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Christopher Nolan dropped a surprise for some movie goers Thursday night. The secretive filmmaker’s next project, Tenet, debuted a short teaser with some screenings of Universal’s Hobbs & Shaw, and The Hollywood Reporter was on hand for an IMAX screening at AMC Century City. So far, the Tenet teaser has not appeared online.
The roughly minute-long first look at Tenet opens on a bullet hole that’s punched through some glass. Behind the glass stands John David Washington’s character. The teaser slam cuts to the words, “Time has come for a new protagonist.” Washington’s character walks up to examine the glass. The camera tracks him as he moves to the side, revealing more cracks in the glass. This visual echoes Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) surveying bullet ballistics in Nolan’s 2008 film The Dark Knight. The teaser then slam cuts to the words, “Time has come for a new kind of mission.” Then, it reenters on people dressed as swat team members, or perhaps members kind of special operative unit. Quick cuts of Washington in action flash, before the teaser holds on a shot of Washington, with an oxygen mask over his mouth as he slowly breathes. Beneath the trailer is a pulsing, almost wobbling score, with the bass particularly powerful. Tenet composer Ludwig Goransson is notable for bass in his Creed and Black Panther scores.
Washington, seemingly the sole main cast member to appear in the teaser — unless Robert Pattinson or Elizabeth Debicki are behind some of those masked cops — is framed as the protagonist of the film, which is being described as an action epic evolving from the world of international espionage. Like Nolan’s 2010 film Inception, and as that description hints, Tenet looks to take inspiration from James Bond films. Tenet is also rumored to involve the time continuum, and it’s possible that the refrain of the word “time” in the teaser is a clue to this.
The lettering of the film’s title, which is notably a palindrome, has flipped the final E and T so that they are upside down — styled as TEN??. Nolan broke onto the scene with 2000’s Memento, a film that runs backwards and forwards at the same time, and has deployed non-linear structures in many of his films since.
Nolan is known for vague early teasers that reveal almost nothing about the plot. The first teaser for The Dark Knight (2008) had no footage and featured a short monologue from Michael Caine’s Alfred, as well as a quote from Heath Ledger’s The Joker. The first look at Interstellar (2014) included a Matthew McConaughey monologue — one that wasn’t actually in the film — and largely featured archival footage of space exploration. And the first look at Dunkirk (2017), had no dialogue, merely showing the harsh conditions on the Dunkirk beach to the score of a rapid ticking clock.
The secrecy of the Tenet release is par for the course, as well. Nolan has been an avid proponent of the theatrical experience not only of his films, but of the marketing of them too. With The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises (2012) and Dunkirk, Nolan released IMAX prologues in theaters ahead of major December releases I Am Legend (2007), Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011) and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), respectively. With Interstellar, Nolan released a special IMAX trailer in institutional theaters, like science centers.
It is unclear which screenings of Hobbs & Shaw will get the Tenet trailer, and Warner Bros. did not respond to a request for clarification. Tenet is currently still in production, and is being shot on a mixture of IMAX and 70mm. Warner Bros. is opening the film July 17, 2020, with the cast also including Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kenneth Branagh, Michael Caine, Dimple Kapadia and Clémence Poésy.
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