Protagoneil – Is Tenet a Love Story?


I know most people, myself included, went to see Tenet in a theater expecting the action blockbuster of the year. Yes, this is perhaps what we saw, but was it also a love story? After seeing Tenet, all I wanted to do was read about and talk about Tenet; so naturally, I was on Twitter the moment I returned home looking up theories, opinions and more. What I did not expect to find was fan art and fan fiction about the characters portrayed by John David Washington and Robert Pattinson.

Beautiful art by @ian19961

If you have yet to see Tenet, I would skip this for now and come back after seeing the movie. Massive spoilers ahead would be an understatement. For everyone still moving forward, please bear with me as I have only seen the film once. I wish I could check Tenet out again, but unfortunately theaters are not open in my area yet. Onwards we go, to cracking down the important topic, is Tenet actually a love story?

Stunning work by @aesJMHI5

Now we first meet Neil, played by Robert Pattinson, very early on; we just don’t know that we’re meeting him and neither does the Protagonist, played by John David Washington. Despite the fact that MEETING NEIL (by the great Ludwig Göransson) plays in a different scene, we do first see Neil at the opera house. Neil saves the Protagonist from an inverted bullet. While our Protagonist knows something is up right away, he does not yet know about inversion or our precious babe Neil.

When we officially meet Neil in Mumbai, we can tell straight away he knows the Protagonist. Neil walks straight up to the Protagonist without introduction; even if you knew who you were looking for, Neil walks up with the utmost confidence that only someone who knows who they’re meeting has. We all knew the moment Neil ordered the Protagonist a Diet Coke that their relationship was more than met the eye.

Some of my favorite fan art by @l3earfat_h

In Oslo, the Protagonist and Neil literally jump all over the place, both their inverted selves and present day selves. You could argue that Neil is dedicated to the cause and doesn’t alert the Protagonist that he was the masked man they were fighting. But I am here to argue that Neil out of love may have not alerted the Protagonist of his inverted self, not his dedication to their mission. Neil may have not wanted to startle his lover.

Now further along in the film at the military base (I guess, I don’t know, I’ve seen the movie once, HELP!), our star-crossed lovers are on two different teams; Neil is on the blue, inverted team and the Protagonist is on the red, present day team. Now, this is the part of the movie where I think we truly see the love between Neil and the Protagonist. Neil, inverted, tries to warn the Protagonist of the tripwire. Unfortunately, this is too late and the Protagonist and Ives (haaaaay Aaron Taylor-Johnson, we love to see him!) have gone into the tunnel and the tripwire deploys. Neil, crippled by his love for the Protagonist, inverts to go sacrifice himself to save his love, the Protagonist. Would you sacrifice yourself for a mission? Sure, I guess if you’re in the CIA or Marines or whatever Tenet is part of, but this is where I truly think Neil’s feelings for the Protagonist could outweigh the mission.

Such cute work from @LuckyTea_777

In the tunnel, the Protagonist sees a body on the ground and recognizes the backpack. He recognizes the backpack from the opera!! (AHHH!) This backpack belongs to none other than Neil! I think when he sees the backpack he knows he has some feelings for Neil. Yeah, sure it could be just friendship, but I think the twinkle in our Protagonist’s eye makes me believe it’s a little more than friendship.

The Protagonist and Ives retrieve the (I don’t know what it is) weird future time bomb that can end the world, but need to get it removed from its current location. Due to the tripwire they set off, they have no way out. UNTIL inverted Neil throws down a rope to get them out! The world is then saved, woooo!

Stunning, incredible work from Mademoiselle Libellule

Neil and the Protagonist say goodbyes, but Neil tells the Protagonist it’s the start of a beautiful friendship for him, but an end of the same relationship for Neil. I know this is where all the “woah Christopher Nolan did it, this plot is wild” comes from, but when the Protagonist tears up, I assume it’s because of his love and confusion with Neil, not because he is emotional about starting this mission or heading it in the future.

A lot more happens in the film with Kat, but I’m here to talk about Protagoneil. I think the final conversation we see between Neil and the Protagonist cements it for me that this is a romantic relationship in addition to a friendship. Sure, you can tell me otherwise, but their chemistry is right there. I think Neil took all these extra steps laid out throughout the movie because of his love for the Protagonist.

Beautiful work by @bxbypaym

Convincing me Tenet is a love story was made even more solid outside of the film itself. John David Washington has spoken so highly of shooting the film overall and his experience working with Robert Pattinson (flutters eyelashes). Washington said, “Meeting Robert Pattinson was love at first sight. He’s a phenomenal actor, humble human being. We just had a natural chemistry that we were able to use to bring the characters together. When we came together, it was just seamless.” Bromance on set? Check. Romance in the film? Gonna go ahead and say check.

Yes, Tenet is one of the best action films released in the last few years. Yes, Tenet is a technical marvel to watch on the big screen (if you can safely and feel comfortable only! Wear a mask!). I also think Tenet displays a love story between the Protagonist and Neil. Protagoneil forever ❤

Obsessed with this work by @en_mic

If you agree and have even more reasons why you think Tenet shows a romance, let me know! If you disagree, sorry we’re on different pages, but let’s get Ludwig Göransson another Academy Award!

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