and Dunkirk are both based around a ticking-clock timeline, and Memento runs in reverse order. And now he might be going all-in with a time travel movie. Maybe. After a theater-only teaser, the first Tenet trailer has arrived online, and as is usually the case with a Nolan movie, it's mysterious as hell. But based on the enigmatic footage on display, it really looks like Nolan has made himself a time travel movie. Unless he hasn't. Let's take a closer look with a Tenet trailer breakdown.

First, let's watch the trailer, shall we?

Tenet Trailer

Wow. First: this looks amazing. Second: I have no idea what the hell is going on. Nolan loves playing things close to the vest, so that's not surprising. But there are some hints and clues about what to expect. While Tenet may not strictly be about time travel, it's definitely about some form of time manipulation.

It wouldn't be a Christopher Nolan movie without an ominous shot of a city skyline. So here we go.

The action kicks off with John David Washington and Robert Pattinson looking as if they're ready to scale up the side of a wall like Adam West and Burt Ward in the 60's Batman TV show. But then things get a little...strange.

Washington and Pattinson fly up toward the building. This doesn't look like they're being pulled up by ropes – it looks like they're literally defying gravity. How is that possible? If you look closely, it becomes clear that Nolan is reversing the shot – running it backward. It's our first hint that time isn't going to function properly here.

"You chose to die instead of giving up your colleagues," someone says as we watch Washington's character, who appears to be in very bad shape, be fed some sort of pill that proceeds to make him foam at the mouth. It looks as if he's dying, in fact.

After a quick shot of a body of water, Washington wakes up in a hospital, where he comes face to face with...Martin Donovan! Who I didn't know was in this movie until just now. Donovan's character gives credence to the whole "looks like he's dying" thing by telling Washington: "Welcome to the afterlife." While I don't think Washington's character is actually dead and inhabiting some sort of action movie afterlife, anything is possible with that Nolan fellow.

Washington and Pattinson's characters strut their stuff. And again, since this a Nolan movie, they're wearing some dark suits. The time manipulation and formalwear are giving this movie serious Inception vibes. Is this a secret Inception sequel? No, probably not, but I'm sure there are already a plethora of fan theories suggesting that.

"To do what I do," Washington says, "I need some idea of the threat we face." He comes in contact with Clémence Poésy's character, who tells him: "As I understand it, you're trying to prevent World War III." She then shows him what looks like an art deco shooting gallery featuring a large stone (maybe?) riddled with holes. Again: no idea what the hell is going on here, but it sure is intriguing. "Nuclear holocaust?" Washington later asks. "No," says Poésy. "Something worse."

A quick shot of...someone sitting a car wearing an oxygen mask.

Hey, it's Elizabeth Debicki! She doesn't have any lines in this trailer, but she does pop up here, hanging out with Kenneth Branagh.

Speaking of Kenneth Branagh, there he is.

Washington, in John Wick-style light, looks on as horror as some sort of large round door made of stone begins to roll away. What's on the other side?

If you didn't pick up on the fact that Washington and Pattinson's characters were moving in reverse at the opening of the trailer, this shot lays it on thick by showing a large ship literally moving backward. "All I have for you is a word," Martin Donovan's character says. "Tenet." Sure, okay – but what the hell does it mean? We don't know. All we know is that it'll "open the right doors" and "some of the wrong ones, too."

And of course, you can't have a Christopher Nolan movie without Michael Caine in there somewhere.

Another moment with an oxygen mask. How does that tie into the story? Are these characters sucking up nitrous oxide like Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet? No, probably not...

After a series of quick action beats we come to the money shot of the whole trailer. A big car chase where a car crashes – and then proceeds to un-crash and right itself as Washington looks on, stunned. "You have to start looking at the world in a new way," a character played by Dimple Kapadia says. Followed by Poésy stating: "Don't try to understand it. Feel it." That line is almost like Nolan sending us an audience: don't even bother trying to figure out what the hell this movie is about, because I've still got plenty of tricks up my sleeve.

Before we leave the trailer, Nolan gives us one last clue that Tenet is playing around with either time travel or time manipulation. Washington and Pattinson come upon a room with a window riddled with bullets. "What happened here?" Pattinson asks. "It hasn't happened yet," Washington replies. Again: we really have no idea what is happening here, and I love it. I'm all in on Tenet, and I can't wait to see it when it opens July 17, 2020.