Christopher Nolan finally admits ‘you’re not meant to understand everything’ in Tenet

Christopher Nolan has shared a reprieve for those who feel they didn’t understand his 2020 film, Tenet.

The British-American filmmaker is known for his complex and layered storytelling, which often involves non-linear narratives.

With Tenet, many viewers complained that they couldn’t get their heads around the plot, which follows a former CIA agent (John David Washington) traveling backwards through time.

Appearing on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert on Wednesday (7 February), Nolan was asked about the confusion around the movie and whether he himself understood everything in it.

“You’re not meant to understand everything in Tenet. It’s not all comprehensible,” he said.

“It’s a bit like asking if I know what happens with the spinning top at the end of Inception,” he added, referencing the famously ambiguous ending to his 2010 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

“I have to have my idea of it for it to be a valid, productive ambiguity, but the point of it is that it’s an ambiguity. As Emerald likes to say, the point is that the character doesn’t care if it falls or not.”

Christopher Nolan filming ‘Tenet’ (©2019 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)
Christopher Nolan filming ‘Tenet’ (©2019 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

Asked if people are meant to “get” his films or simply “experience” them, Nolan replied: “If you experience my film you are getting it. I feel very strongly about that.

“I think where people encounter frustration with my narratives in the past, sometimes I think that they’re slightly missing the point. It’s not a puzzle to be unpacked. It’s an experience to be had, preferably in a movie theater but also at home, hopefully in an unbroken period.

“It’s an experience to be had, that is the point of it, that’s the feeling of it. Everything else, if people are interested to talk about it or debate it more, if ideas resonate, that’s a huge bonus.”

Tenet recently made headlines again after Nolan recalled a Peleton instructor lambasting the film mid-workout.

After the director told the anecdote, fans managed to track down the moment fitness instructor Jenn Sherman tore the film apart during a 2020 “intervals and arms” virtual class.

This song is from a soundtrack of a movie called Tenet,” Sherman says in the clip over “The Plan” by Travis Scott. “Anybody see this s***? Did anybody see this besides me? Because I need a manual. Someone’s got to explain this. Yeah I’m not kidding, what the f*** was going on in that movie? Do you understand? Seriously you need to be a neuroscientist to understand. And that’s two and a half hours of my life I want back. I want it back.”

Nolan is arguably the favourite to win the Oscar for Best Director this year for his latest film, Oppenheimer. The biopic about the “father of the atomic bomb”, J Robert Oppenheimer, leads the pack at the Academy Awards with 13 nominations.