Tenet Ending: What Happened Explained

Tenet hit theaters over the Labor Day weekend in the United States, surpassing $150 million at the worldwide box office, and leaving many moviegoers scratching their heads about what exactly happened both on the screen and off the screen. Much of Christopher Nolan's latest thrill ride leaves itself to be concluded by audiences but it does offer just the right amount of information to fill in all of those blanks. After an unexpected and integral bit of dialogue at the end of the film, the ending of Tenet left some with questions that can use a bit of explaining.

Major spoilers for Tenet follow.

As it turns out, John David Washington’s character, only named The Protagonist, is the man behind the current of everything that happens in the film as he started the Tenet program in the future. Tenet essentially saves the world from "what might have been." This is explained when Robert Pattinson’s Neil reveals that he was recruited by the Protagonist. This happened a long time ago for Pattinson’s character -- but hasn’t happened yet for the Protagonist. At some point, after the movie, the Protagonist will meet Neil for the first time and recruit him to do some time copping, a first meeting for Neil but a planned endeavor for the Protagonist who already met a future version of him.

After Neil is recruited, the Protagonist will send him to locations to save his own life on at least one more occasion.

Not only did Neil rescue the Protagonist at the end of the movie when he took a bullet for him in the bunker, likely knowing full well this was going to happen, but in the opening sequence at the opera it was Neil who rescued the Protagonist from getting shot while he was trying to rescue people in the crowd. This is indicated by a little orange keychain we see on the backpack of the character in the opening scene, the scene where he is already dead, and the final scene where he walks away from the Protagonist.

After the movie ends, the Protagonist and Neil do an unknown amount of saving the world from what might have been, and this culminates in Neil reversing his entropy to the point where it is a first encounter with the Protagonist from the Protagonist’s point of view, but merely another mission for Neil. Neil was instructed to go on this mission by the Protagonist at some point in the future, creating a paradox where Tenet is created both by and because of the Protagonist. Neil having known the Protagonist ahead of their first on screen encounter is indicated by Neil knowing the Protagonist prefers Diet Coke.

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Together, the Protagonist and Neil prevented Sator (Kenneth Branaguh) from using all nine pieces of the algorithm to reverse thee entropy of the entire world. This would have destroyed human life on earth but Sator thought himself a god-like hero for erasing the species which had been destroying the planet.

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