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The Movie Tradition Christopher Nolan Broke With Tenet

When you're making a movie as non-traditional as Tenet, you can be forgiven for throwing tradition out the window.

In an interview with Total Film magazine (via IndieWire), Tenet writer-director Christopher Nolan revealed that before production began on his latest upcoming opus, he elected not to do something that he and virtually every other filmmaker does regularly: hold screenings of movies that inspired the flick for the cast and crew.

In case you're unaware, it's pretty much standard operating procedure — particularly for the creative minds behind genre films — to hold little mini film festivals showcasing their inspirations in order to get everyone on the same page as to the tone and feel of the movie they're about to start making. Nolan has long engaged in this tradition. For example, he told Total Film that before production commenced on The Dark Knight, he screened Michael Mann's intense 1995 crime epic Heat for his crew. And before yelling "action!" on Dunkirk, he offered up All Quiet on the Western Front and The Battle of Algiers.

Nolan didn't share what movies, if any, he screened for cast and crew before shooting Inception, which is kind of a bummer because now we're going to be curious about that forever. However, when it came to Tenet, which some have suggested may be some sort of secret sequel to Inception, Nolan decided to forgo that tradition altogether — and it's not just because singling out one or two films that influenced the film would have been too difficult.

"The reason was, I think we all have the spy genre so in our bones and in our fingertips," Nolan explained. "I actually wanted to work from a memory and a feeling of that genre rather than the specifics."

Why didn't Christopher Nolan do any screenings before production began on Tenet?

Nolan suggested that in the case of Tenet, holding screenings might have actually worked to the detriment of the film he was trying to make. "[Spy movies are] totally in my bones," he said. "I don't need to reference the movies and look at them again. It's about trying to re-engage with your childhood connection with those movies, with the feeling of what it's like to go someplace new, someplace fresh."

He went on to explain that the singular tone he hoped to achieve with Tenet had more to do with the feelings he wanted to evoke rather than with a desire to adhere to the trappings of any specific genre. "It actually has to take [the audience] somewhere they haven't been before, and that's why no one's ever been able, really, to do their own version of James Bond or something," said Nolan. "It doesn't work. And that's not at all what this is. This is much more my attempt to create the sort of excitement in grand-scale entertainment I felt from those movies as a kid, in my own way."

If you've gone to the movies in the last 20 years or so, then you have a pretty good idea of what Nolan's way is. The director is a master at toying with film conventions in ways that keep viewers on their toes without confounding or alienating them. And while his films often raise more questions than they answer — take the legendary final shot of Inception, for just one example — that's kind of what people love about them. Expect no less from Tenet.

What have the stars of Tenet said about the movie?

The stars of Tenet are also starting to do the promotional rounds, and what they've had to say about the film is as exciting as it is unsurprising. 

After the full-length trailer for Tenet dropped during a Fortnite-hosted event, lead actor John David Washington fielded a few questions from fans and gave his take on what he believes to be the seismic effect Tenet will have on movies in general. 

"We're familiar with [Nolan's] films, but this seems like something different," Washington said (via The Playlist). "It seems like this is where he's about to take us for the next 10, 15 years of filmmaking."

Washington's co-star Robert Pattinson has also offered a few choice words about Tenet, which he suggests will operate on a larger scale than ... well, pretty much any movie ever. 

"Even if I had seen it, I genuinely don't know if I'd be able to [tell you what it's about]," Pattinson said (via GQ). He explained that the production hopped all over the globe to different countries, and in each new location, the set pieces just kept getting bigger and bigger: "This thing, it's so insane... in each country there's, like, an enormous set piece scene, which is like the climax of a normal movie. In every single country."

As for Nolan himself, he asserted that Tenet has "more action than any film [he's] ever done" (via Esquire). Ever since we saw the first trailer for the flick, we've been expecting one of the craziest movies ever made, and nothing we've heard since has done anything to alter those expectations.

Tenet is currently slated for theatrical release on July 17, 2020.