After the coronavirus pandemic delayed a number of spring movie releases, Hollywood held on to the last, best hope for a summer blockbuster to buoy the film business in its darkest hour. That was Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, another big-budget, eye-popping, time-bending, long-running, sci-fi thriller in the tradition of his earlier hits Inception and Interstellar. Nolan himself, a cinema purist, spoke of the need to experience his work on the big screen — and would later condemn the industry pivot to a streaming model for would-be theatrical releases.
I did watch Tenet from my couch as soon as it was available to rent, and while I found it enjoyable enough, I can understand how the many giant boats would have looked even cooler on a grander scale. On the other hand, the choice to stream the movie at home, framed by my modestly sized TV screen, was cheaper, more convenient and less likely to further the spread of the novel coronavirus. Downsizing the image felt like a decent trade-off. And it appears as though people are happy to shrink those dimensions further still — if only as a kind of trollish reaction to Nolan and everyone else who thinks that Netflix and HBO Max are destroying art.
Yes, that’s someone viewing Tenet, allegedly all 150 minutes of it, on an iPod. A feat not for the weak of eye, nor strained of neck. (Having a functioning iPod of that generation is also rather impressive.) What’s more, her review was fairly positive! It’s a stunt for social media, yes, although perhaps a subversive bit of assurance for Nolan — don’t worry too much about how fans enjoy your precious craft, because you cannot possibly anticipate, let alone control, their method of engagement with it. You think laptops and tablets are bad for movies? Well buckle up, man: There’s someone on Reddit who decided to download Tenet to their Apple Watch.
Believe me, that’s far from the greatest sin against Nolan’s vision. Tenet can be degraded and ruined every which way. Low resolution, obsolete tech, microscopic picture… that’s the stuff.
Naturally, “Tenet the way Nolan intended” as a shitpost meme overlaps with actual efforts to screen the movie on unexpected devices. Long before it was available, when Warner Bros.’ plans to debut it in theaters were controversial and still in flux, we couldn’t resist poking fun at the seriousness of those who harp on cinema as immersive and colossal. It’s not that we didn’t miss going to the movies as usual — quite the contrary — but in a historical moment that demanded communal sacrifice and accepting some disappointments, it felt weirdly grandiose for Nolan et al. to condescend to anyone who might dare shrink the spectacle he’d created. No matter its quality, Tenet could not be as important as preserving life, and if that meant translating it to a domestic setting, what was the harm? That happens to all movies in the long run.