Tenet storyform discussion

The movie is mainly the OS. The story is barely a complete story or may not be one at all. Kat has a minimal personal throughline while Protag has even less and the RS is just fumes. I can’t emphasize this enough.

I think the OS/MC problem is Knowledge.
MC: Knowledge of my crime; my husband’s memory of my crime hangs over me. OS: Knowledge of how the tech works is now in the wrong hands.

The OS/MC solution is Thought.
MC: When Kat changes and acts in a way that is Cunning (gist), she is able to change to a do-er, kill her abusive husband, and get over her angst. OS: When Protag is able to think about time / this tech in a new way (when he goes in the reverse direction and figures out how to operate in that direction), then the OS is able to end in success (understanding how this technology works, understanding the caper).

I interpreted it as MC be-er Kat sees IC do-er Protag getting out there and doing something to fix problems and being dedicated to his cause physically in action. IC is known for his past (Brooks Brothers won’t cut it) as an outsider in this secret world.

The RS/IC TL’s are barely there to absent. Whole pieces / signposts appear to be missing. I doubt that it is a complete story.

Edit: This is even less of a complete story than Dunkirk, which was far from a complete story. The focus of Tenet is spectacle and the “going backwards” conceit. It pains me to say it as a fan of Nolan’s previous movies, but it’s his least complete story. Also, rewatch it and notice how it changes from 100% plot/OS to a tiny amount of heart when Kat is first introduced (and every time she has a scene). Kat is the MC, but the OS is the overwhelming focus that nearly excludes everything else.



I would add the complete lack of a MC Throughline to your list :grin:

Try to imagine a “You and I are both alike” conversation into the script and you’ll see there just isn’t a natural place for it.

Clever for the sake of being clever. Not wanting to give Washington’s character a name makes it impossible to relate to him at all. We’re always watching Kat, not living within her experience.

The movie is 100% objective reality WITHOUT an objective viewpoint. The battle scene at the end is the closest to being able to pull back and witness how the two time paths work against each other.

Besides that we’re getting a constant subjective point-of-view of an objective conflict, which is really a strange disembodying experience.

It’s cool, and I’d watch it again to catch all the cool time loop stuff, but I’d much rather watch the last episode of season 2 of The Mandalorian on endless repeat. :grin:


Isn’t Tenet going to be one of the monthly story analysis films, next year?

EDIT: I changed my mind, post below.

Not quite true. When she first recalls the boat trip to Vietnam, we go into her mind, with a brief memory of her on the boat.
Her obsession with her personal family problem stood out to me “everyone in the world will cease to exist” “including my son!?” In her MC role, as mother who wants to escape her husband for personal reasons, we see through her eyes. The scene where she hides the gun just before he enters and he is going to beat her for instance. And when we see her looking at the smaller boat whilst pretending to be past Kat.
Her influence character is The Protagonist, who shows her her husband doesnt “always get his way” and she can fight back (go from despair to ‘uncontrolled’ anger and therefore capable of killing and needing to let him die knowing he did not “get his way”). Note the scene outside the restaurant where we are definitely in her pov as she looks at The Protagonist emerging unscathed.
The relationship story is Kat and Sator. Their power struggle.
I think the objective story dominated but the character I felt most emotionally involved with was Kat. I cared most what happened to her, which is why we needed to see her at the end with her son, though there we seemed to be in The Protagonist’s shoes. That scene showed his steadfast belief that the innocent should be spared, which he does go on about throughout, with concern for the audience and then the crew of the plane.
But I also think The Protagonist was given a strong sense of seeing through his point of view. That made the handling of the Main Character Throughline feel weak. He had literally no personal issue outside the objective plot, that I could see.
That was my take for what little it is worth!
This is the storyform I came to with those assumptions:
IC RESOLVE: Steadfast

DRIVER: Decision
LIMIT: Optionlock
OUTCOME: Success


CONCERN: The Future
ISSUE: Preconception vs. Openness
PROBLEM: Control
SOLUTION: Uncontrolled
CATALYST: Openness
SIGNPOST 1: The Past
SIGNPOST 2: The Future
SIGNPOST 3: How Things are Changing
SIGNPOST 4: The Present

THROUGHLINE: Manipulation
CONCERN: Changing One’s Nature
ISSUE: Responsibility vs. Commitment
PROBLEM: Control
SOLUTION: Uncontrolled
SYMPTOM: Temptation
RESPONSE: Conscience
UNIQUE ABILITY: Rationalization
BENCHMARK: Developing a Plan
SIGNPOST 1: Conceiving an Idea
SIGNPOST 2: Developing a Plan
SIGNPOST 3: Playing a Role
SIGNPOST 4: Changing One’s Nature

CONCERN: Obtaining
ISSUE: Morality vs. Self Interest
PROBLEM: Support
BENCHMARK: Understanding
SIGNPOST 1: Understanding
SIGNPOST 3: Obtaining
SIGNPOST 4: Gathering Information
THROUGHLINE: Fixed Attitude
CONCERN: Innermost Desires
ISSUE: Denial vs. Closure
PROBLEM: Conscience
SOLUTION: Temptation
INHIBITOR: Preconception
SIGNPOST 1: Contemplation
SIGNPOST 2: Memories
SIGNPOST 3: Innermost Desires
SIGNPOST 4: Impulsive Responses
GOAL: The Future
CONSEQUENCE: Innermost Desires
COST: Obtaining
DIVIDEND: Changing One’s Nature
PRECONDITION: Understanding
FOREWARNINGS: Developing a Plan

I watched five videos breaking down the order of events in the film last night. Super intriguing and makes me want to watch it again.

That said—

We watch her get shot from the other side.

We watch her pull up in Sator’s car. The Protagonist’s surprise is our surprise.

And so on

Whenever we’re experiencing the flow of time we’re always seeing it from the Protagonist’s point of view. The iconic fight in the hallway with himself is played both times from his POV.

We don’t know where Kat is half the time.


OK, Season 2 of The Mandalorian is the truth! :clap:t6::clap:t6::clap:t6:


After writing my last response, I got to thinking…

IF Nolan’s intention was to give us an empty vessel to inhabit so that we could unravel our own personal concepts of time and IF that unknowing was essential towards establishing our identity (the bomb that didn’t go off) then our realization that we are the Protagonist of our life IS the Main Character Throughline.

If you take Inertia to mean the flow of time and our willingness to float along, without identity and with little purpose (or a purpose tied to that flow), then becoming adaptable, and changing that narrative to adjust to the flow of time resolves our sense of not knowing who we are.

We become drivers, instead of passengers—and that, in turn, becomes our identity.

The Storyform for this would then be:


This gives the bulk of the narrative the twin Focus and Direction of Perception and Actuality, respectively, which ties in nicely with his history of storytelling and the majority of conversations in the film (all the exposition).

It also makes the Main Character Issue State of Being—quite literally WHO he is acting as the inequity of the narrative subjectively.

Neil would be the IC (driven by Aware) and their relationship would be their shared memories (the end of a beautiful friendship).

Still unnerving, and still a bit incomplete in the final execution, but perhaps more telling of Nolan’s original intention.


I love this. All day I have been puzzling over this after watching it last night but no storyform seemed adequate to the profundity I sensed amidst all the high concept fireworks.
I love this appreciation of the film.
I hope my brain can put this puzzle down now :smile:

Okay @jhull my brain didnt really put the puzzle down.
The relationship throughline with Neil feels very weak…but IF Neil is Kat’s son, as the conspiracy theorists on reddit suggest, then all the stuff around saving Kat (and her son) is kind of the relationship story…
The son is called Max(imillien) and the last part of that backwards reads ‘Neil’, by the way (thank you reddit for this nugget).
So memories could be the last signpost in the relationship story, perhaps.
So the relationship story players would be Sator, MC, Kat and Neil…
Everytime I tried to do a story form I could see that the RS could be either Kat / Sator or Neil / The Protagonist. So maybe they are all players. Kat sort of stands in for Neil as a young boy (her whole identity centres on being a mother). Ultimately The Protagonist represents a father figure to Neil.
That feels like the heart of the story but it also felt sort of looked at peripherally, because Neil is the key and The Protagonist cannot know this, because of one of the preconditions being he mustn’t know too much about the future. The ‘Mind’ quad is perfect for this as so much of it isnt about conscious stuff.

Edit: this was a great article, I thought https://www.polygon.com/2021/1/17/22233148/tenet-plot-reverse-explanation-nolan-script

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Good gods, different strokes for different folks*, I guess. I detested this movie…not quite as much as Roma, but close. Boring, predictable, all the things you don’t want a movie to be. I couldn’t even arouse enough interest to try and determine if it had a storyform.

I found Outside the Wire a much better and profound offering.

*Diane, usually the odd one out


Haha, yeah I think this movie is like marmite. And I also loved Roma haha.

Kat as a main character is about 50% of Ethan Hawke’s character in Dead Poets Society (he’s usually MIA but the MC TL is still adequate) and 80% of any/all characters in Dunkirk.

I just wish Nolan had dramatica. It’s the first Nolan movie that I don’t need to see again.

Why dedicate a meeting of experts on analyzing it? Consider replacing Tenet with Herself. Or adding it (or anything) to the agenda so that you have something to discuss after agreeing that Tenet’s a tale.

I would disagree that it’s a tale.

I thought that too after first seeing, but after a couple days, a few more viewings, and some much needed YouTube explainers, Nolan’s argument is pretty clear.

I agree that the execution added a lot of static to the transmission, but not enough to override meaningful intent (Storyform).

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Nothing can beat Momento, just like nothing ever beat Sixth Sense. Sometimes, lightening strikes and a volcano coughs up a diamond. (as an aside: Tenet is on HBO starting today, just in time for the story analysis exercise.)

I felt that the RS was the only thing that gave Tenet a heart. It’s understated, but it is there. And in the end that is what’s memorable. But I am assuming that the RS is Neil (Faith) and Protagonist (Support?), not Kat (Despair) and the Protagonist (Hope).

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Yes I think that was the general consensus. I’m sure the discussion with Chris Huntley next week will be very enlightening.

I can say that watching one of those YouTube timeline explainer videos can really help.

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Oh yes, gorged on many of them. Tenet as a movie grew on me. I was prepared to be underwhelmed, but turns out it’s the only movie I have repeatedly watched over a week.

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Last night’s discussion of Tenet was really informative.

It seemed really clear that Protagonist was a Do-er and convincing arguments were made (including some from me)—

—only to find out I had originally marked him down as a Be-er.

In retrospect I think it makes more sense to consider him more in the physical realm. In that way he moves from simply just doing without thought to being the one pulling the strings.

The only significant changes between the two Storyforms would be focus and direction elements and the Influence Character’s Problem element.

The Be-er model sees a Focus of Perception and a Direction of Actuality. The Do-er model sees a Focus of Actuality and a Direction of Perception.

This holds up as the film seems to be more of an exploration of what’s really going on is just a matter of perception (the whole hallway fight scene)—not that what you see is not what is really going on.

Subtle difference, but important nevertheless.

Secondly, the Be-er form sees Aware as the IC Problem vs Order in the Do-er model.

While it is true that both Kat and Neil are more aware of what is going on—it is perhaps their refusal to be bound by structures (Kat in particular with her “enforced” marriage) that is the real influence on Protagonist.

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Wow! I did not know elements were specifically associated with be-er or do-er. Is that true in every story form?

If you lock Inertia into place as the Objective Story Problem, then when you switch from Be-er to Do-er the flow of energy from Focus to Direction switches directions.

A Be-er in a Universe OS signals a Start story.
A Do-er in the same is a Stop story

Start stories find the Focus Element in a Dependent, or vertical, relationship with the Problem Element.

Stop stories find Focus in a Companion, or horizontal, relationship.

So when you switch the subjective view, but keep the OS in place, the Focus and Direction Elements switch places.

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Ah thank you for explaining. It’s all depending on the dynamics of the story (as explained by you) not just an element being associated across the board with be-ers or do-ers. That makes sense.

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