'Tenet' theory may explain the strange flow of time in Nolan's next movie

That freeway chase has our brains in a knot. 

Warner Bros.

The first trailer for Christopher Nolan’s upcoming summer 2020 movie Tenet has finally landed. John David Washington (BlackKklansman) and Robert Pattinson (The Lighthouse) as two agents assigned to stop a potentially catastrophic event. The trailer suggests that time in Tenet will flow differently, shaping our understanding of the story.

Reddit user u/mr__churchill shared a theory on how time might work in Tenet. The redditor uses the car chase sequence at the end of the trailer to illustrate Tenet’s non-linear flow of time.

The theory u/mr__churchill begins with the premise that time moving backward or forward isn’t controlled by Washington or Pattinson’s characters. Instead, this chronological trickery is “something that is being done to them.” This would explain certain shots where we see a ship moving backward in the water, or bodies moving quickly in reverse. So, even if Washington and Pattinson’s characters acquire the technology to manipulate time — perhaps it has something to do with the breathing masks seen in the trailer — they may also be pawns in this game of time chess.

For about 20 seconds in the centerpiece car chase from the Tenet trailer, Pattinson drives in reverse down a busy highway, in pursuit of a gold-green car.

Zoning in on this moment, u/mr__churchill writes,

“Towards the end of the trailer we see Pattinson and JDW driving backwards down a freeway, engaging a car in a chase. The car then flips, and we close this trailer on a shot of the car crash reversing back into functionality. Pattinson and JDW look at the wreck with some surprise. “

Other than showing us how good a driver Pattinson’s character is as well as making it clear these two are in pursuit of someone important, it’s not immediately obvious why they’re doing what they’re doing.

The redditor then focuses on how the car moves in reverse as it returns to its normal state and continues the high-speed chase.

>”The way the trailer presents this information, it seems like they’re driving backwards in a chase, then the car flips, and then they drive away. But that’s not what’s happening. At the end of the trailer they’re arriving at the scene of a car crash they haven’t caused yet. Pattinson isn’t driving backwards to chase the crashed car. He’s driving forwards, in order to escape the car that he just caused to crash. It’s not the car that is reversing through time, but actually just Pattinson and JDW.”

Essentially, this theory suggests Tenet will see objects (including people) move through time in varying directions and speeds. Even if we don’t know who is pulling the strings, those strings are getting pulled by something.

The redditor has a few ideas:

>”The time manipulation works like this: the car isn’t being made to go back in time, or reverse in any way. The car is moving ‘forwards’, but JDW is moving ‘backwards’ through time, whilst still processing information in a linear, ‘forwards’ manner. To him, it would all look like it’s going in reverse, even though he’s the one travelling backwards whilst still processing the information in the usual way. JDW is being chased by the men in the car, and to the men in the car, they are being chased by JDW. Just like the palindrome of the title, I think we will experience scenes like this from both temporal directions: forwards, thinking linearly, and backwards, also thinking linearly.”

If time is a free-for-all for anyone with the right technology, Tenet is about to get coo-coo-bananas confusing. This is especially true if u/mr__churchill’s final piece of speculation pans out in Nolan’s final cut:

“ I think the premise of the film will be this: at the very beginning, or near enough the ‘beginning’, JDW will save the day and avert whatever WW3 crisis is about to happen. But, as a result, he is now moving backwards through time, and must work to solve the mystery in reverse order. He’s already stopped the bad guys plan, but now he has to carry that information backwards through time to understand who he’s just stopped and why.”

The trailer for Tenet suggests Nolan’s next movie will throw laws of time, space, and physics in the trash. From what we’ve seen so far, you’ll need to be pretty mentally agile to absorb its story completely.

Tenet arrives in theaters on July 17, 2020.