“James Mottram’s book is a triumph and one that the reader will be more than happy to revisit as time progresses. Or regresses”
‘Tenet‘, the film, is an enigma. To attempt to understand it will leave the viewer contemplating many things and will lead to conversations and discussions about what it all meant for years to come. And that is exactly how it should be. Christopher Nolan has a flair for creating worlds and films that lead to different interpretations, all of which are wrong but at the same time, are correct. Do you see? It all depends on your reading of events and things you see on the screen and how you interpret them. There is, in reality, no right or wrong way of coming to your own conclusions. But perhaps there is help out there.
Author James Mottram has written ‘The Secrets Of Tenet: Inside Christopher Nolan’s Quantum Cold War‘. The author knows his stuff, having written other books such as ‘The Making Of Memento‘, ‘The Making Of Dunkirk‘, and alongside David S. Cohen created one of my favorite books ‘Die Hard: The Ultimate Visual History‘. Mottram has written for The Independent and The Guardian newspapers as well as contributing to such celebrated film magazines such as Hotdog, Film Review, and Empire. And here, he brings his style to proceedings one more in a book that is an entertaining read as well as an extremely informative one. Does it give you the answers you desire? Of course not but you’ll have a great time trying.
The Secrets of Tenet: Inside Christopher Nolan’s Quantum Cold War | By James Mottram
The front cover of the book represents the poster of the film to a glorious effect. John David Washington appears on the cover (as well as contributing the foreword to the book), dressed in his grey suit and one half striding towards the reader, the other half flipped to reveal his back to us. We are interested in what is inside the pages right from the start. The black spine of the book is simple but effective as we look on the back cover and are awarded four separate images showing in two of them, behind the scenes shots of sequences we will witness during the film. Rather simple again but it doesn’t give away anything we will find once we remove the plastic covering and allowing us access to enter the world of ‘Tenet‘ (read our review). We open the cover and again, are given nothing that informs us of what awaits us. But as we turn to the contents page, we are greeted with a still image of John David Washington and Robert Pattinson, both looking smartly dressed and with an intriguing sense of style.
We come to the foreword from Washington. It is here that the actor enthuses about Christopher Nolan and his directorial prowess and vision. Washington reveals that the first Nolan movie he saw was ‘Batman Begins‘ which led him to go back and view the director’s ‘Momento‘ which he watched over and over again. He describes his amazement that Nolan wanted to meet him with a view of him starring in ‘Tenet‘, a meeting the actor couldn’t believe was happening. Washington goes on to describe ‘Tenet‘ as a film for people who love movies. And he isn’t wrong.
We start our look at the film as we come to Chapter1 entitled ‘Time To Begin‘. We discover here that the film has been gestating inside the mind of Christopher Nolan for almost his entire career. An espionage story with a time-bending narrative. What a brilliant concept. Nolan describes that he has been trying to thrash out the details and the concept for almost twenty years as it made its way to the screen. As Nolan’s long time first assistant director Nilo Otero describes it quite aptly with “It’s like ‘Inception‘ but complicated”. If that isn’t enough to have you interested, then nothing will. Behind the scenes photographs, including one of producer Emma Thomas, Nolan’s wife, adorn the first pages as we learn what lies behind Nolan’s stellar vision, what lies at the heart of the story, the characterization that has gone into the characters and events. It is all here, recorded, and waiting to be explored.
Chapter 2 is reserved for ‘The Protagonists’. Here, we will discover the cast assembly. Starting with a call to John Papsidera, the casting director Nolan has been working with ever since ‘Momento‘, the pair came up with a list of possible candidates for the roles in the film. The chapter speaks of Papsidera ‘Playing with leading men’ as he puts it, casting major actors in the roles that surround the main character of ‘The Protagonist‘ instead of being the lead themselves. A rather bold idea but one that the film managed to pull off with style. Nolan had seen John David Washington in the HBO comedy/drama series ‘Ballers‘ as well as his performance in Spike Lee’s ‘BlacKkKlansman‘. These performances convinced Nolan that Washington was the right person for ‘The Protagonist’. Washington is a former ‘Second String’ player in the NFL and Papsidera told him “Ok, time to get off the bench. Time to be the number one on the call sheet and be a star. Don’t hide your light anymore. You’ve gotta step up to this”. For the role of Neil, Nolan had Robert Pattinson in mind from the start. With performances in ‘High Life‘ and ‘The Lighthouse‘ in mind, Nolan actively pursued the British actor. Pattinson himself recalls when first meeting Nolan, the amount of secrecy surrounding the project, recounting how “No one knew what the project was…No one even knew there was a project”. Throughout this section, we will meet the characters that appear in the film alongside the reasons Nolan wanted them in their respective roles.
Chapter three concerns ‘The Merry-Go-Round‘, the fake title that the film was made under. This was to maintain the utmost secrecy on the project as the production geared up. Here, we discover all the work that went into creating the world that we encounter during the film. Nolan himself was very hands-on with the pre-production of his movie. Behind the scenes photos show Nolan and production designer Nathan Crowley discussing the finer points of smashing a real-life airplane into a hanger. Just your everyday conversation amongst friends! Every aspect of the film, from the logistics of the project and the scenes that Nolan had in mind through to the locations that Nolan felt, were needed to showcase his vision, to the costumes and looks that the characters have, it is all here ready to be digested by the reader in glorious detail. Nothing is left out, it is all here on the printed page and with photographs accompanying the text.
The remainder of the book shall remain unspoiled for the reader. But believe me when I say that the readers’ eyes will be opened to all the dedication of Nolan, his cast, and crew in their quest to bring such an auspicious and breathtaking project to the screen. We follow the entire production from start to finish with fantastic descriptive work and narrative from Mottram throughout. As with his other books, Mottram puts everything into his writing and his attention to detail, the quality shines through from every page and leaves the reader with a rewarding experience. But, just like Nolan’s movie, the climax to the book keeps very much in tune with the story as we are given a Backword to end our time within the pages from none other than Sir Kenneth Branagh himself. The villain of the film, Sator has decided to join in the fun. Branagh describes the director and his vision as ‘Visionary’, a word even he says is overused but in the case of the film and Christopher Nolan himself, it is perfectly fitting. He describes Christopher Nolan delivering the script to him personally and how he sat and read it. And then he read it a further three times before embarking on making the film. And he describes that he continually read the screenplay throughout filming. Branagh goes on to describe the director in glowing terms and pays tribute to his vision and his determination.
The book is a worthy addition to any library and accompanies the film like a hand inside a glove. It is a great look inside what makes the film the triumph it is and how the mind of Christopher Nolan works. James Mottram doesn’t skimp on the details and records the events that led up to the creation, execution, and release of the film in wonderful clarity. The book is an almost perfect example of how to write an inside look at what goes into bringing our cinematic entertainment to the screen. James Mottram’s book is a triumph and one that the reader will be more than happy to revisit as time progresses. Or regresses. Or whatever new and fantastic time-bending element that Christopher Nolan decides to spring on us next. But rest assured, whatever the visionary director comes up with, James Mottram will bring the inside story to us again in the same stunning way he does here. And I await it with great enthusiasm.
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Carl Roberts is a Senior Entertainment/Books and Literature Correspondent for The Future of the Force. Aside from being our horror genre aficionado, he is also passionate about Star Wars, Marvel, DC, and the Indiana Jones movies. Follow him on Twitter @CarlRoberts2 where he uses the force frequently!
Editors Note | A big thank you to our friends at Titan Books for sending over our advance review copy.