DUBAI: British-American filmmaker Christopher Nolan was 7 years old the first time he went to see a James Bond movie at the cinema.
The 007 caper, “The Spy Who Loved Me,” starred Roger Moore and it may have been in that London theater seat, while sat next to his father, that the Nolan we know, the visionary director behind “Inception,” “Interstellar,” and “The Dark Knight” trilogy, was truly born inside of him.
“I’ve tried to retain from that experience the feeling of possibility — that you could jump through that screen and go anywhere in the world and see the most amazing things,” he told Arab News.
“It had such scale, such possibilities. It was pure escapism and an excellent sort of fantasy component to it as well. The car that turns into a submarine, and all of that stuff. I think I’ve spent a lot of my career trying to get back to that. I try to give that feeling to audiences, to take you back to that sense of wonderment about the possibilities of what movies can do and where they can take you,” Nolan said.
It is fitting, then, that for “Tenet,” his most audacious and dizzying film yet, he chose the spy genre to bring audiences into a world that has been brewing in the back of his head for decades — a world in which objects and people can move backward and forward through time in front of your very eyes, and the fate of both the future and the past are in balance.
“People who know my earlier work will recognize some of the tropes like the bullet coming out of the wall and going back into the gun. It’s something that’s used for metaphorical purpose in ‘Memento.’ But here, we try to actually make it concrete and make it a real thing,” Nolan, 50, added.
While the film constantly comes up with new concepts and sequences that have never been attempted on screen before, it is the simple spy story at its heart that keeps audiences grounded, with a charismatic star in John David Washington (“BlacKkKlansman”) and his sidekick played by Robert Pattinson, both who light up the screen, even while their characters go unnamed.
For each, the trick was finding a way to avoid getting lost in the grandeur of Nolan’s nearly unfathomable vision and a $225 million production that focused on practical stunts that went as far as to crash a real plane.
The trick was to dive further into their characters. We may never find out much about the past of Washington’s Protagonist, but Nolan and Washington had his whole life mapped out in secret, with Washington spending hours pouring into aspects of his character the audience only sees hinted at.
“It all comes from inside out. It comes from knowing why he’s doing what he is doing, how he got there, what he sees, what he wants, and why he even wanted to sign up for this. I would have diaries and write about his backstory. It was fun,” Washington said.
For Pattinson, who will next don the cowl in 2021’s much-anticipated “The Batman,” he had to find the right emotional reaction to the mind-bending world his character finds himself in. Pattinson settled on sheer, unadulterated joy — and found it worked.
“Once I realized that you could play him as someone who enjoys the chaotic situation that he’s in, then that seemed to be the touchstone for the rest of the character. It’s not pleasurable for any of the characters once you find out the truth of the story. It’s not a great thing to find out. He is just one of those people who say, ‘God, I love this. I love living in a nightmare,’” said Pattinson.
At the center of that nightmare is a man named Andrei Sator, played by Oscar-nominee Kenneth Branagh, an enigmatic man whose relationship with the future may lead to the end of the world.
“He’s a man who plays fast and loose with his own soul. The consequences for humanity are absolutely appalling,” said Branagh. The actor, who has spent a career diving deep into the intricate work of playwright William Shakespeare, found in the screenplay to “Tenet” a world that he could barely get his head around.
“’Tenet’ is the screenplay that I’ve read more than any other screenplay on anything else I’ve worked on. I needed to keep up with its twists, its turns, and its challenges. It’s a very gripping read, but you definitely have to go back. At least, I definitely had to go back. I imagine that might be the case in the cinema.
“It was like a three-dimensional emotional chess puzzle making the movie. Nolan is extraordinary,” added Branagh.