Everything We Know (And Don’t Know) About Christopher Nolan’s ‘Tenet’

The mysterious film is shaping up to be a make-or-break moment for Hollywood's rebound from COVID-19, despite no one knowing what the hell it's about.

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Update: After being pushed back multiple times, Tenet has been delayed indefinitely.

Christopher Nolan’s upcoming Tenet is an “action epic evolving from the world of international espionage,” a description that feels purposefully generic. The trailer doesn’t do much to clarify, mentioning the afterlife and nuclear Holocaust and showing a car un-crashing itself (cool!) and lots of men in suits walking brusquely through hotel lobbies.

You might not know what it’s about, but the trailer — and the pedigree of Nolan and the actors involved — means you’ll still want to see this movie by the time “SEE THE TRAILER IN THEATERS FOR MAXIMUM EFFECT” splashes across the screen.

The trailer came out in December, well before Warner Bros. could have known how meanly that plea would come off, with movie theaters around the world shuttered to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Tenet is still slated for theatrical release on July 17, which means it will either be among the first films back in theaters or one of the last films delayed. Nolan personally lobbied Warner Bros. to not push the movie back as it has others, and so far the studio has acquiesced.

Don’t expect it to forgo theaters for streaming, either. Nolan made it quite clear in a Washington Post op-ed all the way back in March that he’s a champion of movie theaters, and Warner Bros. is disinclined to anger one of the best directors of his generation by going against his wishes.

All of these circumstances are aligning to make Tenet a benchmark for the movie industry and the country.

A blockbuster with cinematic merit is the perfect movie for theaters to return with, a demonstration of what films can accomplish economically and artistically. A successful on-schedule opening for Tenet would bode well for later releases and a return to normal, or at least as normal as things can be post-pandemic.

But a lot of unanswered questions stand in the way of this kind of triumph. How many theaters will actually be open? Will they operate at full capacity? Will audiences be eager to go to the movies, or will they stay away out of an abundance of caution? No one knows.

A delay in Tenet‘s release would feel like a special letdown, a sign that the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel might always be just out of reach. But a delay is still preferable to the film opening and flopping. Because if Nolan, an all-star cast, and a huge budget isn’t a recipe for success in the movie industry, then what hope does anyway else have?

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