'Tenet' Deals With Spies, Physics And Entropy, And A Global Threat To The World

Christopher Nolan's Tenet is bathed in mystery. Among the questions that surround the film are "Will this really open in July" and "What the hell is this movie even about?" While the question of the July release still hangs in the air, a new, somewhat in-depth profile of the film has shed some light on what Nolan and company have coming our way.

What is Tenet?

EW has a big behind-the-scenes look at Tenet, and while most of the story remains shrouded in secrecy, Nolan and his cast do open up a bit about the highly-anticipated blockbuster. For one thing: we finally know what the heck Tenet is. "[John David Washington] is playing an operative who is known by the term 'Protagonist,'" says Nolan. "Tenet is the name of the organization into which the Protagonist gets inducted." Until this confirmation, all we had to go on were scenes in the two trailers where a character played by Martin Donovan cryptically says: "I have one word for you: Tenet!"

No Time Travel

The first Tenet trailer immediately made everyone – myself included – assume the movie was dealing with time travel. But since then, Nolan and his cast have tried to stress that that's not the case. Instead, the movie deals with inversion, "a way of manipulating time so that characters can, for example, 'shoot' bullets back into a gun."

Inversion is actually inspired by "real-life physics and entropy, a measure of disorder and randomness in thermodynamic systems" per the article, with Nolan adding:

"This film is not a time-travel film. It deals with time and the different ways in which time can function. Not to get into a physics lesson, but inversion is this idea of material that has had its entropy inverted, so it's running backwards through time, relative to us."

A Global Threat to the World

The trailers for Tenet tease that the plot involves characters trying to "prevent World War III." But what does that mean? According to Kenneth Branagh, who plays the film's villain: "It's an espionage piece that's dealing with a global threat to the world. A nuclear holocaust is not the greatest disaster that could befall the human race. Tenet discusses an even worse possibility, and it is wrapped up in this mind-boggling treatment of time that continues Chris Nolan's preoccupations in films way back to Memento, through Interstellar and Inception." So what is that "even worse possibility"? We'll have to wait and see. My guess: a second term for Donald Trump.

Where's Aaron Taylor-Johnson?

Aaron Taylor-Johnson is in the movie, but he hasn't been glimpsed in the trailers. Or has he? "He's an important part of the film. Yes, there are no photographs of him, this is true. He is briefly glimpsed in the [second] trailer," says Nolan. "He's also completely unrecognizable. There are all kinds of things that happen in terms of where the story goes as the film develops and where it winds up in the later stages that we don't want to spoil for people." That's right: this movie is so damn secretive that we can't even get a good look at one of its stars yet.

Practical Effects

Nolan is big on practical effects. Whenever possible, he eschews digital manipulation for models and real-world solutions. And the same is true for Tenet. As the article confirms, when it came time for a scene where a Boeing 747 crashes into a building and explodes, Nolan actually got a real Boeing 747 and blew it up rather than using miniatures or CGI.

"We ended up with a tiny number of visual-effects shots," says producer Emma Thomas. "We were originally thinking that we might have to be up in the 700-to-a-thousand shot-count range, but ended up way south of that because we managed to do so much of it practically."

Tenet (as of now) is set to open July 31.