Watching Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, With Masks and Sanitisers For Company, Film Companion

Even though it had been eight months since I stepped into a movie theatre, I wasn’t missing the cinema experience very much. After all, with a whole host of streaming services bringing movies right into our living rooms, getting my fix of entertainment during the pandemic seemed entirely manageable. But around two days ago, my husband (who really loves watching movies in theatres) announced, “We’re going to watch Tenet today!” He didn’t frame it as a question, so I could tell that he no longer could stomach the fact that the last movie we watched in the theatre had been Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, all the way back on the 21st of December, 2019. So I reluctantly agreed.

There were two reasons for my reluctance. First, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be cooped up indoors with a bunch of strangers, all possibly breathing in unseen particles that could potentially lead to debilitating illness, or worse. Second, I wasn’t entirely keen on watching Tenet. Christopher Nolan’s films require undivided attention, focus, and considerable energy. Given my frame of mind at that point, I think Peppa Pig was more up my ally. But I caved. After all, theatres in Berlin have been open since the end of June, and people seem to be going in and out of them without much harm being done to anyone. So how bad could it be?

However, even though we were feeling adventurous, we picked a theatre in the suburbs, which we assumed wouldn’t be as crowded as the theatres in the city. When we got there, we found that of the ten windows at the ticket counter, only two were open, allowing for ample space between the two rows of people buying tickets. There were only two other masked individuals buying their tickets at one window, while the two of us were pointed in the direction of the other window by a member of the staff wearing a face shield. Once we’d bought our tickets, we needed to fill in a form with our personal details, as well as the date, the screen number, and seat numbers, and drop it into a collection box to help facilitate contact tracing if needed at some point in the future.

There were two reasons for my reluctance. First, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be cooped up indoors with a bunch of strangers, all possibly breathing in unseen particles that could potentially lead to debilitating illness, or worse.

When we entered the hall, we were happy to find that it wasn’t crowded, and that several seats were deliberately left unsold, so as to further facilitate social distancing. A quick video on the safety precautions the theatre had taken, and safety guidelines we had to follow, was played. I was surprised to see that it didn’t mandate the need for masks once inside the movie hall. Sure enough, I looked around me, and most people weren’t wearing masks inside, although the rules did require one to wear masks in the corridors and at the ticket counter. But, since neither of us wanted to take the risk, we kept our masks on all through the movie. Incidentally, movie theatres in Germany don’t usually have intervals, not even for movies that run for 2 hours and 30 minutes. Tenet, however, did. I’m still not sure why that was. Maybe to give the mask-wearers a bit of a break?

I’m not going to pretend that it was easy to sit still for two and a half hours with a mask on. I regretted that I didn’t have a straw with me, that I could stick in the bottle of Cola I had and sip occasionally with my mask still on. And of course, I wasn’t thrilled that Nolan’s cast of characters were moving simultaneously forwards and backwards through time, which was doing my head in. But the sight of Dimple Kapadia on screen soothed my soul. I honestly can’t think of an actress who carries herself with more grace than Kapadia does. To say that she plays her part effortlessly and well, is stating the obvious. She’s one of the finest actresses the country has ever produced – so why wouldn’t she be stellar in her role?

But even the chance of watching Kapadia in a big budget Hollywood movie wasn’t enough to keep me in the theatre any longer than those two and half hours. As soon as the end credits began, we bolted out the theatre, and disinfected our hands with sanitiser. I found myself feeling quite relieved, and glad that the experience was over. But I’m not saying I wouldn’t do it again. If the regulations in Berlin allow us to continue to visit cinemas, I do think we might go watch a few more movies. But I’d definitely pick shorter ones, so that I don’t feel like fiddling with my mask too much. And I’d probably pick lighter subjects – ones that don’t require all that much brain activity. Maybe when I’ve watched around 20 light movies, and consider myself an old-hand at the mask-wearing movie-watching experience, I’ll opt for another Nolan film. It, most likely, will have to be Tenet once again.

As for my movie-watching companion, whose idea it had been to visit the theatre in the first place? I caught him snoozing a couple of times. And since he was the reason I was sitting through a very long movie with a mask on, I mercilessly elbowed him awake.

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