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Tenet: New book sheds light on mysterious time 'inversion' in Chris Nolan's blockbuster

By Josh Weiss
Secrets of Tenet

Tenet's theatrical debut has already been delayed twice, but SYFY WIRE was able to reach into the future and get its hands on an exclusive first look at the film's making-of book from Insight Editions.

Written by James Mottram (Die Hard: The Ultimate Visual History, The Making of Dunkirk), The Secrets of Tenet: Inside Christopher Nolan's Quantum Cold War provides an expansive exploration of the mysterious new blockbuster. It's a treasure trove of juicy intel from key crew members like Nolan, director of photography Hoyte van Hoytema, production designer Nathan Crowley, editor Jennifer Lame, costume designer Jeffrey Kurland, special effects supervisor Scott Fisher, visual effects supervisor Andrew Jackson, and executive producer Thomas Hayslip.

The never-before-seen pages given to us were taken from Chapter 5: "Road to Nowhere," a section of the book that details the movie's inaugural sequence and offers more context on the story's time-bending element known as "inversion." In the chapter intro (below), we learn that the globe-trotting production arrived in Estonia's capital city of Tallinn last summer for a 32-day shoot. Interestingly, Tenet is the first "large-scale film" to shoot there since Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker in 1979.

The Secrets of Tenet

Glimpsed in the most recent trailer, the movie's action-packed opener (a shoot-out between terrorists and a Ukrainian SWAT team in a Kiev opera house) will immediately introduce viewers to inversion and how it can be used to one's advantage.

Based on some really awesome storyboards (below), we see John David Washington's main character — a secret agent simply referred to as "The Protagonist" — almost being hit by a bullet while he focuses on a bomb that's about to go off. The bullet nicks his outfit and smashes into a wall before time inverts and the deadly projectile is somehow thrust backward, taking down the shooter.

Just as Nolan decided to blow up an actual 747 for a later scene, this particular set piece is another great example of the writer-director's commitment to practical filmmaking wizardry. As Mottram explains, Fisher's special effects crew pumped a wisp of smoke through the artificial bullet hole before sucking it back through the orifice with a vacuum pump "as if it were moving in reverse." Our knowledge of this curious temporal-twisting ability is still pretty limited, but the book's press release does emphasize that inversion is "not time travel," but rather its own unique thing.

The Secrets of Tenet

Inspired by Nolan's love of the James Bond franchise, Tenet is a love letter to the international espionage/spy-fi genre of yesteryear, complete with the ticking time bomb of a world-ending scheme. Armed with the eponymous codeword and his knowledge of inversion, The Protagonist's mission is to prevent World War III. Said global cataclysm may or may not be the endgame of the character played by Kenneth Branagh, an enigmatic Russian figure who can communicate with the future.

Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Dimple Kapadia, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Clémence Poésy, Himesh Patel, and Michael Caine fill out the rest of the project's A-list ensemble.

The Secrets of Tenet

Featuring a foreword by Washington and an introduction by Branagh, The Secrets of Tenet goes on sale from Insight Editions the same day as the film's release in theaters. Right now, that date is Friday, August 21. You can pre-order a copy of the book right here.