Tenet — Synopsis and Entire Plot

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Want to know the full story of the new blockbuster Tenet? Here's the entire detailed synopsis of the film. This text contains spoilers, of course.

Act 1

The first act consists of the following segments:

  1. Opera House Siege
  2. Rail Yard Interrogation
  3. Victor's Debrief
  4. Inverted Entropy
  5. Mumbai
  6. Michael Crosby
  7. Meeting Kat
  8. Oslo Freeport
  9. Plane Crash
  10. Hallway Fight

Armed terrorists storm an opera house in Kiev, Ukraine, and The Protagonist (John David Washington) is sent in to extract an American VIP. Him and his men blend in with the police arriving on the scene. The Protagonist tells the VIP that "he has been made" and that the opera house attack is "a blind for them to vanish you". To which the VIP questions as he has “established contact”. The Protagonist asks him where "the package" is, after which we see what is the only sequence now included in the prologue that wasn't previously. The Protagonist runs to the coat check station, finds the VIP's bag and pulls out a medium-sized metallic box.

The Protagonist spots a member of the Ukrainian armed forces planting a bomb, along with the terrorists. This causes The Protagonist to no longer fully trust the Ukrainians. Thus, the VIP is swapped out for one of The Protagonist’s men.

When The Protagonist goes to remove a bomb as he's collecting the ones already planted, someone points a gun at his head, who is consequently shot by an inverted bullet. The inverted bullet is caught by the gun of someone wearing a mask, who then turns and runs away. On his bag The Protagonist spies a noticeable orange tag. The Protagonist's friend (Timmy) says "he's not one of ours."

The Protagonist bags the bombs, throws them up into the nosebleed section of the opera house and as they explode him and Timmy, who is now posing as the VIP, run outside and back to the van in which they came.

The Ukrainians whom they were working under the guise of notice Timmy is not the VIP they were after, and they torture The Protagonist and Timmy at a train yard. The Protagonist manages to mouth what he believes to be a cyanide capsule before the Ukrainians have a chance to notice.

He awakens on a medical bed within a ship, cruising somewhere in the Baltic Sea. Victor (Martin Donovan) greets him, saying ironically “welcome to the afterlife.” Victor is surmised to be The Protagonist's superior, working within the CIA. He explains that the Ukrainians that tortured him were rogues and that they eliminated the remainder of The Protagonist's team. The "cyanide capsule" only rendered The Protagonist unconscious, and when he asks why Victor tells him it was a test. What for? Out on the bulwark he explains that The Protagonist has been selected for a supremely secret mission, and all he can give him as ways of information is a code word. Tenet.

The Protagonist hides out inside a floating wind turbine for what we can guess is a few days. He exercises and rehearses the loading of his handgun.

He travels from here to shore via a mechanics' ferry and goes into a city (somewhere in Scandinavia I think) to meet with Laura (Clémence Poésy), who seems to be a secret scientist investigating "inverted" objects, such as ones similar to the bullet that almost hit The Protagonist in the opera house. She shows The Protagonist how to fire an inverted bullet, and explains that these objects have had their entropy reversed, somewhere in the future, and are moving backwards through time. This is basically all shown in the trailers/tv spots. Laura says they have several remnants from what looks to be a World War III-type event, which happens sometime in the future. The Protagonist decides he must get to the bottom of who is manufacturing the inverted bullets, and why.

The Protagonist goes to Mumbai, where an arms dealer who might have information on the bullets resides. He requests “an assist” which comes in the form of Neil (Robert Pattinson), a cool-headed British operative. After a brief meet-and-greet they infiltrate the compound of the arms dealer via bungee cords and take out some guards. The Protagonist holds a gun to the arms dealer’s head, questioning him about the ammunition. The arms dealer says he won’t tell him, but then his wife Priya (Dimple Kapadia) appears and says she can help. She is actually the one with "Tenet" knowledge.

They sit and chat, and she explains that the bullets her husband's company deals in have been purchased by Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh), a Russian oligarch of whom The Protagonist has some knowledge. However, she says that when they gave him the bullets they were quite normal, which leads The Protagonist to wonder how he'd inverted them. Him and Neil escape the building the same way they came, propelling down the wall just out of sight of the arriving Indian police.

Now in London, The Protagonist shares lunch with Sir Michael Crosby, a British Intelligent and contact of Priya's, who possesses information on Sator. He explains that Sator grew up in a Russian area that has been unoccupied for decades, although a few days ago they'd detected an explosion from. He mentions that the best way to get close to Sator would be through his wife, or more specifically his wife's profession - art appraiser in London, which is also the manner in which Sator met her. Crosby mentions that she had sold him the fake of a drawing of which he had interest, a piece given by someone named Thomas Arepo. Crosby gives The Protagonist another fake (a Goya), which he anticipates will entice Sator.

The Protagonist meets with Sator’s wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) at a London auction house. Kat inspects the drawing and asks how The Protagonist acquired it, to which he responds "Thomas Arepo." This leads her to dine with him that night. The Protagonist expresses his desire to meet with her husband. She explains that the sale of Arepo's drawing of which she did not know was a fake Sator now uses as his hold on her. Her husband is an abuser, an arms dealer, and she wants an out but for the young son they share together, Max, whom she loves. She also mentions that Sator brutalised Arepo, which in turn causes her to know The Protagonist is lying and also that his Goya is a fake. Heavies who work for Sator and are chaperoning Kat enter the restaurant, and as Kat is chauffeured away The Protagonist beats them up in the chef’s kitchen.

Seemingly the next day, The Protagonist shows up at Max’s school and meets with Kat again, who gives him more information on her husband’s business, explaining that he is holding the forged drawing in a "Freeport" in Oslo. She tells him that Sator's company, ROTAS, imports/exports through here without detection from the law. The Protagonist and Neil discuss the best way to get into the Freeport. Neil goes on a tour of the Freeport, under the guise of a patron, and the tour guide explains that in the event of a fire the interior doors to the sensitive room where clients' property is stored revert to their factory settings. This, Neil explains to The Protagonist, makes them susceptible to lock-picking. However, the oxygen in this section will be sucked out. The Protagonist suspects there is a vault-like room at the heart of the Freeport. Neil suggests they crash a 747 plane from the Freeport's runway into the terminal, which would result in a lockdown and give them access to this vault, whilst simultaneously providing a distraction.

They meet with Mahir, a contact who will drive the plane. Whilst him and couple of men do this, Neil and The Protagonist enter the Freeport, and the same tour guide takes them to the storage area. Mahir and his men drop hundreds of imported bricks of gold out of the plane to distract both onlookers and the prospective police. The plane crashes into the terminal and explodes.

The Freeport now enters its lockdown procedure and the oxygen is sucked out of the room in which the tour guide, Neil and The Protagonist now are. The guide promptly escapes while Neil and The Protagonist hold their breaths. They lock-pick some doors and enter the vault area, where they find a glass wall separating a room into two sides, "blue" and "red", each of them entering one. At the end of each side sits a large, concrete revolving door. Bullet holes pepper the glass. Neil asks what "the hell happened here?". The Protagonist replies "hasn’t happened yet."

A man in a SWAT-like uniform (seen from the trailers) appears out of both revolving doors. On Neil’s side, he pushes past Neil and runs off. Neil gives chase. On The Protagonist’s side he engages in a fist fight with The Protagonist. Except all of his moves are "backwards". He’s been inverted. The Protagonist eventually subdues him, but before he can do more the SWAT guy slides backwards under a roller door and disappears. Neil pulls The Protagonist away and they exit, telling The Protagonist that he dealt with the other guy. They feign unconsciousness as paramedics arrive to retrieve them.

Neil and The Protagonist debrief back in their Oslo hotel (called "The Thief" incidentally) confused as to what just happened. The Protagonist says he trusts Neil enough now, and tells him what’s going on - about inversion - to which Neil retorts by telling him he is qualified in theoretical physics.

Act 2

The second act consists of the following segments:

  1. Meeting Sator
  2. Sailing
  3. Sator’s Yacht
  4. Tallinn Highway Chase
  5. Back to Oslo
  6. Hallway Fight 2.0

The Protagonist goes back to Mumbai to meet again with Priya, who tells him the inversion machine, called a “turnstile”, he found at the Freeport has not yet been invented, but in the future it will have been. She says they are “being attacked by the future” and that Sator is at the core of it all. She explains that the terrorists at the Kiev opera house (prologue scene) were acting under Sator's command, to secure plutonium-241 (the metal box). They failed, and it instead ended up in the hands of the rogue Ukranians, who incidentally will be transporting it via convoy from Ukraine to Trieste.

The Protagonist travels to the Amalfi Coast, Italy, where again he meets with Kat and says he must meet with Sator. He requests she introduce him as a secretary she met at a party. That night they, along with several of Sator's associates, dine together at a restaurant and The Protagonist meets Sator, who suspects he is sleeping with Kat. Sator explains he’s going to kill The Protagonist by first cutting open his throat and then removing his testicles to stuff them inside, which The Protagonist is smarmy about. Just as he is about to be taken away to be killed, he asks Sator “do you like opera?” - which peaks Sator's interest and saves his life.

The next morning The Protagonist, Kat and Sator sail on catamarans, where Sator asks what The Protagonist knows "about opera." The Protagonist tells him his knowledge of the plutonium and how it ended up at the opera house. Kat releases Sator’s harness and he falls into the water, but The Protagonist dives in and rescues him.

On Sator’s militarised yacht, Kat questions why The Protagonist saved him, who explains he needs him to further his mission. He tells Kat her husband is “so much more” than just an arms dealer. Kat maligns him for not truly caring about her or her son.

The Protagonist sits and drinks vodka with Sator and tells him of the convoy holding the plutonium Sator previously failed to acquire. Sator has connections in Tallinn, Estonia, where The Protagonist says would be the appropriate place to steal the plutonium.

Via a brief flashback Sator narrates himself as a teenager in the Soviet-era city in which he grew up, uncovering a large, metal drum. Inside are several bricks of gold, and what looks to be pages of "instructions" with his name on the cover page.

In their bedroom on the yacht, Sator is about to beat Kat with his belt but she says if she dies or is injured The Protagonist will not bargain with him, which stops Sator.

A chopper lands on the helipad of the yacht and Sator’s men haul off a huge, heavy package. The Protagonist slips through the yacht and whilst hiding watches them and Sator unload it. It is the gold from the 747. A man finds The Protagonist and subdues him, then brings him before Sator. Sator does not kill him but is skeptical of The Protagonist's true purpose, and says he no longer wants his help with securing the plutonium, and instead commands his men to take him ashore.

In Tallinn, The Protagonist and Neil talk about stealing the plutonium before Sator, and ambush the convoy with some help from some other operatives. The Protagonist and Neil wait in a BMW, preparing with other operatives to intercept the convoy.

Meanwhile, Sator and Kat are preparing in a warehouse by the Tallinn docks. Kat is apparently there to assess the validity of the "items" Sator will acquire, but this soon becomes evidently false. Sator screams at Kat, beats her, then after telling one of his men to radio him "everything that happens" he waits behind a large, automated cement door.

The Protagonist uses a firetruck to sidle alongside the plutonium-holding truck. He uses the firetruck's roof-ladder to move onto the other truck, then blows a hole in the roof of it. He climbs inside, blows open a door and retrieves an orange case. He gets back into Neil’s BMW and opens it to find the plutonium, but angrily speculates it's not what Sator is after as he has never seen a munition of this class before.

Before they can safely escape they suddenly see a dark SUV seemingly reversing down the road toward them. It's Sator and his men, who are inverted.

Sator winds down his window as his SUV drives "backwards" alongside Neil and The Protagonist's BMW. He is holding Kat hostage, who looks to not be inverted, as she is not wearing an oxygen mask yet Sator is. He counts from three to one and The Protagonist throws him the orange case, while a silver Saab looking to have crashed on the road flips over and begins driving "backwards" down the highway. We cannot see the driver.

Sator gets out of the SUV and into another vehicle while Kat stays, hands bound, inside the SUV as it continues, now without a driver, travelling backwards down the road. The Protagonist leaps from the BMW into the SUV and shoves his hand down on the brake before it crashes. However, Sator’s men drag him and Kat away before he can do anything else, whilst Neil engages with them in a gunfight, of which we do not see the outcome.

As they manhandle The Protagonist through the docks toward the warehouse, we see on the other side of a black fence an inverted Sator walking backwards, pulling a struggling Kat with him. They enter the warehouse, which consists of two large turnstiles and a glass wall down the middle, similar to the vault in Oslo, but bigger. They sit the protagonist down on one the "red" side of room. The inverted Sator is on the other, "blue", side, threatening to shoot Kat. When he speaks his words like him are inverted, but they are then translated by some sort of radio, which speaks the words back normally to The Protagonist. He says he’s going to shoot Kat unless The Protagonist tells him where he hid the plutonium. The Protagonist hesitates. Sator shoots Kat through the stomach. The Protagonist says he hid it in the glove box of the BMW.

Suddenly, another Sator appears on the red side of the room, this one not inverted. He hits The Protagonist across the face, telling him he is low on time and for The Protagonist to tell him where he hid the plutonium, to which The Protagonist confusedly states "I just told you." Red Sator hestitates until armed ops suddenly storm the room, causing Sator to retreat into the turnstile, saving The Protagonist. We then switch to blue Sator's point of view, seeing him walk out of the turnstile, talk to The Protagonist as he just did, threaten to shoot Kat, shoot her, and then exit through the automated door, going on to retrieve the plutonium, as we just witnessed.

Now back in the "future", the ops who rescued The Protagonist we see are lead by the Brit, Ives (Aaron-Taylor Johnson). The ops seem to know a fair amount about inversion. Neil is with them, and The Protagonist questions how he seems to know so much about Sator's correct apprehensions when it came to the car chase. Ives explained what Sator just performed is known as a "temporal pincher move", meaning that Sator and his men recieve knowledge from themselves from the past, then invert themselves to travel backwards with this knowledge, essentially creating a self-informed loop. I.e. no one spilled anything to Sator, except himself. Neil is irked as he believes The Protagonist just told him where the plutonium was (in the BMW) but The Protagonist reveals he lied. He now wants to save Kat, but as she has been shot with a fatal inverted round, Ives explains it is a fool’s errand. Neil suggests if they go through the turnstiles the effects will be inverted and she might live, but it is suggested that it will take a few days for her to fully recover. The Protagonist says they can use the turnstiles in Oslo to invert themselves back to normal again, in minus one week's time, when they had previously penetrated the Freeport. Ives and his crew concede.

Ives, another spec op named Wheeler (Fiona Dourif), Neil and The Protagonist take the injured Kat on a stretcher through the turnstiles, from the red side to the blue. They are now inverted. The Protagonist says he will chase after Sator and stop himself from giving Sator the plutonium, even though he's still not certain it is what Sator is truly after. Neil sees this for what it really is, a ploy to try and save Kat. The Protagonist explains Sator threatened to kill Kat in the past and demands they let him try.

Neil arranges an air-safe storage unit for himself and Kat to travel in via a cargo ship, which will arrive in Oslo in one week. Wheeler quickly briefs The Protagonist on operating whilst inverted. The Protagonist walks out of the airlock and onto the open dock. Everything around him, from his perspective, is "inverted" as he is now the one from the world's perspective that is truly "inverted".

He drives in the silver Saab which is waiting for him at the dock, locates the convoy again and sidles up to blue Sator's SUV, which now, from his point-of-view is travelling forwards through time. A surprised Sator spots him as he throws the orange case back to The "former" Protagonist, in the BMW. However, The Protagonist's past self spots him as well. In the Saab the plutonium suddenly rattles around before flying out the window and back into the hands of The Protagonist, who, in the past, seemingly willingly threw it into the car he saw himself driving. However, this also means that the plutonium was in the Saab the entire time, and Sator now has secured it.

The Protagonist in the Saab, whilst watching all this unfold, crashes, revealing it was himself who he saw crashed on the road before. Blue Sator walks over to the Saab and sets it alight, but as The Protagonist is inverted, the effects of the explosion are nullified, instead causing The Protagonist to contract hypothermia.

When The Protagonist wakes up he, Neil and Kat are in the arranged storage unit on the cargo ship headed for Oslo Freeport. He tells Neil he now understands he cannot change what has already happened.

Kat heals on their journey whilst sleeping. Neil and The Protagonist discuss "The Grandfather Paradox" which suggests you cannot kill your past self as this would be a paradox. The Protagonist considers the implications.

When the storage unit stops moving, they look outside and see they are at the Freeport, however not inside but on the runway tarmac. Mahir's plane has just crashed into the terminal. The Protagonist suits up in SWAT-like gear and says he will deal with Sator’s men while Neil takes Kat through the turnstile on her stretcher. As the three of them move into the hangar where the plane has crashed, a backwards explosion from a turbine sends The Protagonist flying through a roller door, where he finds his past self and past Neil. We see that he was the SWAT guy The Protagonist was previously fighting here. They exchange fists and he leaps through the turnstiles, inverting himself back to normal. Neil and Kat soon do the same, Neil making sure to avoid his past self, and they escape the Freeport in an ambulance.

Act 3

The third act consists of the following segments:

  1. Past Priya
  2. Headed to Russia
  3. Battle for the Algorithm
  4. Sator's Death
  5. Mission Accomplished

The Protagonist meets with Priya again, this time in Oslo (and prior to when he met her in Mumbai the second time). She reveals there is an “Oppenheimer” like scientist in the future who develops a way in which using nine independent pieces of inversion technology (altogether called an "algorithm") one would be able to invert the entropy of the world. One of these pieces is the plutonium, which The Protagonist realises Priya wittingly told him to steal, knowing he would fail and it would only end up in Sator's hands. Hence Sator now has all nine pieces. She says what Sator plans is inevitable, and that "Tenet" was created in the future.

Now on a cargo ship again, headed for the Soviet-era city where Sator is keeping the algorithm inside of a bomb, Neil, Kat and The Protagonist talk about their next move. Neil says Sator has a “dead-man switch” which means if he is killed before the algorithm is removed from the bomb, the world will be "inverted" (destroyed). His dead-man switch, Neil believes, is the fitness bracelet he wears on his wrist at all times.

Kat explains that Sator (who is now travelling backwards through time as they are) will go back to ten days in the past from the point they are at now. He will kill himself on their yacht on a "loving" vacation they have in Vietnam. He has inoperable pancreatic cancer, she explains, so taking the world with him is of no consequence to him.

Their plan is to keep moving back to this date alongside Sator, and retrieve the algorithm which is being guarded by Sator's armed men, who plan to bury it in the hyper-centre of the city, wherein nuclear detonations will take place sometime in the past. They tell Kat she is to keep Sator occupied in Vietnam so that he won’t kill himself before the bomb is safe to go off.

They are met by Ives and an army of spec ops, who will perform a huge temporal pincer move. The "blue" team, on which is Neil and Wheeler among others, will be inverted, begin the attack an hour later and be briefed with the knowledge of what the "red" team has already done, and vice versa.

The read team which consists of non-inverted ops, includes Ives and The Protagonist, but they will both make up a splinter team, and will retrieve the algorithm.

Both teams act simultaneously, one inverted, one not, battling against Sator's army in the abandoned city. Ives and The Protagonist make it down to the bomb which is underground, where they find a blue-team man lying dead behind the gate to the bomb. One of Sator's men is about to set the bomb off.

Whilst this is happening, Kat has been transported to the yacht in Vietnam - which holds Sator from the future (the Sator we have seen throughout the film), and she pretends to be her past self. Sator talks to The Protagonist via radio, explaining that the only sin he feels he is guilty of is bringing a son into a world he believes to be hopeless.

Kat angrily kills this Sator prematurely with a silenced pistol. She then slides him off the deck of the yacht and he goes out painfully, hitting the safety bar of the bulwark and landing in the water.

Sator's man guarding the bomb accidentally shoots the dead blue man in the head who has suddenly risen, and is evidently inverted. The Protagonist again sees the orange tag on this man's bag, as he saw in the opera house. This man, inverted, unlocks the gate, runs out whilst inverted and The Protagonist takes Sator's man out.

Neil drives an armoured car to Ives and The Protagonist's position and hauls them out via a hook, along with the salvaged algorithm. Kat's premature murder of Sator was acceptable, and the bomb explodes safely. No world inversion.

Ives tells Neil and The Protagonist they should each hide one piece of the algorithm around the world, wherever they choose. Slowly, The Protagonist begins to realise they themselves were the ones to hide the algorithm for Sator to eventually find. He is also enlightened as to why Neil has known so much throughout the film. He has already known The Protagonist for years, as The Protagonist will go further back into Neil’s relative past, start "Tenet" himself and recruit Neil. He sees the orange tag on Neil's bag. Neil saved him in the opera house. Neil will also die here, as he just witnessed.

I.e. everything that has happened will happen, and will always have happened.

In the not too distant past, The Protagonist kills Priya who has come to London to assassinate Kat.

“Mission accomplished,” he states. He will continue setting up the events of Tenet.

Kat and her son Max walk off peacefully down the street.

The End