TENET Needs to Stay Put

The scenario is too enticing to ignore: Christopher Nolan, one of the most vocal proponents of the cinema – and an outspoken fanboy of the value of the cinematic experience in general – is set to release an epic, time-bending thriller in a few weeks, in a future that is unknown, at a moment where the film’s presence may very well save movie theaters.

That last statement felt hyperbolic at first, but I’ve thought about it and I don’t think it is. Tenet could realistically be the bridge between our current stasis as a “moviegoing” society, and a return to a normalcy as we ascend the stairs, step by step, to get back to our lives. And for some of us out there, “our lives” includes the freedom to escape to a dark theater for a couple of hours. Theaters, which were already struggling, have a chance to save themselves here, and Nolan’s film would be a perfect test of the new functionality of a theater. Set for a July 17 release, Tenet should absolutely stay put.

Let’s start with the undeniable truth behind all of this… Tenet looks incredible. Ten years after Inception, Christopher Nolan is back in his own head with another labyrinthine epic, this time with John David Washington and Robert Pattinson playing… someone? There are no character names on the imdb page, and the synopsis is just as bewildering as the trailer. This is an event film, just as every Nolan film has been since 2005, and it’s the perfect way for theaters to responsibly open their doors.

I haven’t been interested in the quarantine, or the impact of COVID on “the culture,” or whatever. No thanks. I am interested, however, in returning to a version of the normal world fairy soon. Most of us are interested in this, excluding the Extremely Online crowd. And there is a way for theaters to coordinate and open en masse with Tenet. Implementing new safety measures, enforcing social distancing, requiring masks in the lobby, hand sanitizer stations – you know the list, the one where responsible action is taken to begin functioning as a society once again – can all be put in place in theaters across the planet. Then, auditorium capacity is reduced to 50%, maybe even 40, and on the weekend of July 17 Tenet opens on every screen.

Think about a normal day at a movie theater, even in the summer; almost all of the auditoriums are under 50% capacity because of normal diminishing traffic for movies in week 3, 4, 5 of their release. With one highly-anticipated movie to show, the screen would likely be no more full or scant than they would on a normal day. It could work, and it might fail, but it’s better than nothing. If theaters see success in these first couple of weeks after this new “soft” opening, then more new movies can begin to schedule their releases, and gradually we go back to the world as we knew it. This all depends, of course, on whether or not society is on board.

Personally, I think we are.

Since the pandemic has become a stupid political game in just under six months, it’s difficult to weed through the nonsense and think rationally about the statistics that generally paint a more optimistic picture, like the recent data from the CDC that suggests the mortality rate is .05%. There has been bad news, and death, and panic, and everything was really weird for two months or so, no doubt. And we should all continue to be vigilant and respectful. But now the gears of society are grinding again, all over the world, and progress is being made every day towards treatments and vaccines and a general realization that this thing doesn’t spread as fast and furious as once thought. Now, surfaces aren’t a threat. I don’t really want to stir a debate on the state of the pandemic because, yes, it’s stupid and political now, and I don’t like bringing all that junk into this space that I cherish. But this is a big crossover moment between the two topics, and I’m confident there is a way through this to the other side.

The motto cannot be to stay locked in your homes forever, or venture out and everyone’s parents and grandparents will perish by the millions. It is simply no longer the rational conclusion to re-opening. Things are improving, unless you get your information from a tainted source that wants things to be worse; besides, who knows what sort of knowledge and information we have at our disposal in six more weeks. Think about where we were, collectively, six weeks ago, then the six weeks before that. It isn’t just boredom ending the pandemic, its information and CDC updates, and in another six weeks there will likely be even better progress and more information about COVID-19. The desire to stay locked down, to write an open letter to Christopher Nolan begging him to not release his movie because it will cause mass death and disease, simply doesn’t feel like reality anymore.

Let us not forget the precursor to the potential Nolan rescue project, and that is the grimy Russell Crowe Hitcher riff, Unhinged, which some theaters are tentatively planning for a July 1 release. Now, Unhinged is borderline VOD already, a delightfully trashy-looking bag of junk food that I would have no problem seeing in July, but it’s not the sort of litmus test theaters need for the state of their business moving forward. They need a big tentpole to test the waters.

If you don’t think it’s safe, don’t go out. But don’t shame people for being responsible and living their lives, given the new information we receive daily. There have been polls that seem to indicate nobody will go back to the theaters if they opened now, but those polls likely aren’t focused on the right groups. Don’t just ask the general public – most of them weren’t going anyway – ask members of a movie discount club through a chain, or die-hard fans of local theaters, if they want to return, and you will certainly get a different number. If Tenet holds strong, it could reap the benefits of being the only show in town; it will also (likely) benefit from being a terrific thriller that captures audience imagination. Chris Nolan has redefined the cinematic experience before, we just need him to do it now more than ever.

I’ll buy a ticket.

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