Tenet

Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
Tenet Movie Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Nolan's violent, elaborate epic is best for deep thinkers.
  • PG-13
  • 2020
  • 150 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 11 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 21 reviews

We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

You are the main character of your own story, and you are capable of more than you know. Demonstration of teamwork.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Most of the cast are White males, but there are ethnically and gender diverse characters who are smart, calm, brave, curious, skilled. Integrity and perseverance. Lead character acts based on empathy. Primary female character is a victim but finds her strength and has the last word; other female characters also demonstrate power, agency.

Violence

Lots of action violence; little blood. Guns and shooting. Car chases. Crashes and fires. Beatings. Domestic abuse and threats. Terrorist takeover and battle scene. Threat of torture explained in graphic terms. Characters are arms dealers, and nuclear weapons are a part of the story.

Sex
Language

Infrequent strong language includes "bitch," "s--t," and one use of "f--king."

Consumerism

The villain is a billionaire who uses his money to dominate the world. He projects a belief that money is more important than anything else, including physical safety.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Social drinking (wine). In a meeting, the drink is vodka. Suicide pill.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Tenet is a spy action movie directed by Christopher Nolan that stars John David Washington as an international secret agent who must save the world from World War III. The film opens with terrorist activity at a concert, and there's a lot of action fighting throughout the film. It's mostly bloodless, but there are guns, shootings, explosions, crashes, and beatings. Domestic abuse and child custody are a big part of the storyline. Strong language is infrequent, so when it comes, it's noticeable: Expect to hear "f--king bitch," "s--t," etc. Characters drink socially (wine, vodka), and a suicide pill makes an appearance. Like many of Nolan's films, Tenet explores the concept of time, and it is complicated: This isn't a movie where you can check your brain at the door. Save time to talk about it afterward, because it's hard to catch all of the information -- often because audio involving key details is muffled by masks, walkie-talkies, etc. But the ultimate message is one about being the hero of your own story, and characters demonstrate teamwork, perseverance, courage, curiosity, integrity, and empathy. Robert Pattinson and Elizabeth Debicki co-star.

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User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byDan E. September 8, 2020

A challenge even for adults and Nolan fans

Great special effects and action sequences. Expect to want to watch it again to figure out the movie and to prove or believe the plot. Movie was unusually lou... Continue reading
Adult Written bya24cinephile September 4, 2020

Incredible, mind-bending movie

Christopher Nolan has proved with his previous films that he is one of the most ambitious and intelligent filmmakers working today, and Tenet is certainly furth... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byJoel_5762 August 26, 2020

Tenet Film Review || weiveR mliF teneT

Christopher Nolan’s TENET is an elaborate, complex, action-packed joyride. Given the limited amount of films releasing in 2020, Tenet is an exhilarating film th... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byLukeCon September 21, 2020

Nolan creates a mentally challenging time-travel epic

Christopher Nolan’s Tenet is certainly a challenge, but this could actually be beneficial. Sometimes, a film should not be your typical, simple story that the a... Continue reading

What's the story?

In TENET, a CIA operative known as The Protagonist (John David Washington) is given a secret mission to prevent World War III. As he moves deep into the world of international espionage and arms dealers, he investigates how a Russian oligarch (Kenneth Branagh) came into possession of a time-based weapon of the future. Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Michael Caine, and Clémence Poésy co-star.

Is it any good?

Cinematic master of time manipulation Christopher Nolan has created the Rubik's Cube of time travel movies: It's mentally exhausting, and only the best of us will get all the pieces to line up. Many time travel fans love to study and analyze the genre's fictional rules, and this offering is juicy: It will likely become the template to compare others against. Nolan expects a high level of intelligence from his viewers -- Tenet dips into physics and quantum theory -- and he doesn't waste time explaining anything clearly. It's hard not to feel dumb, and you have to hang on to every word. And, even then, it can be hard to understand what the characters are saying when they're wearing gas masks or speaking through devices (a technique that's now officially a Nolanism). While much of the movie is a whirlwind of "what?," the ending suggests that much of the complexity isn't as relevant to the overall point. You can enjoy it at the level of your choosing: If you want to crunch around in the minutiae, there's ample material, but if you want to jump to the takeaway, then it plays much more like a James Bond movie with a lot of complicated dialogue. It definitely sets up the possibility of a sequel, and it seems like the detail dump is meant to entice viewers to hit up theaters again and again. 

Of course, the devil is in the details, and the production values are magnificent. Nolan is a top-notch world builder, and, as we know from Inception, a world destroyer/rebuilder and environment flipper. Similar viscerally exciting special effects and design exist in Tenet. How certain scenes come together could stand next to Stonehenge as a Wonder of the World. Other than that pesky sound mixing, the film exists as a precious work of modern art that the viewer experiences from the inside. And the not-so-subtle message that comes with naming the lead character The Protagonist is worthwhile: You are the hero of your own story.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the violence in Tenet compares to what they've seen in other action movies. Does the fact that it's not especially bloody or gory affect your reaction? What's the impact of media violence on kids?

  • Nolan has received criticism for using his female characters to propel a man's story forward. Do you think he overcomes that critique here?

  • Which of the characters are role models? Why? How do they demonstrate courage, integrity, perseverance, and teamwork? Why are those important character strengths?

  • What are the rules of time travel in Tenet and other movies? How does that compare to what scientists like Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein suggest could be possible? Why do you think filmmakers -- and audiences -- enjoy this genre?

  • How does the lack of profanity in most of the movie affect the impact of hearing it when it is used?

Movie details

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