Summer drive-in to see Tenet

Despite warnings from health experts and local governments, director Christopher Nolan insisted that his new movie Tenet be released in theatres. In many major cities, theatres legally couldn’t be open to the public, and even drive-in theatres couldn’t show the film unless theatres in the area also had copies to show. 

A lot of us have missed going to the movies. To many, nothing beats getting together with your friends, sitting down with a big bag of popcorn and watching the latest blockbusters in full surround sound. Even The New Mutants or the latest Fast and Furious were starting to look pretty good at one point. Avid and slightly obsessive moviegoers who reside in cities, determined in their quest to see Tenet as soon as possible, have headed to drive-in theatres in counties with fewer lockdown restrictions to see Nolan’s latest feature while staying safe and relatively isolated.

To Generation Z, drive-in theatres might seem like a dated novelty. At first glance, watching a movie through your windshield and getting the audio through your car’s speakers might seem like an inadequate experience compared to immersive Dolby speakers and towering 30-foot screens. But going to a well-run drive-in is very similar to going to a real theatre, and watching Tenet might just tide movie lovers over until businesses start to reopen. What follows is a firsthand account of going to see Tenet at a drive-in in Washington state, just north of Seattle.

The film itself is just okay. One familiar with Nolan’s work will likely understand the critique of “too much plot.” Every scene is exposition with pacing at whiplash-inducing speed, and characters lack depth for the sake of the script’s mind-bending puzzle that it overcomplicates over the course of the runtime. To fully understand it, audiences will probably have to watch it a second or even a third time, but many viewers may find the mental work needed to understand the plot tiring, especially with minimal emotional stakes. In short, Tenet works better as a mental experiment and less as a feature film for a mass market. 

What the movie lacked, though, the drive-in theatre made up for in what many film lovers might miss about going to the movies. The concession stand had plenty of candy, popcorn and other snacks, and the excitement from seeing a trailer for a highly anticipated movie was as strong as ever. It was a warm summer night, and most people had their car windows rolled down as they watched. While in the past it was annoying to hear other viewers whisper to each other about their opinions on characters or to ask questions about what was going on, it was a welcome addition to the experience. It may not have had the massive screen and booming IMAX sound system that Christopher Nolan feels the film needs, but it was fun and worth the drive. 

Tenet may disappoint, but if you love going to the movies, a drive-in may be a good choice. It’s a relatively safe alternative to an indoor theatre, and it’s still a great way to experience a film. And maybe, just maybe, it’ll help things feel a little normal again.