Line Edit: “Tenet”

A line-by-line edit of a scene from the script.

Screenshot by the author; © 2020 by Warner Bros.

Original Text

INT. OFFICE, LABORATORY - CONTINUOUS
Barbara hands the Protagonist a cup of tea.
BARBARA
No small talk, nothing that might reveal who we are, or what we do.
PROTAGONIST
I thought I was here to find out what we do.
BARBARA
You’re not here for ‘what’, you’re here for ‘how’. ‘What’ is your department. And not my business.
PROTAGONIST
Well, to do what I do, I need some idea of the threat we face.
Barbara considers the Protagonist. Sips her tea.BARBARA
As I understand it, we’re trying to prevent World War Three.
PROTAGONIST
Nuclear holocaust?
BARBARA
No. Something worse.
INT. SHOOTING RANGE - MOMENTS LATER
Barbara hands the Protagonist a semi-automatic. He reflexively checks the chamber and magazine - EMPTY.
BARBARA
Aim it and pull the trigger.
The Protagonist SHRUGS, lifts the empty pistol, sights a target 25m away with several holes in it...He squeezes the trigger - BAM! - a shot. He is CONFUSED...BARBARA (CONT’D)
Check the magazine.
The Protagonist checks the clip – THERE IS A ROUND IN IT.PROTAGONIST
How?
Barbara pulls on PROTECTIVE GLOVES and removes the round from the clip, placing it next to an identical one on a table.BARBARA
One of these bullets is, like us, travelling forwards through time. The other one’s going backwards. Can you tell which is which?
The Protagonist shakes his head. Barbara reaches forward –BARBARA (CONT’D)
How about now? –
One of the rounds FLIES UP INTO HER HAND, FALLING IN REVERSE. The Protagonist is taken aback. Barbara holds the round towards him so he can inspect it –BARBARA (CONT’D)
It’s inverted – its entropy runs backwards. So, to our eyes, its movement is reversed. We think it’s a type of inverse radiation, triggered by nuclear fission.
PROTAGONIST
You didn’t make it?
BARBARA
We don’t know how. Yet.
PROTAGONIST
So where’d it come from?
BARBARA
Someone’s manufacturing them in the future. They’re streaming back at us.
Barbara places the round on the table, in front of a CAMERA.BARBARA (CONT’D)
Try it.
He puts on a glove - moves his hand over it, nothing.BARBARA (CONT’D)
You have to have dropped it.
The Protagonist reaches out again - it LEAPS UP INTO HIS HAND.PROTAGONIST
How can it move before I touch it?
She cues up the recording of what he just did -BARBARA
From your point of view you caught it, but from the bullet’s point of view...
She plays it BACKWARDS -BARBARA (CONT’D)
...you dropped it.
ON THE SCREEN: the round FALLS from his hand.PROTAGONIST
But cause has to come before
effect.
BARBARA
No. That’s just how we see time.
She PULLS the round towards herself using one finger - the round follows her finger as if MAGNETIZED...PROTAGONIST
What about free will?
BARBARA
That bullet wouldn’t have moved if you hadn’t put your hand there. Either way we run the tape, you made it happen.
She LAUNCHES it up into her other hand -
BARBARA (CONT’D)
Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.
Barbara PLAYS with the round in increasingly IMPROBABLE, BEAUTIFUL MOVEMENTS... The round SHOOTS AWAY FROM HER - the Protagonist CATCHES IT...PROTAGONIST
Instinct. Got it.
Barbara smiles, swaps him the round for the pistol. She then places a TRAY COVERED IN SHELL CASINGS beside him.The Protagonist aims at the target - a shell casing LEAPS into the gun - he FIRES, and a bullet hole near the bullseye VANISHES -PROTAGONIST (CONT’D)
Why does it feel so strange?
BARBARA
You’re not shooting the bullet, you’re catching it.
PROTAGONIST
Whoa.
The Protagonist examines the target - no bullet holes.PROTAGONIST (CONT’D)
I’ve seen this type of ammunition before.
BARBARA
In the field?
PROTAGONIST
I was almost hit.
BARBARA
Then you are exceedingly lucky...
The Protagonist turns to her...BARBARA (CONT’D)
An inverted bullet passing through your body would be devastating. The inverse radiation would spread through your body. Like polonium poisoning. Not pretty.
The Protagonist examines the rounds...PROTAGONIST
These look like today’s.
BARBARA
They may have been made today, then inverted years from now.
PROTAGONIST
Where did you get them?
BARBARA
They came with the wall. I was assigned it, like all the material I’m studying here.
PROTAGONIST
Do you have an analysis of the metals?
BARBARA
Sure. Why?
PROTAGONIST
The mixture of alloys can tell me where they might have been made. Look, I know you said that ‘what’ is my business -
BARBARA
Let’s not go off-topic.
PROTAGONIST
I’m not seeing Armageddon here.
Barbara takes the round from him, and beckons him to follow -

Line Edit

Scene 1

INT. OFFICE, LABORATORY - CONTINUOUS
Barbara hands the Protagonist a cup of tea.
BARBARANo small talk, nothing that might reveal who we are, or what we do.
PROTAGONISTI thought I was here to find out what we do.
BARBARAYou’re not here for ‘what’, you’re here for ‘how’.
What is your department.And not my business.
PROTAGONISTWell, to do what I do, I need some idea of the threat we face.
Barbara considers the protagonist.Sips her tea.
BARBARAAs I understand it, we’re trying to prevent World War Three.
PROTAGONIST
Nuclear holocaust?
BARBARA
No. Something worse.

Scene 2

INT. SHOOTING RANGE - MOMENTS LATER
Barbara hands the protagonist a semi-automatic.
He reflexively checks the chamber and magazine - EMPTY.
BARBARAAim it and pull the trigger.The protagonist shrugs, lifts the empty pistol, sights a target 25m away with several holes in it...
He squeezes the trigger: BAM! A shot.
He is confused.
BARBARA (CONT’D)
Check the magazine.The protagonist checks the clip: there is a round in it.
PROTAGONISTHow?Barbara pulls on protective gloves and removes the bullet from the magazine, placing it next to an identical one on a table.
BARBARAOne of these bullets is, like us, travelling forwards through time.
The other one’s going backwards.
Can you tell which is which?The protagonist shakes his head.Barbara reaches forward.
BARBARAHow about now?One of the bullets flies up into her hand, falling in reverse.
The protagonist is taken aback.
Barbara holds the bullet toward him so he can inspect it.
BARBARAIt’s inverted; its entropy runs backwards.So, to our eyes, its movement is reversed.
We think it’s a type of inverse radiation, triggered by nuclear fission.
PROTAGONISTYou didn’t make it?BARBARAWe don’t know how.Yet.
PROTAGONISTSo where’d it come from?BARBARASomeone’s manufacturing them in the future.They’re streaming back at us.
Barbara places the bullet on the table, in front of a camera.
BARBARATry it.He puts on a glove and moves his hand over it, nothing.
He puts on a glove and moves his hand over it, nothing.
BARBARAYou have to have dropped it.The protagonist reaches out again, and it leaps up into his hand.
PROTAGONISTHow can it move before I touch it?She cues up the recording of what he just did.
BARBARAFrom your point of view you caught it, but from the bullet’s point of view...
She plays it backwards.
BARBARA (CONT’D)...you dropped it.ON THE SCREEN: the bullet falls from his hand.
PROTAGONIST
But cause has to come before effect.
BARBARA
No. That’s just how we see time.
She pulls the bullet toward herself using one finger.The bullet follows her finger as if magnetized.PROTAGONIST
What about free will?
BARBARA
That bullet wouldn’t have moved if you hadn’t put your hand there. Either way we run the tape, you made it happen.
She pulls the bullet toward herself using one finger.
The bullet follows her finger as if magnetized.She launches it up into her other hand.
BARBARADon’t try to understand it. Feel it.
Barbara plays with the bullet in increasingly improbable, beautiful movements.
The bullet shoots away from her.
The protagonist catches it.
PROTAGONISTInstinct. Got it.
Barbara smiles, swaps him the bullet for the pistol.
She then places a tray covered in shell casings beside him.
The protagonist aims at the target.
A casing leaps into the gun.He fires, and a bullet hole near the bullseye vanishes.
PROTAGONIST
Why does it feel so strange?
BARBARA
You’re not shooting the bullet, you’re catching it.
PROTAGONISTWhoa.The protagonist examines the target: no bullet holes.
PROTAGONISTI’ve seen this type of ammunition before.BARBARAIn the field?
PROTAGONISTI was almost hit.
BARBARA
Then you are exceedingly lucky.
The protagonist turns to her.BARBARA
An inverted bullet passing through your body would be devastating. The inverse radiation would spread through your body. Like polonium poisoning. Not pretty.
The protagonist examines the bullets.
PROTAGONISTThese look like today’s.
BARBARAThey may have been made today, then inverted years from now.
PROTAGONIST
Where did you get them?
BARBARA
They came with the wall. I was assigned it, like all the material I’m studying here.
PROTAGONISTDo you have an analysis of the metals?BARBARASure. Why?PROTAGONISTThe mixture of alloys can tell me where they might have been made.
Look, I know you said that what is my business -BARBARA
Let’s not go off-topic.
PROTAGONIST
I’m not seeing Armageddon here.
Barbara takes the bullet from him, and beckons him to follow.

Edited Text

INT. LABORATORY - DAY (CONTINUOUS)Barbara hands the protagonist a cup of tea.BARBARA
No small talk - nothing that might reveal who we are or what we do.
PROTAGONIST
Isn’t that why I’m here?
BARBARA
You’re not here for what; you’re here for how. What is your department and not my business.
PROTAGONIST
Well, to do what I do, I need to know what I’m doing. So what’s the threat?
Barbara sips her tea.BARBARA
Come with me.
INT. SHOOTING RANGE – DAY (MOMENTS LATER)Barbara hands the protagonist a semi-automatic pistol. He checks the chamber and magazine: empty.BARBARA
Aim it and pull the trigger.
The protagonist aims at a slab of concrete riddled with bullet holes twenty-five meters away.He fires: BAM!BARBARA
Check the magazine.
He checks the magazine and discovers a bullet inside.PROTAGONIST
How?
Barbara pulls on protective gloves and removes the bullet from the magazine, placing the bullet onto a table, next to an identical bullet.BARBARA
One of these bullets is, like us, traveling forwards through time; the other is traveling backwards. Can you tell which is which?
The protagonist shakes his head. Barbara holds her hand palm-down over the bullets.BARBARA
How about now?
One of the bullets flies into her hand, falling in reverse. She holds out the bullet so the protagonist can inspect it.BARBARA
It’s inverted; its entropy runs backwards. So, to us, its movement is reversed. We think it’s inverse radiation triggered by nuclear fission.
PROTAGONIST
You didn’t make it?
BARBARA
We don’t know how - yet.
PROTAGONIST
So where’d it come from?
BARBARA
Someone’s manufacturing them in the future.
Barbara places the inverted bullet onto the table, in front of a camera feeding to a monitor. She hands the protagonist a glove.BARBARA
Try it.
The protagonist puts on the glove and holds his hand over the bullet: nothing.BARBARA
You have to have dropped it.
The protagonist tries again, and the bullet leaps into his hand.PROTAGONIST
How can it move before I touch it?
Barbara cues playback of what he just did.BARBARA
From your point of view, you caught it; but from the bullet’s point of view...
She reverses the playback.BARBARA (CONT’D)
...you dropped it.
She waves a finger and pulls the bullet toward her. The bullet follows her finger as if magnetized.BARBARA
Don’t try to understand it; feel it.
She plays with the bullet in impossible, beautiful movements. The bullet flies away from her, and the protagonist catches it.Barbara smiles and swaps him the bullet for the pistol. She then places a tray of casings onto the table.The protagonist aims at the concrete slab. A casing leaps into the gun. He fires, and a hole near the middle of the slab vanishes.He looks at Barbara.PROTAGONIST
I’m not shooting it; I’m catching it.
BARBARA
Exactly.
PROTAGONIST
Whoa.
He fires five more inverted bullets at the wall.PROTAGONIST
I’ve seen this type of ammunition before.
BARBARA
Where?
PROTAGONIST
In the field; I was almost hit.
He removes the magazine from the pistol and examines the bullets.PROTAGONIST
Were these made today?
BARBARA
They were.
PROTAGONIST
And then inverted in the future?
BARBARA
That’s right.
PROTAGONIST
Do you have an analysis of the metals?
BARBARA
Sure. Why?
PROTAGONIST
The alloys may tell us where they were manufactured. Look, I know you said what is my business, but I’m still not understanding how or why this is a threat.
Barbara takes the magazine from him and beckons him to follow.

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