Still don’t get ‘Tenet’? Delve into the complicated ending explained here
If you watched Christopher Nolan’s Tenet this year, you may have left the theater thinking two words: Um, what?
If that’s the case, don’t fret! You’re far from the only one thinking it. The entire movie is a flip-flopping time travel romp that leaves us scratching our heads half the time. We’re more than happy to explain the ending of Tenet for you so you can finally put the movie from your mind and go on with your life.
In order to delve into the movie’s ending, we have to go over a few details first. The past & future collide thanks to a piece of technology called inversion. Basically, it allows you to send both people & objects into the past to manipulate events that have already happened.
There are tons of different time travel theories used in the time travel movies we all know & love. The time travel theory in Tenet is called the causal loop theory or the predestination paradox. This means the events of the present are already set in stone or predestined because they’ve already happened.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is a great example. When Harry is fending off dementors, Harry sees someone cast Expecto Patronum to drive the soul-ducking monsters away. He thinks it’s his dad, but it turns out future Harry was the one who cast the spell. After he travels back in time to save Sirius Black, he deduces he was the one who cast the charm, and he cast it because he’d already done it.
In Tenet, it’s up to a CIA agent, simply referred to as the Protagonist, and a small ragtag group to use inversion technology to try to prevent a no-holds-barred global war; think World War II, but bigger and with scarier weapons.
The only problem is the bad guys also have the inversion tech and really enjoy messing with them. The inversion tech allows both people and objects to travel into the past. It’s basically the lynchpin to the entire movie.
The Protagonist (John David Washington) joins an organization called Tenet, comprised of a group of people who are trying to save the world. Kenneth Branagh’s villain Andre Sator wants to destroy the world using inversion technology via something called the Algorithm because he’s dying and wants everyone else to die too.
The plot thickens
Sator wants to die during a happy moment in his past and chooses a vacation he took with wife Kat, played by Elizabeth Debicki, in Vietnam. He also plans to set off the Algorithm with a dead man’s switch and destroy life as we know it. Future Kat goes back in time to stop Sator from taking his own life.
Kat kills her husband after revealing to him she’s future Kat all along. However, she may have killed him before the Tenet team has the chance to deactivate the Algorithm in Siberia.
Meanwhile in Siberia, Team Tenet must get the Algorithm away from a bomb so it doesn’t go off and kill everyone. They manage to do that, preventing the explosion and saving the world. The plan is then to split up the pieces of Algorithm between them, bury them, and then kill themselves so no one will ever be able to find them.
The ending (finally) explained
At the end of Tenet, The Protagonist realizes his handler Neil (Robert Pattinson) has actually been part of Tenet for years and they’ve been friends for a long time. How? Well, it turns out that the Protagonist was actually the mastermind behind everything all along! It also turns out that one version of Neil is dead on the ground, identifiable by his backpack.
The Protagonist also realizes the backpack is the same one he saw earlier in the movie belonging to the unidentified man at the opera house who saved the Protagonist’s life. That means there is still a version of Neil running around somewhere doing the Lord’s work and filling in gaps in the timeline.
And that’s the ending of Tenet explained! Are you still confused? That’s okay because honestly, we are too. Let us know what you thought of Tenet in the comments!