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In the Tenet movie, Sator is shown to receive gold shipments from the future. He buries a capsule, transmits the coordinates (presumably via a hidden newspaper message or an equivalent), then digs it out and retrieves the inverted gold that was inserted there by future humans. This all sounds reasonable, but then you realize it creates a paradox: since Sator digs out the capsule and retrieves the gold, there must be a moment when the same gold is both in Sators hands and under the ground, from the perspective of the inverted capsule. There is however a solution to this paradox:

  1. Have your henchmen go into inverted time a few days after you've buried the capsule
  2. Have them dig out the capsule
  3. The henchmen then go through an inversion portal, bringing Sator non-inverted gold
  4. The paradox is thus avoided as the gold only has one consistent timeline

But how did this work for the original cache of gold Sator found in Stalsk-12? He didn't have an inversion machine at the time, so he couldn't possibly travel back in time to retrieve the package. In fact, he couldn't retrieve any object sent from the future without creating a paradox, thus making it impossible for the interactions with the future to begin in earnest. How could this be explained?

Bonus question: why was the gold brought to Sator by helicopter inverted, rather than normal, given the only possible mechanism for retrieving it? What would be the point of inverting it one more time before bringing it to the yacht?

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Your impression is correct, it doesn't work.

In the movie, reverse time has its own logic that is explained to some length. Many surprising events are a logic extrapolation of the consequences of time flowing in reverse. But it works only so far. It works long enough to enjoy the movie, but at some point it breaks down.

There are a number of events that couldn't happen the way they do. The reversed car that crashed on the highway and burned, how long will the wreck lie there (or has been lying there in forward time) without anyone calling the police. How did it get there in forward time?

Likewise, digging out things from the future doesn't work. If the gold has been burried in a specific location for Sator to discover at some specific time and place, then the future of the gold after the discovery is to be burried. Possibly the past is to be in the possession of Sator, but that would mean that in forward time Sator burried the reverse gold.

So you are right, sending things from the past is not that easy. It is necessary for the plot, intuitively it is a possiblility that time reversal gives, but if you think of it enough you see that it cannot work.

Now that I think of it, the people from the future could have burried a complete working turnstile. I guess it could be used by forward people to just as well. But in the movie you just see the capsule being dug out.

As I said, if you think about it long enough, the reverse-time logic of Tenet breaks down.

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The caches that Sator retrieves are being inverted by an unknown agent in our future, and are placed in the ground while in the reverse timeflow to be uncovered in the past (our presents)

The first cache is discovered by Sator while he his doing the cleanup of Stalsk-12. The unknown future agent knew Sator would be there to discover the buried and inverted cache. This cache had instructions on how to build the inversion machines, some gold, and probably instructions on how to locate new caches - probably by having Sator specify the location in a message left "for prosperity" so he would know where to find it.

We can see through the movie that objects in opposing time flows can interact - in odd ways.

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  • 1
    But Sator couldn't have removed the original set of gold (or any other object) from it's capsule, as doing so would create a paradox? Sep 16 '20 at 4:34
  • 1
    If removing gold from the first capsule caused a paradox - then removing gold from any other capsule would have done, too. Same for removing the bullets from the wall and then moving them around...
    – HorusKol
    Sep 16 '20 at 5:06
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The paradox of digging up the original inverted capsule can be easily resolved by Sator re-burying the capsule back where he found it. Thus, the path of the inverted capsule into the past would be: the capsule is underground until it comes out of the ground (the reverse of Sator burying the capsule). Finally, it goes back underground when the bulldozer goes in reverse. Of course, Sator wouldn’t be able to use that first stash of gold since he needs to re-bury it. But, now he has the instructions to build a turnstile. So, now he will be able to invert himself, retrieve an inverted capsule, and then uninvert himself and the gold. A helpful diagram of that process is found in the link below.

enter image description here

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  • The diagram is confusing because it doesn't specify that inverted Sator re-buries the gold as observed in forward-time. In inverse time, inverted Sator digs it up and then reverts it to obtain normal gold. Otherwise a fair answer. Jan 15 at 1:00
  • It is a bit confusing. This diagram is the best/only drawing I could find on the internet depicting the path of the inverted gold. The part that is inaccurate is regular Sator digging up the capsule to obtain the gold. It really must be an inverted person digging it up and taking it through a turnstile. What I like about the diagram is that, after the empty capsule is buried, the next thing that happens is both regular gold and inverted gold suddenly come out of the turnstile much like The Protagonist and the inverted Protagonist suddenly coming out of the turnstile at the Oslo Freeport.
    – AJ Cash
    Jan 16 at 2:38
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Regarding your bonus question, I like to picture the scene on the yacht played in reverse. Imagine an inverted henchman dug up the capsule and brought it immediately to the yacht. You see the gold fall out of Sator’s hand since the scene is moving backwards. The capsule gets carried to the helicopter and heads off to the turnstile to be uninverted. Of course, what the movie did not depict was Sator putting everything back into the capsule (forward in time) for his inverted henchman to go bury it (the reverse of him digging it up). You could see Sator doing this since he would know that he has a forward-moving capsule elsewhere. I realize we don’t actually see any inverted people in the scene, but that’s how I could see it happening.

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  • He gives one inverted gold bar to the Protagonist though, thus breaking it's time flow. Jan 16 at 3:56
  • There is an odd way to understand it such that it’s time flow isn’t broken. You can figure it out by thinking of how that inverted gold bar gets to the future (not in the capsule). What you realize then is that in the future, that gold bar was inverted and traveled back through time in an unusual way, passing through The Protagonist’s hands, and never made it into the capsule until the moment when that henchman had tried to steal it. In reverse, he puts it into the capsule, and it goes off to the turnstile. Alternatively, that gold bar was actually a regular bar that came out of the turnstile.
    – AJ Cash
    Jan 16 at 4:36
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Very late to the party, but being able to rewatch Tenet numerous times on HBOMax (with subtitles!) brought me here.

Anyway, I have a different answer to this question that I've not seen before. It requires us to imagine information Nolan didn't actually show us: What if the box that young Sator dug up came equipped with its own mini-turnstile? Instructions are to press a button on the side, and boom! the tray holding the gold bars rotates, a second set of now NON-inverted gold bars comes into view, Stator uses this gold to bootstrap his mission, while the inverted gold bars rotate back into place, and get re-buried to preserve the chain from the future to the present.

We have seen when going through a turnstile both the past inverted-self and the forward-moving-self exist simultaneously (as seen in the proving windows). So in this way Stator leaves the original inverted gold in place to preserve its chain of causation from the future, while simultaneously having regular gold available to him to buy all the necessary components for his first home-built turnstile.

We only see big bulky turnstiles in the movie, because Stator needs those devices large enough to contain people and maybe even bigger objects. You could also imagine that README file from the future was dumbed down to account for only components and technology readily available at the end of the 20th century. In the future, they have the ability to greatly miniaturize their turnstile technology to fit within the time capsule, and besides, this is their smaller model, only needed to be big enough to accommodate the initial gold bar shipment.

What do you think?

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  • Hi Zonker, do you have any sources to back your theory up? Currently this seems to be purely speculation, for which the Stack Exchange network is not the right format. Please take the Tour to acquaint yourself with it. Welcome to M&TV!
    – Joachim
    Jun 29 at 7:16
  • youtube.com/watch?v=UVd3nV78CP0 has some screen caps from the film showing how the same person is apparently in two places at once due to the workings of the turnstile (see 2:44 and 3:40 minute marks). My post is just an extrapolation of what we saw in the film, in order to answer the question posed, how can it be that the "same gold is both in Sators hands and under the ground?"
    – Zonker
    Jun 29 at 13:29
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There is no paradox as far as the rules of the Tenet universe are concerned. The mistake here is the following statement

since Sator digs out the capsule and retrieves the gold, there must be a moment when the same gold is both in Sators hands and under the ground, from the perspective of the inverted capsule

First, look at this from Sator's perspective: when he digs the ground to retrieve the gold, the gold was already present in the ground in his past. But from Gold bar's perspective, Sator buried it in the ground. The past (Sator's future) trajectory of that reversed gold bar goes from hand to hand until Sator buries it in the ground. Try thinking of the journey of the gold bar from its perspective, and it will start making sense that why this is not a paradox.

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  • That's incorrect: let's say you bury the inverted gold on Dec 31st and want Sator to dig it up on January 1st. Sator digs it up and keeps it for a year, at which point the gold's trajectory breaks down completely as its supposed to be put into the ground on December 31st but in actuality its been melted down and used for other purposes. This is completely avoided if you dig it out in reversed mode and then invert the bar, as this way there's one consistent gold timeline. yesterday
  • The tenet universe follows a "block universe" model, a.k.a, "What's happened, happened." If someone from the future inverted gold on Dec 31st and buried it, it is bound to happen. Sator cannot prevent it from happening. For forward people, the inverted gold does not follow the same thermodynamics as normal gold, so it cannot be melted and used for other purposes. In any case, the gold bar will reach the ground on Dec 31st one way or the other. If you dispute this, you will also have to answer what if an inverted person kills his past self. The rule of the tenet universe prevents it. 10 hours ago
  • What you described (inverting ourselves and then retrieve gold) is a mechanism to prevent the "supposed paradox." But what if a random person stumbled on the gold bars. In fact, we see that those current-day scientists are discovering random inverted stuff all over the place. Does this create paradox every time someone stumbles on some random inverted stuff? No. The trajectory of inverted stuff will appear weird to forward people, but from the perspective of inverted stuff (or inverted people), their journey makes perfect sense. 10 hours ago

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