A pair of international spies must prevent the outbreak of World War III in the first trailer for Tenet, a forthcoming science fiction thriller from Director Christopher Nolan (Memento, The Dark Knight), who also gave us the mind- and reality-bending futuristic thriller Inception in 2010. Their secret weapon: a futuristic technology called time reversal.
Hardly any details about the film leaked out during production. No character names are listed on IMDB, and co-star Robert Pattinson has said that he was only allowed to read the script once, while locked in a room, when considering his role. Nolan wrapped principal photography in September after shooting in seven different countries, including Denmark, Estonia, Italy, Norway, and India. (Apparently the crew foiled a suicide attempt while shooting a scene near the Gateway of India in Mumbai.) A brief teaser was shown to audiences who went to see Hobbs and Shaw in theaters this summer, and anyone who has already seen Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in an IMAX theater has likely seen a special nine-minute prologue as a sneak peek.
The trailer sets up the premise immediately with a shot of two men rappelling up a building, in seeming defiance of the laws of physics. “We all believe we’d run into the burning building,” a voiceover tells us. “But until we feel that heat, we can never know.” A man (John David Washington) is undergoing what appears to be a grueling trial to join an elite international team of spies, ending with a choice: give up his colleagues, or die. He chooses death and wakes up in a hospital to learn he has passed the test (“Welcome to the afterlife”).
The man’s new assignment: prevent World War III and save the world—not from nuclear holocaust, but from “something worse.” He’s given one code word, “tenet,” to open the necessary doors—and yes that is a palindrome, meaning it reads the same backward and forward. We see glimpses of backward movement in time: a ship’s wake in reverse and a car un-crashing on a busy freeway during a chase scene. “You have to start looking at the world in a new way,” the man is told. “Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.”
Fresh off his Oscar-nominated World War II drama, Dunkirk, Nolan seems to be returning to his high-concept sci-fi roots with Tenet. He explored memory and identity in Memento and expounded on those concepts in Inception, which set up an elaborate bank heist in the world of dreams within dreams within dreams. Inception also played with physics in the dream realm in some eye-popping, conceptually interesting ways. Who could forget that hallway fight scene or Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)—faced with a freefall microgravity situation on one dream level—exploiting the equivalence principle in an elevator to “kick” his colleagues out of their dream states? So if anyone can pull off a film about being able to selectively reverse time, it’s Nolan.
The film also features Kenneth Branagh (Murder on the Orient Express), Michael Caine (Inception, Interstellar), Clémence Poésy (Fleur Delacour in the Harry Potter films), Himesh Patel (Yesterday), Elizabeth Debicki (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), Martin Donovan (Ant-Man), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kickass), and Indian film stars Dimple Kapadia and Denzil Smith.
Tenet opens in theaters on July 17, 2020.
Listing image by YouTube/Warner Bros.