Christopher Nolan is known for crafting complex, mind-bending blockbusters that are as challenging as they are entertaining. But writing a complex central female character has never been Nolan’s forte. The same is true of the filmmaker’s latest movie Tenet, where Elizabeth Debicki’s character of Kat has been accused by some of being reduced to the role of a damsel in distress. In an interview, Debicki defended her character against such claims.
“I found [Kat] to be very complex. Some people have said things to me about how she’s captive or that there’s a kind of victim situation. And I don’t deny it because what I loved, in a way, was that it was really drawn into her in the beginning and we do find somebody who’s become victim to the circumstances of her relationship with her husband. But what I also found intriguing and what I found to be really there, written into the character, was someone who had sort of become victim or almost prison to her own thinking about herself, what she was capable of and what she could or couldn’t do.”
In Tenet, Kat is in a loveless marriage with the villain of the story, the Russian oligarch Sator, played with extravagant menace by Kenneth Branagh. Debicki’s character starts out very much at the mercy of her husband, but as the actress goes on to point out, later in the film Kat undergoes a kind of metamorphosis for the better that action blockbusters rarely allow female leads to embody:
“Then, she does go on this enormous, psychological, often very high-octane, traumatizing, at times, experience that does change her significantly. It changes her in the sense that she becomes aware that she does have agency over herself and over her own ability to survive something. She has this resilience to her, and I love that that was presented to me through this role and to the audience, I hope. In this genre, what we see her go through and what we see her do is not always a given.”
At the end of the day, Christopher Nolan’s movies are always plot-based rather than character-based, and the complaint of one-note characterization is one that can be applied to the filmmaker’s male characters as well as female characters. Clearly, Elizabeth Debicki feels that Tenet allowed her to stretch her wings as an actor and play a kind of character that interested her.
Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, Tenet features an ensemble cast of John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branaugh, Dimple Kapadia, Martin Donovan, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Himesh Patel, Clémence Poésy, Denzil Smith, and Michael Caine.
The film tells the story of an unnamed CIA agent who is tasked with a mission to save the world from the machinations of a Russian oligarch whose plans threaten all of reality. Aiding the CIA agent is a coterie of international spies and a strange new piece of technology that can invert time. Tenet is now playing in theaters overseas and in select U.S. cities. This news originated at The Hollywood Reporter.