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Why Tenet’s ‘Neil is Max and He’s Kat’s Son’ Fan Theory is Possible
Christopher Nolan is the kind of filmmaker who wants you to ask questions. His plots are laced with ambiguity, and though not all of his movies wrap up on a cliffhanger as memorable as Inception’s spinning top, they all invite a fair amount of speculation from viewers. Tenet is no exception–since its international release last month, a whole host of fan theories have sprung up online, as fans try to make sense of the labyrinthine plot and twisty-turny timeline.
There’s one particular fan theory that stands out, not only because it’s so compiling and adds such dimension to the movie–but also because it feels genuinely plausible. Here’s a rundown:
Elizabeth Debicki’s Kat is singularly focused on saving her young son, Max—a character we see only briefly on screen—from her evil Russian husband (Kenneth Branagh). According to this fan theory, Max grows up to be Neil, Robert Pattinson’s mysterious and dashing Tenet agent. Neil and Kat are both adults in the main timeline of the movie, but Tenet’s central concept is that time can flow both backwards and forwards, and it’s clear by the end of the movie that Neil’s existence has been… non-linear, let’s say.
At the end of the movie, Neil reveals to The Protagonist (John David Washington) that from his perspective, the two of them have known each other for years, even though as far as The Protagonist knows, they’ve just met. Which makes a lot of sense, if it turns out that Neil is actually Max.
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Okay. So does this theory actually hold water? I got a chance to ask Washington for his opinion this week, and he confirmed that he’d been reading up on the theory himself. “I saw that one the other day—I like that!” he enthused. “I don’t know if it’s true or not, you gotta ask Chris, but if there’s another [movie] and they introduce that, that would be a lot of fun. We’ll see what happens.”
While Neil’s relationship to Kat remains mysterious, his relationship with The Protagonist is one of the most fun aspects of the movie, and Washington raved about his experience working with Pattinson. “He can do anything as an artist, and as an actor, and the fact that he’s so humble made it so easy,” he said. “We both had our own process of how we approach our characters, but then we brought it together and made it what you saw on screen. If people are connecting to that relationship, it makes me really happy because you never know with chemistry. Sometimes even if you feel like you got along, it just doesn’t work.”
So, is the easy camaraderie between The Protagonist and Neil a result of the fact that The Protag became a kind of father figure to the young Max/Neil after the events of the movie? As with most of the questions you’re left with after Tenet, the answer is a big ol’ Maybe.
Emma Dibdin writes about television, movies, and podcasts, with coverage including opinion essays, news posts, episodic reviews and in-depth interviews with creatives.
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