,remmus eht fo tneve erutcip noitom eht sa dedlareH .ereh yllanif s’tI… Oh, I do beg your pardon. In my eagerness to write about Tenet, I hadn’t realised that I was still inverted and was therefore moving backwards in time. Silly me. I had to quickly jump into a mysterious machine, which un-inverted me and… Confused? You’re not alone. Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, prophesied as the ‘saviour of cinema’ in this uncertain COVID-19 world, has now been released to many international markets. And already, this unique, time-altering thriller has fuelled passionate articles, claiming to be able to explain the film’s heady sense of logic, and what exactly was going on in those ‘whoa’-inducing action set pieces. Alas, if you’re searching for answers here, you won’t find any (in part because I’m not qualified to provide them). Instead, heed the wise words of Clémence Poésy’s Barbara, who advises the following to our protagonist: “Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.” In lieu of answers then, the following is my attempt to explore Tenet’s biblical connections, in this impressively ambitious film which rages against the dying of the light.
As it turns out, key names from within Tenet are in fact five-word Latin palindromes - the most notable of which is “Tenet”. Curiously, Nolan also chose to use one of these for the surname of his antagonist, “Sator”, which roughly translates as “planter, founder, progenitor (usually divine)” or “originator”. Sator is none of these things, for he didn’t create the world. But in owning and choosing to use this weapon of mass destruction, he wields a god-like might – he has the power to do only wat a god could do. He himself even references this when he succumbs to his delusions of grandeur, in proposing that he might in fact be a god. And yet, if Andrei Sator is a god, he’s certainly a manipulative, dispassionate and murderous one. His plan to end the world as a result of his communication with people from the future, is down to the fact that they need to restart our world which will eventually be destroyed by global warming.
So, Sator uses his technology to weave in and out of the fabric of time, manipulating circumstances for his dastardly plans. But it was in these moments, that I couldn’t help but think of God our Father and how He is the all-powerful, righteous antithesis to Sator’s pure evil. For we read in scripture that God himself is not and has never been, bound by the fabric of time and space. Instead of God weaving in and out of time, He lives outside of time as we know it and can view it all at once, in all its splendour: “I am the high and holy God, who lives forever. I live in a high and holy place” (Isaiah 57:15, GNT). The nature of God’s home in Heaven is so ‘other’, that we couldn’t possibly comprehend its ways in the here and now. But in seeing the future whilst using his technology, Sator ultimately learns of how mankind will end up destroying itself. God also saw how we, the human race, would inevitably turn away from Him, His ways and towards sin - how we would seek to destroy ourselves through engaging in warfare and abuse the environment for our own selfish gain. And yet, despite such foreknowledge, He chooses not to wipe out humanity and start again.
What great mercy! We see evidence of this in Genesis 9, when God promised the following to Noah: “Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God has kept His word ever since, despite knowing, like Sator, that humanity will betray Him time and time again. But why? God has chosen not to restart humanity because of His great love for us, and our destiny that God has wanted us to walk into from the beginning of time itself: a relationship with the God of the universe. Unlike Sator, God has not only chosen to let us live, but granted us mercy to the extent that He actually provides a solution for the problem of sin, darkness and eternal death for the entirety of humanity.
For the Bible teaches that “everyone has sinned” (Romans 3:23, NLT) and ultimately done wrong in God’s sight. Every one of us “fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3:23) and thereby deserve to receive the “payment for sin (which) is death” (Romans 6:23, ICB), in accordance with God’s law. We actually deserve eternal death for our sin and there is nothing we can do, in our own strength, to free ourselves of our mistakes and their effects. But God, in His great love for the world is merciful, and “gives…the free gift of life forever” (Romans 6:23, ICB) to those who ask for forgiveness from their sin, turn away from their old lives and come to faith in God. For God loves us and wants for us to live with Him for all eternity, which is why it is written that He “does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent” (2 Peter 3:9, NLT). God made a way for us to be granted mercy and forgiveness through Jesus Christ – God’s one and only Son who was given as the “…offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NLT) when He died on the Cross and rose again three days later. Like the protagonist of Tenet, God sent us the protagonist, His Son, who could see that whilst we didn’t deserve mercy, forgiveness or saving, we are worth so much that He would willingly go to death itself, in order to save us. If that isn’t radical, earth-shattering love, what is?
Why not prayerfully invite a friend or family member who doesn’t yet know Jesus, to watch Tenet for themselves? Use the film’s themes to ask them what they thought of the film, if they spotted any links to Christianity and what they might think of the Gospel’s response to this subject.
If you feel able to, ask them what they think about Sator's view of humanity - do they understand his concerns or are they more in line with the view of the Protagonist and, ultimately, God? Ask what they think about God wanting to save us, despite knowing the future and that we would choose to sin against Him - How does that make them feel personally. Later, if they're open to hearing it, take an opportunity to share the hope of the Gospel message with them.
Prior to watching the film for yourself, however, take a moment to pray that God would speak to you through the film. If you feel comfortable, pray this prayer over all of your future, film-watching experiences:
Dear Lord, As I watch this film, I ask that you would be present here with me. Highlight to me anything within it that is honourable, anything that can be used in conversation for your Kingdom purposes. Amen.
Tenet is now showing in UK cinemas