Did Neil sacrifice himself on the finish of TENET?


I’ve been re-watching Tenet to be able to write an extended, definitive clarification of the plot and themes. However one query retains rising louder and louder in my head. Why did Neil die? I perceive how. And I’ll clarify that. It’s the why that’s bothering me.

in article 1

Let’s discuss what occurred.

Neil and selecting the lock

Neil’s path on the finish of Tenet, within the last temporal invasion of Stalsk-12, is sophisticated. He begins out on the Blue Crew that’s an hour forward and dealing again by way of time. However halfway by way of the mission, he switches to the Pink Crew that The Protagonist (John David Washington) is on with Ives (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). This implies as an alternative of working in temporal opposition to them, he’s now in the identical, ahead circulation of occasions.

That is how Neil’s capable of drive the jeep and drop the rope and save The Protagonist and Ives by dragging them away from the hypocenter as an explosion goes off. It’s additionally why he’s alive regardless that we’ve already seen his lifeless physique within the hypocenter. Neil (Robert Pattinson) may have his last dialog with The Protagonist, saying it’s the “finish of a fantastic friendship,” undergo a turnstile, come out inverted, and hurry to his dying.


Within the hypocenter, The Protagonist and Ives ran right into a locked door that prevented them from reaching Andrei Sator’s (Kenneth Branagh) fundamental henchman, Volkov. If nothing’s completed, Volkov will detonate the Algorithm and reverse the common circulation of time and entropy, inflicting all kinds of chaos. That’s when Inverted Neil, the one who simply had the ultimate dialog with The Protagonist, involves the rescue. He’s going to select the lock and save the day.

From Neil’s perspective, he runs down the tunnel to the hypocenter, carrying his backpack with the purple string, and sees Ives and The Protagonist on the opposite aspect of the gate, preventing Volkov. The gate’s door is closed. So Neil opens it and stands holding it. He watches, as time, from his perspective, continues to invert. Ives goes again by way of the door to being knocked out on the bottom. The Protagonist ultimately does the identical, shifting away from Volkov, again by way of the gate.

That is the place issues get sophisticated.

When The Protagonist is thru the gate, Neil waits as Volkov recovers from fleeing to the again rail. Volkov begins to method the door (which was him within the act of fleeing from the door.) And that is when Neil begins to shut the door. It simply so occurs that Neil closing the door coincides with Volkov firing a gun.

Lots of people thought Neil sacrificed himself on behalf of The Protagonist. But when that was the case, it appears bizarre that he would rigorously shut the door as he stepped in entrance of the bullet. We don’t have a shot of Neil’s eyes going from the gun to The Protagonist and again to the gun earlier than he steps in entrance of it. It simply seems like he picked a nasty time to shut the door.

I’m 99.9% constructive Neil wasn’t sacrificing himself. To Neil, Volkov didn’t also have a gun aimed till proper earlier than the bullet inverts again by way of Neil’s head. All he would see is Volkov wanting fearful, shocked, shot, and getting nearer and nearer to the door.

Which begs the query, if Neil wasn’t sacrificing himself to save lots of The Protagonist, why shut the door in that actual second? Why not go away the door open?

What’s occurred’s occurred, however why did it occur?

Throughout the logic of Tenet, there’s the reply of, “What’s occurred’s occurred.” One thing Neil himself mentioned. As a result of his physique was lifeless when The Protagonist and Ives bought there, there’s no altering issues. However that doesn’t actually clarify why Neil made the selection he made.

The one logical clarification I can consider is that as a result of Neil noticed The Protagonist come by way of the door at that second, it should imply that’s the second the door opened. Which implies that’s the second he ought to shut the door.

And since he didn’t see Volkov with a weapon, that’s why he simply stepped between Volkov and The Protagonist, unsuspecting that there’d be a bullet abruptly reversing by way of time, into his cranium.

That…is sensible? Lots of the time we see Inverted characters in Tenet, they’re form of simply figuring issues out as they go and reacting second to second. Which means that Neil’s dying is, in the end, being within the flawed place on the flawed time. Which is one thing a film can do and do properly. However I don’t assume it matches into the story and themes of Tenet.

We will have a look at the screenplay for a bit extra data.

Volkov RUSHES FORWARD along with his gun…

(over telephone; in Russian, subtitled)
– Shoot him within the head. –

Vokov PULLS HIS TRIGGER – however the Lifeless Tenet Soldier has ‘RISEN’ to be in entrance of the gun ‘ABSORBING’ the bullet – then LEAPING to 1 aspect, ALIVE –

The Protagonist DIVES to the place Ives is mendacity, GRABS his gun – Volkov TURNS, RUNNING FOR the winch-release –


He FIRES at Volkov, who goes down simply wanting the winch…

Ives struggles to his ft, checking his watch – ‘1:07’, ‘1:06’ …

Listening to BEEPS, Ives seems up. THE LOCK is open –

The Protagonist watches the Lifeless Tenet Soldier RACING BACKWARDS from the gate, out of the tunnel –

Tenet Screenplay

You’ll be able to see how skinny the script was with these things. It says Neil leaps to 1 aspect after absorbing the bullet and is alive. Which, if we invert the order of occasions, it says Neil leapt in entrance of the bullet and died. That might suggest a sacrifice. And possibly Neil sacrificing himself was the preliminary intention, nevertheless it’s not what we see within the last product. There’s no leap. Only a form of sluggish shuffle to the aspect. Discover the opposite variations between script and movie. The Protagonist doesn’t DIVE to the place Ives is mendacity. He has his personal gun. There’s no “WAIT! WAIT!” Ives doesn’t test his watch. We don’t hear beeping and the lock opening. And The Protagonist doesn’t see the Lifeless Tenet Soldier/Neil RACING BACKWARDS. It’s Ives who sees it.

So the screenplay is fairly meaningless right here.

(Although it’s price noting that it says Neil does do one thing that unlocks the door. The film just isn’t so clear and it’s confused lots of people who’ve gone again to observe the scene. You’ll be able to’t inform if Neil ever picks the lock or not. There’s one temporary second the place he could also be fidgeting with the management panel nevertheless it’s not highlighted as one thing necessary. So far as we all know, the door merely unlocked as an inverse response to Neil shutting and locking it.)

It will appear that when writing Tenet, Christopher Nolan considered Neil’s dying as a sacrifice. However when filming the precise scene, he determined to downplay that second.

The principle purpose you’d downplay the second is you don’t wish to point out it’s Neil. If we had a detailed up on the eyes of the “Lifeless Tenet Soldier” then lower to Volkov’s gun, lower to The Protagonist, lower to the Lifeless Tenet Soldier leaping…it turns into a bit extra apparent that is somebody who is aware of The Protagonist. In the event you mute the response, taking part in it off prefer it’s just a few unlucky, expendable aspect character, then the reveal is, arguably, extra surprising and highly effective. You significantly assume Neil is okay, till you notice that’s him and he died saving the day.

The idea is heartbreaking.

However I nonetheless don’t perceive why.

I do know, I do know. “What’s occurred occurred.” Neil can’t change himself dying as a result of he’s already lifeless. I’m not speaking in regards to the logic inside the film. I’m speaking about Christopher Nolan, at his laptop, typing the script. He didn’t have to jot down Neil LEAPING in entrance of the bullet.

Why wouldn’t Neil simply…shoot Volkov? Why wouldn’t Neil deal with him? Disarm him? Knock the arm away? The man is a extremely skilled particular agent who travels round time and does all kinds of harmful stuff. We see him competently struggle and soldier. It’s not like he’s merely a brainy man and could be overwhelmed by Volkov instantly so that is all he may do.

Nolan may have had Neil make any of these decisions. Or had a completely completely different scenario altogether the place Neil is pressured to sacrifice himself.

I simply can’t recover from the secondary protagonist taking place just because he randomly selected to shut a door at an inopportune time*. Or, even worse, merely leapt in entrance of the gun, whereas closing the gate, as if he had no higher possibility.

It simply seems like a betrayal of the character. And form of lazy writing. Nolan needed Neil to die in that second as a result of it made for a superficially highly effective twist and maximized the emotional payoff of the movie’s broader inversion trope. So he had Neil die and left it imprecise as to why, hoping the viewers will likely be so caught up within the drama of every little thing else happening that they received’t look too intently at how flimsy the logic is.

The same factor occurs in The Darkish Knight Rises.

The Darkish Knight Rises: Batman’s return to Gotham

Halfway by way of Darkish Knight Rises, Batman loses a struggle to the movie’s fundamental villain, Bane. Bane breaks Batman’s again and sends him to this sketchy pit jail that’s implied to be within the Center East or Africa (although was filmed in India). 5 months go. I repeat: 5 months go. Throughout that point, Bane seizes management of Gotham by threatening to detonate a nuke. The felony component guidelines town and it’s as ugly as you’d think about. And the US Authorities has all the place surrounded, as considered one of Bane’s stipulations is nobody can are available or out or he’ll blow every little thing up. There’s legit a scene the place Joseph Gordon-Levitt tries to stroll a bunch of children throughout a bridge solely to be instructed by a police officer that they’ll shoot him and blow up the bridge with the youngsters on it.

That’s the form of lockdown we’re coping with. Additionally, Bane has collapsed Wayne Industries. Which means Batman has no cash. All of his typical superior devices and assets? They’re additionally inaccessible. And he was taken to the pit by Bane’s individuals. It’s not like he has a telephone or pockets on his particular person. There’s an enormous query of how Bruce Wayne may presumably get from The Pit again to Gotham?

How does Nolan deal with this? By not addressing it in any respect.

He simply skips forward to Bruce already being again to Gotham. You’re left to imagine as a result of Batman’s Batman he discovered his manner again.

My favourite a part of that is Batman’s massive public return entails lighting a large, flaming bat image on a bridge for everybody within the metropolis to see. This occurs when Batman has Gordon toss a flare onto some ice. And the flare ignites a line of flammable materials that begins on the ice, travels to the foot of the bridge, goes up alongside the bridge, till it lights this gigantic bat image on the highest level of the bridge’s structure. It’s a cool visible. However give it some thought. Assume by way of the logistics of this.

You want the flammable materials. Then it’s a must to get the fabric to the very best level of the bridge’s structure. Then you’ll want to paint the bridge in such a manner with the fabric that when the fabric is on fireplace it makes a large bat. The bridge, according to this article, is 85 ft throughout. Meaning Batman has to repel from the highest of the bridge and swing forwards and backwards throughout 85 ft price of canvas. THAT’S NOT EASY. He not solely makes the bat, however then has to create the aforementioned ignition line from the bat alongside the bridge, to the ice, to the spot will Gordon will likely be standing hours later. BATMAN EVEN PUTS A FLARE IN THE EXACT SPOT FOR GORDON TO FIND.

Did I point out there’s lower than 12 hours till the nuke goes off? The whole Gotham police power is trapped underground. And Bane had sentenced Gordon to dying just some hours earlier. Batman’s doing arts and crafts whereas town is nearing complete destruction and his buddy might be killed at any second. But one way or the other, regardless that he’s been away from 5 months, he is aware of Bane’s henchmen received’t kill Gordon instantly and can stroll Gordon out onto the ice, proper close to the bottom of the bridge, and he may have time to save lots of Gordon.

It’s insane. Completely insane.

Certain, there are arguments you can also make about Batman utilizing know-how to do make the bat sooner or having it painted years earlier as a “simply in case.” However the level is that Nolan typically simply skips over form of necessary particulars as a result of he’s extra involved in regards to the bigger image. The necessary factor wasn’t how Bruce Wayne bought residence from the pit jail, it was that he conquered the pit jail. It doesn’t matter how he made that bat fireplace, it simply issues that the flaming bat image is a battle cry to town of Gotham that Bane’s reign of terror is over and The Bat has returned.

Issues like this occur in each single Nolan film. It’s arguably his best flaw as a filmmaker, that he cares extra in regards to the emotional energy of one thing reasonably than the logic of it. However, hey, he’s probably the most profitable and beloved filmmakers of the twenty first century. So he’s undoubtedly doing one thing proper.

All of that is to say that Neil’s dying in Tenet isn’t one thing to be solved. Nolan didn’t care in regards to the why and even actually the how. He needed the payoff. And that’s just about the key to watching Nolan films. Go alongside for the trip, and also you’ll be rewarded. In Tenet’s personal phrases, “Don’t attempt to perceive it. Really feel it.”


I wish to return to this line, actual quick.

“I simply can’t recover from the secondary protagonist taking place just because he randomly selected to shut a door at an inopportune time*”

I wish to make clear—in the appropriate story, you possibly can completely have a random act at an inopportune time be the rationale a personality passes away. It’s not you could by no means do such a factor. Simply that, to me, Tenet isn’t the form of story that’s developed the form of themes needed to drag one thing like that off. Although Tenet is absolutely targeted on time, it’s not targeted on timing. It will be one factor if it developed, over the course of the story, themes across the hazard of inversion and the way it’s straightforward to be within the flawed place when one thing’s occurring. Whether or not explicitly or subtextually.

It’s like in The Departed, when DiCaprio’s Billy Costigan lastly bites the mud, it’s not on the hand of a significant character or throughout a climactic gunfight. It’s a random character within the aftermath of a climactic scene. Viewers assume they’re protected. That the character they like is protected. Just for this minor, minor lout, Trooper Barrigan, to abruptly pull the set off. It’s surprising and wild and one of many greatest surprises I had whereas watching a film. A minor character taking out DiCaprio labored in The Departed as a result of a lot of the film revolves round being undercover and folks not having the allegiances you anticipate them to have.

Costigan is a Costello henchman who’s really a police officer.

Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) is a police officer who’s really a Costello mole.

Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) is against the law lord who’s an FBI informant.

Dr. Madolyn Madden (Vera Farmiga) likes Billy however finally ends up with Colin however cheats on Colin with Billy.

The whole time, the viewer feels superior as a result of we all know Costigan is undercover. We all know Colin’s a traitor. We all know Madolyn actually likes Billy. We’re snug and content material with our omniscience. Till, it seems, we weren’t all-knowing. We had no thought Trooper Barrigan was, like Colin, a Costello mole. So when Barrigan pulls the set off on Costigan, it shatters the arrogance we felt. It reveals there’s data we by no means knew. In that second, we lose our place of energy. Which is why it’s such a satisfying scene, even when we hate what occurs to Costigan.

That’s the form of subtextual improvement I would like in a film. And I don’t assume Tenet actually does something like that. No less than not with Neil and Neil’s demise.

  • Chris Lambert is co-founder of Colossus. He writes about advanced film endings, narrative building, and the way films connect with the psychology of our each day lives.


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