‘Tenet’ Ending Explained And All Your Doubts Cleared!

Official poster of Christopher Nolan's 'Tenet', Image Source: IMDB

Christopher Nolan‘s Tenet, is out this week all over UK’s cinemas. The movie’s plot pivots around the idea that people can be sent back in time to the present, but with a complication that its “inverted”, meaning everything happens backwards.

Because of this, in the grand climactic mission, the Protagonist (John David Washington) and his right-hand man Neil (Robert Pattinson) attempt to stop Russian oligarch Sator (Kenneth Branagh) from serving the future to destroy the present. This aspect of time travel that makes the movie interesting, also makes it kind of incredibly tricky to follow.

The Tenet Ending Explained: Who Even Is Sator And What Does He Want?

In the movie, humans from the future want to end the present as they are a part of a dying planet. They suppose that if they stop present-day humans from causing any more damage to the Earth, they have a safer chance to ensure their long-term survival. Sator wants to defeat the present because he is about to die because of pancreatic cancer.

Being a power-hungry cynic, he thinks that if he can’t have the Earth, then no one else should either. It’s much the same intellect he displays in forcing his wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) to stay with him after he’s shown his ruthless side. If he cannot be with Kat in a genuine & passionate relationship, then no one else can either.
Sator was raised in an underground city in the Soviet Union which was destroyed in a nuclear explosion. While excavating lost plutonium in a rubble, he found the first piece of an algorithm that allows the future to alter time and terminate the present.

The scientist who invented this Algorithm, devastated by her creation, splits it into nine pieces and hides it in the past so that the resultant Algorithm could never be activated. Thinking that he is supporting the future, Sator spends his life searching for pieces of this Algorithm in exchange of monetary benefits.

It is ironic, because he knows all along that he, his son and everyone else will be killed once he locates the final piece. Now that he has all nine parts, he plans to use a dead man’s switch to activate the Algorithm and end the (present-day) world.

What is the purpose of the Tenet Organization?

Still from Christopher Nolan’s ‘Tenet’
Image Source: Warner Bros.

The Tenet organization is using a “temporary pincer movement” to stop Sator from gathering all the parts. They prepare to send two armed units, one travelling backwards in time, one travelling forwards so that they can take control of the Algorithm. Then they decide to split it into pieces and hide them again. Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s time-travelling soldier Ives commands this mission, which the Protagonist doesn’t wholly understand until it’s all finished.

Kat is sent back to a happy memory on Sator’s ship moments before he plans to kill himself and end the world. She sent away on this mission so that the two Tenet units get some extra time. She murders Sator before he can kill himself because she doesn’t want him to believe that his plan worked. Luckily, the Protagonist has already succeeded in grabbing the Algorithm and breaks it into pieces himself. Therefore, ultimately, the dead man’s switch on Sator’s wrist does not end up affecting him at all.

Who Saves The Protagonist At The Activation Site?

Neil saves the Protagonist’s life at the activation site. During that pivotal sequence of the movie, a masked man with a red string on his backpack takes a bullet for the Protagonist when one of Sator’s men shoots at him. The masked man is killed, but his sacrifice gives the Protagonist a chance to grab the Algorithm and escape from the activation site along with Ives.

Once the two get out, they meet Neil, and the Protagonist notices a red string on his backpack. It is then when he realizes that as part of the temporal pincer movement, Neil will someday go back in time to save his life.

So Who Is Niel Actually? Is He Hiding Something?

Still from Christopher Nolan’s ‘Tenet’
Image Source: Warner Bros.

The Protagonist is the one who recruits Neil. Like Neil explained, this mission is the end of his own journey, but the start of the Protagonist’s. In the future, the Protagonist will find the Tenet organization, then send himself back in time to carry out their missions. This theory can be proved by recalling Neil and Protagonist’s first meeting in the film. Neil remembered the Protagonist’s drink of choice was a Diet Coke because he’d been operating with him for years at this point but the Protagonist does not realize it yet.

Why Is Priya Murdered In The End?

Poster of Christopher Nolan’s ‘Tenet’
Image Source: IMDB

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The Protagonist kills Priya not just to protect Kat, but also to protect the Tenet organization itself. In the final scene, the wealthy arms dealer Priya (Dimple Kapadia), the woman who informed the Protagonist about Sator, was a key player all along. She tries to kill Kat to “tie up loose ends” from her mission, but instead gets caught by the Protagonist, who shoots her dead before her footman aims Kat. He doesn’t want Kat to die, but he also does not want Priya to stay alive, because she knows a little too much about the Tenet, so much so that she might end up threatening the organization’s secrecy.