Tenet, the latest movie by cinematic existentialist Christopher Nolan, has just hit HBO Max. Finally, casual movie fans will be able to enjoy the time-reverting conspiracy sci-fi outside of theaters – despite the filmmaker’s insistence that audiences risk being viral hotboxed in a cramped movie theater with the kind of mouthbreathers who would go watch a movie at the height of an infectious pandemic. But stay your hand from clicking that HBO Max free trial button for just a moment because I have inverted myself from the future, having seen/will see/am seeing Tenet over 600 times on streaming to warn you that the British Time Lord was right: HBO Max is not the way to watch Tenet.
Christopher Nolan’s take on streaming is the only thing the director has ever done that doesn’t require a three-hour-long YouTube video to explain: movie theaters good, (greedy) streaming bad. And while he’s not the only Hollywood director who cannot cope with the thought of their masterpieces being viewed on a cracked phone during a particularly long bus ride, Nolan is the only one who has a point. Christopher Nolan movies need to be seen in cinemas -- because if you’re not being held hostage by the sticky floor, you’d never be able to enjoy another one.
Just imagine the migraine resulting in having been able to chapter-skip backward during your first viewing of Memento and discovering it’s even more incoherent in its correct chronological order. Or how disappointing Inception would have been on your tinny laptop without the strategically timed Dolby BRAAAMs hitting you like a concussion grenade, making it impossible for your brain to focus long enough to figure out that mind-burglary makes less sense than Elliot Page folding a city like a calzone.
Even Nolan’s non-loopy time loop movies would suffer from the plethora of home viewing options. Accidentally switch the language while lazily watching The Dark Knight Returns, and you’ll never want to go back to the English version, preferring to not understand a single word for the blessed experience of a Bane who sounds like an actual villain and not Truman Capote with a mouth full of molasses.
And those movies are mere mind muddles compared to the heuristic tension headache that is Tenet. Only a theatrical experience can help a non-Nolan mind to cope with its 27 overlapping back- and forward timelines, visually confusing bullet-sucking action scenes and characters simultaneously being adults and kids and adults. We mere time mortals need Tenet on the big screen to overwhelm us, its shitty sound mixing to either daze our eardrums or turn the exposition into the incomprehensible mumblings of madmen.
To truly enjoy a Nolan time loop movie, we require absolute coherence of time, to trap ourselves in a dark room with no remote unable to constantly be clicking the 30-second rewind button in a futile attempt to figure out what just happened, forever trapping your mind into a revolving door of inverted bullshit.
So picture the carnage the HBO Max streaming version would have released during last year’s Hot Plague Summer. Without a movie theater numbing their brains to “whoa” levels of criticism, millions of discombobulated people would have been bumping into people on pavements, and in supermarket aisles, their brains too tangled remember masks or socially distancing because why the hell would a backward traveling car have its windows frozen by an explosion if it was already on fire?
So yes, Nolan was probably irresponsible to risk the health of thousands for 150 minutes of the kind of confusing mess a toddler would have an easier time understanding. Or maybe, maybe, Nolan disappeared so far up his own asshole during the making of Tenet he turned it into a Turnstile, saw the carnage caused by the simultaneous theatrical and streaming release, inverted back into time, and held off its streaming until the vaccination efforts were underway so he could save the world from his creation. Maybe Christopher Nolan is not the self-indulgent filmmaker we want, but he’s the self-indulgent filmmaker we need.
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Top Image: Warner Bros.