“The Plan”: A Song, Science Fiction, and Divine Providence in Tenet

Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster and emphatically not-time-travel film Tenet, delayed several months due to coronavirus health concerns, is, on the surface, nothing but complexity, confusion, and then more complexity. Even if you thought his 2010 film Inception was confusing, Tenet is a whole different level of paradoxical thrill, deafening noise, and flashy fight scenes.

Now Nolan is renowned for focusing on details, and he intends complexity to not just be complexity for its own sake, but as intricacy, such that each movie is seen to be more detailed on each viewing. What’s interesting about Tenet, however, is that Nolan has publically commented about how the rapper Travis Scott’s song, “The Plan”, which featured in promotions for the film as well as in its closing credits was, “the last piece of the puzzle” for the film. Now that could simply mean that he needed a “cool” or a “broader appealing” closer to the film for marketing purposes and that having a rap song as the closer was a nice way to do that for hipster audiences. But from the way I perceived it, it’s very interesting how much watching the film changes the meaning of the song, and I think there’s a lot more to the song that expresses some interesting things about Nolan’s viewpoints and the film’s meaning.

Notice that Christopher Nolan likes to try to introduce some idea, some composition, something, that is the “key” to explaining the film. Interstellar, for example, has the poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night” worked into the plot so well that the poem expresses the whole theme of the movie. Inception has the totems that close out the film and are the key throughout, while The Prestige has the three parts of a magician’s act that explicate not just the magician’s acts in the story, but the “act” that is the film itself.

Similarly to his other films, Nolan also hinted that “The Plan” had clues to the film, which would make it seem possible that “The Plan” is likewise some sort of “key” for getting the full meaning. It’s especially interesting for “The Plan” because it was released as a teaser a full week before the film came out in theaters. Before you watch the movie the track makes little sense. If you see it with a trailer, maybe it makes some more. But after you watch Tenet the meaning explodes. At this level of thought its just small incidental things like “live reverse”, “last time I did the Tenet”, “count it down”, ” done went back in myself”, ” Boeing jet, make it land”, “You don’t know where we stand”. Now many of these are still super confusing, but they’re all the puzzle pieces of the story laid before you, each corresponding to an aspect of the movie, but in ways that you wouldn’t know beforehand, and ultimately give away aspects of the film’s paradoxical plot. For example, Neil “did the Tenet” multiple times as he lives through the final battle scene (spoiler: TEN & TEN) multiple times, there’s a 747 crash that’s ultimately pretty key to the plot, etc. and so forth.. Once you watch the movie you know they’re there and can start to understand them in the song. But more interestingly is the song’s title itself and the “Know the Plan” that is repeated multiple times near the beginning of the track. Try relating these to the puzzle pieces set before you.

My theory’s that “The Plan” tells the plot of Tenet as if from the location “somewhere beyond real time”… The Protagonist “knows the plan” because he’s been through it. Having the faith as Neil tells him, “in the mechanics of the world” his TENET is that he lives according to “what’s happened happened”. He lives according to the plan and in doing so knows what he has to do to make the plan come about.

The whole movie is so cool from the perspective of Scholastic Catholic theology (especially THL202 and THL301 at Wyoming Catholic College), as it echoes in a certain manner much of our view of time, willing, and reality, that if you could step outside of the story for a moment or experience the story again but as the orchestrator of events instead of the participant, you would be as God is to the world. I’m not sure if Nolan in any way intended this parallel, but it’s a very interesting way to think and goes hand in hand with Christopher Nolan’s more general metaphysical musings and themes about what reality is exactly.

There’s a lot more to this movie, which I’ve only seen once so far and while it’s not perfect, Nolan as a creative director is not finished or sagging as some are suggesting. His ability as a writer to surprise and astound with us deeper and deeper orders, thematic structures, and ideas is incredible. I think he hints at deeper ideas and deeper truths than he himself even realizes and his films are going to be studied deeply far into the future. I’d almost go as far as to say he has a chance at becoming this era’s Homer, Virgil, or Dante as the artist who characterizes the modern human condition and mentality. We’ll see… And Travis Scott working with him on this has through the track managed to elevate and from a classicist perspective, I’d say, incredibly deepen, what seems on the surface to be a mere upbeat rap song. He might not understand or intend it either, but the title “The Plan” also has bearing on our reality. For there is a “The Plan” for the world in the intellect of God. (And that ultimate Divine Plan is unaffected by anything we do since we are part of that one self-same plan)

It’s all about the hidden truth that has the power to change the world as Neil says in the film’s closing narration about what “The Plan” accomplished. Similarly its the birth in a stable in Bethlehem that, hidden from the world, ultimately transforms it, from within, and from without, from God and as man. And it was part of THE PLAN.

Merry (nearly) Christmas!