top of page

OKAY, FINE. THE THREE POINTS OF VIEW OF TENET (and the most confusing maguffin ever).  


With the re-release of Tenet coming up I expect the arguments about the merit of this movie to continue.  My truth is: I loved Tenet.  I can’t tell you why. I just did.





I guess I like going to the movies and trying to solve puzzles. I can see why others might not like doing that at all. So, no hard feelings if you hated it. However, we can use Tenet to talk about two important screenwriting concepts: POV and Maguffins. If that interests you, stick around.


While there are many articles “explaining” Tenet all over the interwebs, I have not come across one that uses story structure to do so.  So...


Let’s talk story structure. 




I like to call the four tenets of story structure  (see what I did there) “pillars”.

The four pillars being:

  • A cohesive beginning, middle and end (I use the monomyth to find this)

  • Literal, Emotional & Thematic Questions

  • Aristotle’s cause and effect "structural union of parts"

  • Point of view. 


The pillar that is most important to understand in order to enjoy Tenet is POINT OF VIEW.  


If you aren't familiar with point of view in screenwriting (different than novel writing) you can read more about it in my blog post using The Avengers as an example: 
















Let’s break down point of View in Tenet: 


POINT OF VIEW #1: THE FUTURE:


In the future, THE PROTAGONIST:










Is fighting the Antagonist, ANDRE SATOR who has gotten his hands on a nuclear weapon that will destroy humanity…





In order to stop this from happening the creator of that weapon broke it up into pieces referred to as "The Algorithm" and has hidden these pieces throughout the world to protect it from being put back together and controlled by the antagonist. 











The protagonist sends his right hand man NEIL to the past to help himself secure the weapons and destroy them before the antagonist can use it to destroy the world.



(FYI: this is time travel movie 102. In order to understand it, you need to have taken the prerequisite course Time Travel Movie 101 which includes The Terminator, The Terminator 2 and for bonus credit, Back to the Future... )


POINT OF VIEW #2: THE PRESENT


In the present: The Protagonist is given a mission that he doesn’t understand. He is helped by an ally who seems to know more than him and has to earn his trust. This is the right hand man NEIL.  With Neil’s help, they figure out who made the weapon and dispersed it. They learn from her what the mission is: track down the pieces of the algorithm and destroy them. 


This is the action line that takes us through the movie and the main storyline/the main POV: Opening (set up the "twilight world" and who our protagonist is) INCITING INCIDENT (protagonist is given a mission he doesn't understand) FIGURE OUT THE MISSION (the algorithm) COMPLETE THE MISSION (in a series of steps that get harder and harder until the end).


POINT OF VIEW #3: THE ANTAGONIST


It is fairly common in action movies to break point of view and show the antagonist twisting their mustache, making the protagonist’s life hell. Tenet is no exception.  This is technically not a true break in "point of view" because all of the scenes with Kenneth Branagh are in reference to the plot. But the scenes exist to create fear and excitement and action sequences.


Which brings me to the part of Tenet that is really confusing the crap out of everyone:

TEMPORAL PINCER MOVEMENTS.






The idea that time is moving backwards and forwards is a concept that occurs throughout the movie and is dramatized through a time converter (Temporal Turnstile) that is consistently cloaked in the color red so that the magical turnstile doesn't look like a cheap re-creation of the gravitron from the carnival nightmares of children born in the late 70s.





This device was created by the antagonist to create cool weapons he can use and sell - AND OF COURSE to win at action sequences.  


Here is an article that explains the time conversion machine if you’d like to try to understand it: 


HOWEVER!!! All you need to know is that a person can use the time converter to invert their entropy. (Don't try to understan-- okay, you get it.)


The time conversion/turnstile device does not change the story in any way.

It’s basically a maguffin. 


WHAT IS A MAGUFFIN?


Maguffin was explained to me simply as: the thing that the protagonist has to accomplish that the audience needs to understand but doesn’t care about. 


The most easily recognized maguffin is the “letters of transit in Casablanca”.  The thing we care about in Casablanca is the love story. But without Victor Laszlo needing the letters of transit to get him out of Casablanca, Ilsa would never have walked into Rick’s gin joint out of all the gin joints in the world. 





The letters of transit are the maguffin. 


More on maguffin’s from studio binder:


So basically the action sequences where bullets and cars and people are moving forwards and backwards... are just there in service to the plot point that the antagonist has the final piece of the algorithm and they need to get it... but he won't let them get it... and because he can go forwards and backwards at the same time... he's more difficult to capture.


It's an elaborate action sequence device.




All of this to say, understanding POV and Maguffins is helpful for screenwriters. And if you do watch Tenet again, maybe now you'll be able to just fee--- sorry. As you were.

87 views3 comments

Recent Posts

See All

3 Comments


Joy
Joy
Feb 25

I didn’t NOT like Tenant but it wasn’t cathartic. Would I watch a sequel? Yep. But the sequel has to give me something!

Like
Replying to

You didn’t have a moment when they say goodbye at the end? Listen, I can’t tell you why I liked it. As I was watching it I thought this is terrible. I can’t hear a word they’re saying. I have no idea what’s going on. Why do I love it? 😂

Like

Love that analysis. As I watched it in theater I was amazed and disappointed at the same time. Disappointed because I was fascinated by the movie but didn’t understand it. I thought, Nolan, what did you do. Can’t be, Nolan does not make mistakes, because he’s one of the movie Gods. So, I decided to hate it, or let’s say, hated it that I couldn’t say, wow, I love it. Let’s watch again 🧐

Like
bottom of page