Shot by Shot with the ‘Tenet’ Trailer

Christopher Nolan’s propensity for confusing people is stronger than ever.
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Warner Bros.
By  · Published on December 19th, 2019

“Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.” That’s the advice Clémence Poésy’s character gives to John David Washington’s unnamed protagonist in the trailer for Tenet. She might as well be addressing the viewer as well. Christopher Nolan’s espionage thriller won’t be like other movies about spies, but what else should we expect from a director who has made a career out of marching to the beat of his own drum?

Nolan recently told Entertainment Weekly that Tenet is the “most ambitious film” he’s ever made. He promises a genre-hopping epic that will take viewers to some unexpected places. The movie will explore some bold ideas while delivering a blockbuster spectacle, but the trailer doesn’t reveal much information about what’s in store. All trailers should aspire to be this interesting and confusing.

Check it out below, then join me as I try to decipher some of the most interesting parts.

Red Dots


The trailer opens with John David Washington and Robert Pattinson‘s mystery characters scaling a tall building. At first glance, the pair appear to be ascending the wall at an accelerated pace, but some closer inspection reveals that the shot is playing in reverse. This is the first sign that Tenet is going to be a mind-bender.


The gentleman holding the capsule that looks like a bullet seems to be an enemy of Washington’s character, and chances are that’s what the protagonist has been led to believe in this moment. The possible baddie then reveals how Washington “chose to die” instead of giving up his allies before doing something weird that knocks him out cold.


Cut to Washington’s character waking up in a medical facility, where Martin Donovan’s unknown agent tells him that he passed a test that few people have completed before. Donovan then welcomes him to “the afterlife,” which is code for his new chapter as an agent for a secret organization.


Poésy’s character is tasked with bringing Washington’s guy up to speed about the mission at hand. She tells him that he must “prevent World War III” and informs him that the threat is worse than a “nuclear holocaust.” In front of them is an object covered in holes, but what it’s supposed to be and mean is anyone’s guess. As the trailer reveals later, “prevent” is a word with significant meaning.

Michael Caine In Tenet

It’s not a Nolan movie without an appearance from Michael Caine. The trailer features the legendary actor in this brief moment, giving us no clues about his character. However, Esquire notes that there’s a fan theory going around that he could be reprising the role of Stephen Miles from Inception. Furthermore, The Hollywood Reporter also proposed that Tenet could take place in the same universe as Nolan’s dreamy espionage thriller due to its boasting similar thematic ideas.

Tenet looks to be interested in the idea of using espionage as a jump off point to explore circumstances that defy logic, so the notion that the film takes place in the same world as Inception isn’t too far-fetched. That said, my money is on this movie being something entirely different, as the trailer gives no indication that Tenet involves characters entering people’s dreams.


In this scene, a car crashes, only for time to seemingly reverse, allowing the vehicle to regain its composure and continue driving. This is the most perplexing scene in the trailer and the one that firmly establishes that Tenet will feature science fiction elements. The car chase in question also looks spectacular, and it’s evident that Nolan is continuing his tradition of delivering some thrilling action sequences.


The trailer closes with Pattison and Washington’s characters surveying a room, where they notice some glass that’s been cracked, suggesting that a violent altercation recently occurred there. The former asks his colleague, “What happened here?” Washington’s character then informs him that “It hasn’t happened yet.”

This scene confirms that time travel will play a part in Tenet, but this theory has been teased in the lead up to the trailer courtesy of the film’s earliest tagline: “Time has come for a new protagonist. Time has come for a new kind of mission.”

The new trailer, however, has unveiled a new tagline: “Time Runs Out.” Perhaps this means that the enemy in the film will be time itself, and the heroes will be on a mission to stop it from running out. Could that be the disaster that’s worse than nuclear annihilation?

Tenet will hit theaters on July 17, 2020.

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Kieran is a Contributor to the website you're currently reading. He also loves the movie Varsity Blues.