How TENET Is Like A Zen Koan

Meditation by gunfire


I went into TENET not expecting to understand anything, and this was an entirely satisfying experience. As the Robert Pattinson character explains about the grandfather paradox, you’re not supposed to understand, it’s a paradox.

This I think is the intended meaning of the film. Lean into the confusion, because therein lies understanding.

A slight and wholly inadequate digression into BuddhismA Zen koan is a statement like "two hands clap and there is a sound, what is the sound of one hand?" This is understood as a meditation on meaninglessness, but it's more than that. It is, indeed, above conventional understanding.From the Buddhist perspective, dualistic reality itself is meaningless. Reality is the illusion, and the koan is reality.I have never practiced Zen but in vipassana meditation we try to tame the 'monkey mind' with something simpler. By just focusing on breath. When you first sit in meditation it's like entering a stream, a stream of your own consciousness. The voice in your head is constantly naming, judging, questioning. Your breath is like a rope in the water, you just hold onto it until the stream dies down. If you can hold focus then your internal stream of words slows down and, for very brief moments, completely disappears. Waters run clear. In those moments you can experience non-duality.In those moments you're technically thinking about nothing but also everything. You can feel a world where good and bad coexist, where zero and infinity are equal, where nothing is or is not but is both states at once. It is an experience of reality as it is (and is not).For me, this perception lasts maybe a few seconds. Then language claws everything back down to this dimension, naming, classifying, destroying meaning as much as it creates. The point is that there is a level of understanding which requires obliterating what our comfortable level of understanding is. You cannot do it with language. The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. I think that Nolan is trying to do it with film.

Not your mama’s…



Indrajit (Indi) Samarajiva is a Sri Lankan writer. Follow me at, or just email me at