If only the once-mighty Hollywood could turn back time

Lifestyle

If only the once-mighty Hollywood could turn back time

The industry’s decline appears to be a cultural phenomenon, but it might turn out to be a geopolitical one too

Janan Ganesh

The District of Columbia’s cinemas being closed, I steal into Virginia to savour Christopher Nolan’s Tenet. What transpires on the great Imax canvas is a lesson in the modern potential of this art form. With deft auteurship and the latest technology, it is now possible to make out one in seven — sometimes as many as one in four — words of dialogue. “Ehhnnxsbdeqr pasjudhghdhnd egefed inversion hdgdebhdud,” says Robert Pattinson’s character, and who would gainsay him?

The film on which Hollywood has staked its postvirus future has flaws beyond the modishly subaquatic sound. Its central theme — reverse-time — is about a tenth as interesting as Nolan wills it to be. As for the baroque twists, confusion is fine as long as audiences believe there is a core idea that is worth trying to fathom. As much as any prog-rock album, though, Tenet is a case of too much elaboration in pursuit of too weak a concept.

But the ultimate drag is the familiarity of it all. There is a ticking time-bomb. There is a damsel in distress. There are British snobs and Russian villains. (I have been to pintxos bars with less ham than Kenneth Branagh’s performance.) Nolan might be the most creatively ambitious mass-market artist of the young century. If even he has to fall back on narrative clichés, Hollywood’s crisis of imagination is as acute as billed...

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