Tenet is a 2020 British-American epic spy science fiction action thriller film written and directed by Christopher Nolan, who also produced with Emma Thomas. The film is Nolan’s eleventh film in his filmography, and, much as the rest of his films, it is including an ensemble cast such as; John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Kenneth Branagh, Elizabeth Debicki, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Michael Caine, Martin Donovan, Dimple Kapadia, Clémence Poésy and Himesh Patel.

Much as Nolan’s other films, Tenet is also a co-production of United Kingdom and United States, having been produced by Nolan and Thomas’ Syncopy Films and Warner Bros. which also distributed and funded the film with a budget of $225 million, becoming Nolan’s most expansive film ever made.

Nolan took more than five years to write the screenplay after deliberating about Tenet‘s central ideas for over a decade.

Following three delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tenet was released in the United Kingdom on August 26, 2020, and in the United States on September 3, 2020.

TENET Cast

  • John David Washington as the Protagonist, a CIA agent
  • Robert Pattinson as Neil, the Protagonist’s handler
  • Elizabeth Debicki as Kat, an art appraiser and Andrei’s estranged wife
  • Dimple Kapadia as Priya, an arms trafficker
  • Martin Donovan as Victor, the Protagonist’s CIA boss
  • Fiona Dourif as Wheeler, leader of Blue Team
  • Yuri Kolokolnikov as Volkov, a henchman
  • Himesh Patel as Mahir, a fixer
  • Clémence Poésy as Barbara, a scientist
  • Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Ives, a military commander
  • Michael Caine as Sir Michael Crosby, a British Intelligence officer
  • Kenneth Branagh as Andrei Sator, a Russian oligarch who communicates with the future

TENET Production

Pre-production

Writer and director Christopher Nolan conceived the ideas behind Tenet over the course of twenty years, but remarked “I’ve been working on this iteration of the script for about six or seven years.” The title is a palindrome, reading the same backwards as forwards. Nolan made a conscious effort to abstain from any influence of the spy genre other than his own memory. Spaghetti Western Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) inspired the screenwriting.

Special effects supervisor Scott R. Fisher watched World War II movies and documentaries to find reference points for realism. Theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, who worked with Nolan on Interstellar (2014), was consulted on the subjects of time and quantum physics. Production designer Nathan Crowley requested Hamilton Watch Company to manufacture around thirty military wristwatches, each analog with a digital countdown.

Casting

John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, and Elizabeth Debicki were cast in March 2019. Nolan chose Washington for his performance in BlacKkKlansman (2018). Washington, Pattinson, and Debicki were each only permitted to read the screenplay while locked in a room. Washington kept diaries in which he would expand the Protagonist’s backstory. Pattinson based his character’s mannerisms on those of author Christopher Hitchens.

The casting of Dimple Kapadia, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Clémence Poésy, Michael Caine, and Kenneth Branagh was announced as filming started. Kapadia’s screen test was put together by director Homi Adajania while working on his 2020 film Angrezi Medium. Caine was merely given his pages for one day of work. Himesh Patel joined in August. Martin Donovan was revealed in the first trailer. Fiona Dourif and Yuri Kolokolnikov were included later on in TENET.

Filming

Principal photography, involving a crew of 250 people, began in May 2019 and took place in seven countries Denmark, Estonia, India, Italy, Norway, the United Kingdom, and United States. Filming in Estonia happened in June and July, with the Linnahall, Pärnu Highway, and adjacent streets closed to facilitate it. Kumu Art Museum doubled as the fictional “Oslo freeport”. Tallinn mayor Mihhail Kõlvart expressed concerns about potential disruptions as the original shooting schedule required that the arterial Laagna Road be closed for one month. Production eventually reached a compromise involving temporary road closures and detours in TENET.

Scenes were shot in Ravello, Italy, and Hampstead, England, at Cannon Hall late August, on the roof of the Oslo Opera House, at The Thief hotel in Tjuvholmen, Norway, and in Rødbyhavn, Denmark, at Nysted Wind Farm in early September. A five-day shoot occurred later that month in Mumbai, where Nolan had traveled in February and April for location scouting. He decided on Breach Candy Hospital, Cafe Mondegar, Colaba Causeway, Colaba Market, Gateway of India, Grant Road, Royal Bombay Yacht Club, and the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. A restaurant set named “Chaand” was built near the hotel, but never used, serving only as an alternative.

Forty boats were positioned at the Gateway of India, where the crew also rescued a man who had attempted suicide. A stunt where someone jumps off a building was done in Grant Road, and a helicopter was applied for aerial footage of the hospital. They proceeded to Victorville, California, soon after, disguising it as Oslo, and worked with more than ninety extras. Instead of using miniatures and visual effects (VFX) for the plane crash sequence, Nolan determined that purchasing a Boeing 747 proved more cost effective. October saw them in a desert outside Palm Springs, where an abandoned city had been constructed and hundreds were clothed in military camouflage uniforms.

Director of photography Hoyte van Hoytema used a combination of 70 mm film and IMAX. He prioritized Panavision lenses that would best accommodate lower light. Segments that concerned “time inversion” were captured both in backward and forward mobility and speech. The windfarm vessel Iceni Revenge was brought into play in Denmark, Estonia, and Italy for a total of three months.

Post-production

Ludwig Göransson composed the score as Nolan’s frequent collaborator Hans Zimmer had committed himself to the 2020 film Dune. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Göransson recorded musicians at their homes. The Tenet soundtrack contains “The Plan,” a song by Travis Scott. Jennifer Lame replaced Nolan’s long-time editor Lee Smith, who was occupied with 2019’s 1917. DNEG created about 280 VFX shots.

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