'Tenet' Ending Explained: Is Neil dead? Breaking down Christopher Nolan's complex thriller
For those who thought this is a straight-up action thriller, a rewatch is most definitely in the offing, considering the complex plot
Spoilers for 'Tenet'
Trust Christopher Nolan to make films that have the audience going back for a second visit. 'Tenet' is running in theatres despite the ravaging coronavirus pandemic, and those who aren't ready to risk it with the cinema halls just yet will have every reason to rejoice as the film will be released on VoD and Blu-Ray on Tuesday (December 15). And for those who thought this is a straight-up action thriller, a rewatch is most definitely in the offing for people. To help simplify things, we've tried to explain the ending.
'Tenet' Ending Explained
The opening scene shows a beaten up Protagonist (John David Washington) attempting to kill himself by chewing on the cyanide pill, only to wake up being saved by a mysterious man giving nothing away but a word called 'Tenet' and that becomes his new mission. He meets Barbara (Clémence Poésy), a scientist who explains the complex concept of things— instead of moving forward in time is actually doing the exact opposite, including bullets. The concern is that an inverted weapon from the future could affect the past as the world knows it.
The Protagonist tracks the bullets to an arms dealer who provides details about Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh) and his wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki), who has been abused to the point of nursing hatred and revenge. The Protagonist meets Kat and tells her that he would help her retrieve a fake piece of art from Sator in exchange for fixing up a meeting with the Russian gangster. At that point, Kat speaks about remembering a woman diving off Sator's yacht and says she is jealous of the woman's freedom, which she feels, she has lost.
Teaming up with the mysterious Neil (Robert Pattinson), the Protagonist manages to break into a free port in Oslo, but not before he has a tussle with an inverted masked individual who manages to escape. The Protagonist then gets to meet Sator and strikes a deal with him about certain plutonium he's searching for. Needless to say, Sator rejects the deal forcing him and Neil to steal the plutonium before Sator could. However, the baddie does have the last laugh as he pops up in an inverted car and threatens to kill Kat.
It is revealed that Sator and his men have been using a "temporal pincer" as they navigate back and forth through time to ensure they know how the event pans out. This is done through a time stile that gives Sator the power to move through time. But before he can retrieve the plutonium, he decides to rub salt on Protagonist's wounds by fatally shooting Kat with an inverted bullet.
Still with us?
Because things will get a lot more complex. Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Ives, heading a military unit shows up and that's when it is revealed Neil is a member of Tenet. It also tells us Sator never wanted the plutonium, instead, he was after was an algorithm that would change the world's entropy that would quite simply, put the world in reverse gear. Sator worked for a group in the future where the world is in ruins to the point where they need to turn back.
A genius scientist ensured the algorithm was split into pieces to ensure safety and hid them in the past. Sator was used to find all the pieces. With things a lot more clear, the Protagonist decides to stop Sator and moves back in time. There is a condition: He cannot cross paths with his past self and he's the only one inverted, but the world isn't. His attempt to stop Sator is a failure as he zooms back to the scene where he lost the plutonium during the heist and a crashed car he sees with Neil was actually his car in an inverted pursuit.
The Protagonist regroups with Neil and they head to Oslo to make use of one of the time stile knowing they can get in when they actually created the whole heist diversion. It is at this point, things become clear that the person the Protagonist fought earlier in the free port was himself.
The final few minutes
Sator has his plans. He would either bury the algorithm in his hometown or just blow up the whole thing. Except, the end result would still mean the world being wiped out. Kat, after surviving the mortal wound reveals Sator is dying of terminal cancer and using his fitness tracker as a switch. He intends to kill himself on his yacht and that would activate the algorithm to destroy the world. The team splits into two. Neil and the Protagonist plan to acquire the algorithm before the bomb explodes while Kat heads to prevent Sator from killing himself.
What follows is a convoluted, yet intense battle. Neil and the Protagonist, with Ives, form two teams, one that moves forward and the other working backward to the explosion. Quite simply, with Neil's help, the Protagonist and Ives lift the algorithm, even as Kat loses it at the other end and kills Sator. The scene then sees her jumping off the yacht, which actually rolls back to the scene where we see a woman jumping off the yacht.
The epic battle though is not without consequences. In order to win, a necessary sacrifice has to be made and that's when the Protagonist realizes Neil is killed when he goes back to help them. Once they acquire the algorithm, he tries to persuade Neil not to go back, but he waves off the idea with a smile.
Neil clears up the doubts
Before heading off with Ives, Neil tells it was the Protagonist who recruited him for Tenet. This is also proved true when we see Neil save the protagonist back at the opera, due to the fact that we see Neil's red string attached to his backpack in the prologue. Neil is working backward toward the mission, while the Protagonist is working toward it. And all of this was set up by the Protagonist himself. This is actually 'Tenet's concept. Everything that happened was actually part of the same time loop.
'Tenet' releases Tuesday, December 15, 2020, on VoD.