TV & Movies

These Tenet Theories Will Only Add To Your Confusion

It's the Christopher Nolan way.

Warner Bros. Pictures

Christopher Nolan has made a career out of making confusing films that cause his fans to theorize what actually transpired on-screen. But none of Nolan's films have sparked as much controversy or theories as Tenet. While films like Inception and Interstellar presented some big ideas and are still debated to this day, they were generally pretty easy to follow narratively. The same can't be said of Tenet. The time-bending spy thriller is Nolan at his most Nolan-y and critics and fans alike can't seem to agree on almost anything that happened in the movie. So to help you cut through the clutter and figure out just what the heck happened in the film, here are the best Tenet theories the internet has to offer.

Obviously, this post contains spoilers for Tenet.

Neil's True Identity

Perhaps the fan theory that has drummed up the most support online is this one from Reddit that ponders the true identity of Neil (Robert Pattinson). The character plays a pivotal and heroic role in the film, and yet his motivations and background remain a mystery. The theory posits that Neil is actually the grown-up version of Max, the son of Kat. This theory states that the Protagonist (John David Washington) actually raised Max from the future while they were both inverted, which is how the adult Neil/Max knew so much about the present-day, non-inverted Protagonist.

The Inventor Of The Algorithm

The YouTube user Speed_Sable came up with a theory that states Priya was the inventor of the algorithm. Not only that, but his theory also claims the character manufactured the plot of the entire movie. Recruiting the Protagonist, setting up Sator as a red herring villain, and convincing the Protagonist to kill her were all part of Priya's plan after she successfully traveled back in time to hide her algorithm, according to this theory.


Another theory that's been picking up steam is one that claims Tenet is connected to two other Christopher Nolan movies, forming a Nolan Cinematic Universe. @movieshardy on Twitter believes that the Tenet characters Neil and Barbara are the grown-up children of Leonardo DiCaprio's character from Inception, based largely on the fact that they kind of look like the child actors from Inception. The second film is Interstellar, and the theorist makes the connection to Tenet based on both films featuring plots where the Earth of the future is uninhabitable.

The Cyanide Pill Is Real

Near the start of the film, the audience is led to believe that the cyanide pill consumed by the Protagonist was fake, and was just meant as a test to determine if he would be willing to give his life for the cause. But a theory described on Esquire surmises that the cyanide pill was real, and that the Protagonist died at the start of the film, effectively closing his loop.

Just One Painting

In a theory posted to Reddit, it's noted how the film states that there are two forged paintings: One that belongs to Sator, and a second that the Protagonist uses to meet Kat. But the poster believes there is actually just one. In the theory, they propose that the Protagonist's painting is just the inverted version of Sator's painting from the future that has been sent back through the past.

There are limitless opportunities to come up with theories about what really went on in Tenet thanks to the way the story plays with time, and since it's pretty much the only film playing at the moment, you can expect to see fans come up with more as they watch the movie again and again, forward... and backward.