The Ending Of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet Explained

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Christopher Nolan’s Tenet may not have ridden to the rescue and saved the struggling theatrical industry as a lot of people were hoping it would, but the time-centric action thriller has still massively surpassed expectations at the box office after raking in almost $150 million globally in less than two weeks, which is already enough to make it the sixth highest-grossing movie of the year.

There’s still a long way to go until it can even think about breaking even, though, let alone being called a financial success, and based on the current circumstances, it would be unreasonable to expect it to do so. Still, Tenet nonetheless looks to be the biggest hit cinema has seen since March by quite some distance.

The $220 million epic holds solid scores of 74% on Rotten Tomatoes and 69 on Metacritic, but reactions have proven to be pretty divisive. The time inversion concept has drawn a lot of criticism for the mountains of exposition and pseudoscience that it requires to make sense within the context of the movie, but we’ll do our best to explain the ending of Tenet in relatively straightforward fashion.

You see, even though John David Washington’s Protagonist has been the audience surrogate throughout the narrative, we discover that he actually created the Tenet program in the future and has essentially tasked himself to carry out the plan, even though he doesn’t realize it until the end.

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Robert Pattinson’s Neil, meanwhile, always seems to know a lot more than he’s letting on, because he was recruited in the future by Washington’s character and was responsible for making sure the latter didn’t get himself killed. Not only did Neil take a bullet to save the world in the third act, but he was the same person who saved the Protagonist in the opening scene.

With the way the inversion works and how it’s applied to the plot, it transpires that the Protagonist created Tenet both by and because of his actions in the present and future, leaving both characters in a paradox as they start the story meeting for what appears to be the first time. But by the end, we know they were close friends in the future.

It sounds confusing, and at times it truly is, but you’re best just going along for the ride when it comes to Tenet.