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Tenet Teaser Breakdown: 11 Reveals & Questions From The Theater-Only Trailer

The first teaser trailer for Tenet, the new movie from Christopher Nolan, has been released. We break down its story reveals and secrets.

Tenet Movie Trailer Breakdown Nolan

The trailer for Tenet, the new movie from Christopher Nolan, isn't making its way online, so here's a rundown of the biggest reveals from the theater-only teaser. The latest film from the Inception direction, the teaser trailer for Tenet was first played in cinemas with the release of Hobbs & Shaw. It was widely-believed that it would be released online but, as with WB's Birds of Prey teaser, it's just sticking to cinemas.

As we've come to expect from Nolan, this is a project shrouded in secrecy. We know Tenet's cast, which includes John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Brannagh, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and that it will reportedly be "an action epic evolving from the world international espionage." Aside from that, and the fact it will be another time-bending trip of a movie, marking a return to his usual twisty efforts after war movie Dunkirk, there isn't a great deal known about Tenet.

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Related: Has Christopher Nolan's Tenet Trailer Trick Backfired?

The trailer screams of not wanting to change too much in that regard. Tenet is just under a year away from release, and since Nolan only started filming in May there likely isn't a huge amount of footage ready to show. What the Tenet trailer does do is set the tone, give us an enticing tease of what we can expect, and reveals a few tantalizing hints of story, while also leaving some big questions behind.

11. Tenet's Movie Tagline

The first reveal from Tenet's teaser trailer is the movie's tagline, which reads: "Time has come for a new protagonist. Time has come for a new mission." Straight away, the Tenet trailer puts a marker down that this, like many of Nolan's films, will be largely centered around the passage, perception, and use of time. Along with that, it also lets us know that Tenet will feature a very different main character and mission to what we've seen in his films before.

The phrasing here is key too. Notice that the tagline doesn't say 'The time has come...' but simply "Time has come...". Nolan never does anything that isn't by design, and so that decision is likely a further hint. Read this way, it makes time sound like a threat that has come for the protagonist, suggesting that the villain of Tenet could even be time itself.

10. The Bullet Hole

Bullet Hole

The major focus of the Tenet trailer is on a bullet hole, which has appeared in what looks like bulletproof glass. John David Washington's still unnamed character stands on the other side, moving to inspect the bullet hole. Putting together the bullet hole and use of time, then there might be some sly referencing to The Matrix's 'Bullet Time' effect, which has influenced Nolan's works before. That in turn suggests that, like films Inception and Momento, Tenet is going to be making us question what it is we're seeing, playing with time and reality, and using some groundbreaking techniques.

Related: Inception Ending Explained

The bullet hole, when combined with the tagline, also further hints at time being the enemy, moving like a bullet towards its target. It's unclear what kind of character Washington is playing, but the suit and location of the bullet hole suggest he might be investigating a crime scene, which would fit with the world of espionage. The cracked glass might also be representative of how Tenet will use time, hinting that time itself is being fractured in Nolan's new movie.

9. Moving In Reverse

Tenet Chrisopther Nolan Dunkirk John David Washington

One of the most intriguing elements of Tenet's teaser trailer is the way it moves forward, which looks as though it's going in reverse. Washington approaches the glass, and then it cuts to a tagline card, and when it returns to him he seems further away, like he's moved back from the glass during the cut. It cuts to another card, and again Washington looks further away from where he started.

That could be the major clue to Tenet's trailer: that what we're seeing is all happening in reverse. That could just be the case for the investigation of the bullet holes, but it might be the entire thing. Nolan made Memento, after all, so he's not against non-linear storytelling; it'd actually fit with his M.O. if Tenet's trailer is being shown to us the wrong way around. That wouldn't necessarily mean Tenet itself will be, but it's yet another tease of how Tenet is going to continue Nolan's fascination with time and won't just be a straightforward, chronological narrative.

8. The Bullet Repeats Itself

Bullet Hole Reversed

Along with the shots of Washington that make it look as though he's moving in reverse in Tenet's teaser trailer, it's also worth noting how the bullet hole repeats itself. We start with him looking at one bullet hole, and then moving towards another to the right. At that point it cuts away to another card, and when we return Washington is further to the left than he was before. It's the kind of trick that looks like those we've seen before in time loop movies, which might mean that's what Tenet is, in part, dealing with. If "time has come for a new kind of mission", then maybe the mission in question revolves around either a time loop or alternate timelines.

Related: Everything We Know About Christopher Nolan's Tenet

7. John David Washington Is Tenet's Lead

John David Washington and Christopher Nolan

Tenet has a mightly impressive cast, but the trailer puts the focus squarely on BlacKkKlansman's John David Washington, which confirms his status as the movie's lead, right down to his being the only cast name to appear on one of the cards. Washington was the first actor cast by Nolan for Tenet, so this makes sense, but it's still interesting to have it confirmed by the teaser, especially in a way that conveys this is going to be so much about his journey.

Tenet doesn't give too many clues as to exactly what kind of character Washington will be playing. In the later sequences, he looks a little more panicked; in another, an all-action spy type; and at other points he seems cool and collected, like he's the one ready to figure all of this out. This could be a further sign of Tenet's trailer moving in reverse, showing us a glimpse of Washington's progression as he delves deeper into the mission, and giving him a full range of emotions to play with. As we saw in BlacKkKlansman, he's more than capable of doing whatever's asked of him.

6. Where Is Washington Here?

Blackkklansman John David Washington

The majority of Tenet's teaser is spent on the bullet hole location and title cards revealing the tagline, but after that we get a series of quick shots from different points in the movie. The first of these finds Washington in a location that's a little difficult to make out, and as such hard to pinpoint any context for. The setting around him is all black, so we can at least assume this takes place at night, while he looks more casually dressed than he does in shots that come both before and after this. Maybe this is just Washington relaxing at home, but knowing Christopher Nolan movies there's likely a lot more to it than that.

5. Who's In The Riot Gear?

Police Riot Gear

Another new location for the Tenet trailer, this one finds someone wearing what looks like heavy armor or riot gear. Although not fully clear who it is behind the mask, it's presumably another glimpse of Washington, since he's the sole focus of the teaser. It might be that he's law-enforcement, since the attire and flashing lights on the vans suggest this is the police force, but that could equally be a disguise, given this is a spy movie of sorts.

Related: Every Christopher Nolan Movie Ranked, From Worst To Best

4. John David Washington Fighting

John David Washington Ballers

Tenet has been billed as an action movie set in the world of espionage which, given the number of times Nolan has been linked to the franchise, immediately calls to mind James Bond. For the most part, Tenet doesn't look too much like it's doing 007, but the exception is this shot. With Washington dressed in a sharp suit, punching the living daylights out of some unknown enemy, it's the one moment in Tenet's teaser trailer that goes full Bond and really commits to being a spy movie. It looks like a vicious, angry beatdown, which might mean that Washington's character has been provoked here, or that he's more prone to outbursts as he slips further into Tenet's mission. It's a bit of a stretch, but the person he's punching looks like they could be dressed similarly to the riot gear in the previous shot. Does that mean it's not Washington in that shot? And if not, who is it?

3. Washington Gets Captured

John David Washington Blackkklansman

Another quick shot that feels like it belongs to a spy movie, this one sees a worried-looking Washington being led by two guards down a mysterious corridor. Again, there's no context given to this sequence in the Tenet trailer, but it doesn't look as though Washington's character is going too willingly. That connects back to the idea of something coming for the protagonist: he's being taken in, but why? If we go with the idea of the trailer being shot in reverse, then it'd mean this is likely Washington being brought in by whoever is heading up the mission to begin his new operation.

2. The Oxygen Mask & Mirror

Although every shot in Tenet's teaser trailer is designed to get people talking, it's the final one that leaves a particularly big impression. It gives us our clearest look yet at Washington, with the caveat that he's wearing an oxygen mask for some reason. If this is earlier in the movie and he's about to travel in time - or just has - then it might be something to help him calm down and adjust. The way the blind opens and the sunshine comes through the window further suggests that this is Washington's character getting ready to step out into his mission.

It's not just the mask that's important to note in this shot, however, but also the mirror, where the blonde hair looks like it belongs to Robert Pattinson's character. That entwines his story with Washington's, perhaps meaning that he is the one who pushes him into this new kind of mission. Is Pattinson the villain of the piece? Maybe. He's one of the biggest actors in the movie, but isn't the lead hero, so it'd be a fascinating role for him to take on, and fit with the idea of a time-traveling espionage action movie.

Related: What's The Story Of Christopher Nolan's Tenet? Here's All The Clues

1. Tenet's Logo

Tenet Fan Poster Logo

With the conclusion of the trailer, we also get official confirmation of the Tenet logo, which had previously been seen via set photos. The first half of the word Tenet is written as normal, but the last two letters have been flipped upside down, which reads like a clear mission statement from Nolan (not too dissimilar to the fan-made Tenet image above). Not only is Tenet a palindrome, which fits with the idea of this trailer playing in reverse, but it suggests that the world is going to be turned upside down and things get completely flipped: that could mean one character becomes another, alternate timelines, or who knows what else. What the trailer confirms above all else is that Tenet looks great, and Nolan is definitely back.

More: 2012 Music Video May Reveal Nolan’s Big Tenet Trick

Key Release Dates
  • Tenet (2020) release date: Jul 17, 2020
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