For a few weeks now Christopher Nolan‘s time inversion film Tenet is running in cinemas. I have seen it twice, and I think the movie is brilliant, perhaps Nolan’s best. However, after two visits I also believe it is difficult to understand. For those who agree with me there are three options. The first is to visit my dedicated Tenet page. The second is to wait for the official novelization and the third is to pick up a copy of The Secrets of Tenet by James Mottram. This book is an in-depth look at the behind the scenes production effort behind Tenet. We read how the director made his choice in casting, filming locations and visual design. We read the opinions of actors John David Washington and Kenneth Branagh. But the other creative geniuses are also covered: cinematographer Hoyte and Hoytema and composer Ludwig Göransson.
Why read The Secrets of Tenet?
The Secrets of Tenet doesn’t just expand upon plot points from the movie. It also details in-depth what went on in Christopher Nolan’s mind when he created Tenet. Author James Mottram conducted a number of interviews with the director, creative staff and actors. Chapter by chapter the reader gets the sense each was dedicated to make Tenet as memorable as possible. The movie had to be exciting, but also plausible. I especially enjoyed reading how the turnstiles were envisioned. The book includes line diagrams but also architectural blueprints. As these were large pieces of ‘set’ they required blueprints to be made. Again the creative staff decided on ‘realism’ instead of Science Fiction. The turnstiles were also in keeping with the Brutalist choice of architecture seen throughout the movie. To make things easier for the audience to understand the turnstile have a color scheme: forward (red) and reverse (blue) entropy.
But there is plenty more. The fashion choices by costume designer Jeffrey Kurland show a lot of thought was given make each character unique. The reader learns about Graham Greene style for Neil (played by Robert Pattinson) to the expensive look sported by Debicki. Kurland envisioned her character to be conservative but not luxurious, thus his choice for fitting her with a bright colored pencil skirt and jacket. The bigger decision was whether the six foot three actress should wear high heels. Ultimately he decided she did. The extensive fight choreography is another topic that required lengthy research. Actor John David Washington had to practice some of the reverse entropy movements with a dance choreographer, Madeline Holland, to attain the desired expressive quality. It is fun to note that the script supervisor had difficulty remembering what the characters should wear due to the time inversion aspect.
Not everything is covered about Tenet
Where The Secrets of Tenet falters is the lack of in-depth analysis of the films themes. The title itself, as well as Kenneth Branagh‘s character are references to the Sator Square, a Latin five-worded collection of words that form palindromes. I had hoped for the director to explain his choice of title. As it is it makes me feel as if there was no deeper meaning. Which may well be true. Another issue I would have liked to have seen was a diagram of the various entropy reversal moments throughout the story. I imagine the director and the creative staff need such diagrams just to keep their head clear. As it is, my page for Tenet does have such a diagram, courtesy of Reddit. However, as this book is a coffee table book detailing filming, special effects and fashion it may not have been the right choice.
This book comes in at 156 pages, with a good balance of text and gorgeous photography. As the text is two columns it is not insignificant in length. Anyone keen on picking this up should know that the price of $43.99 on Amazon is very reasonable. If you have not seen Tenet yet and are keen on knowing more you can always read my review. Or you can visit my Tenet discussion board! If you enjoyed this review of The Secrets of Tenet please fill our the subscription widget on the right!