In Tenet, it's revealed at the end that The Protagonist is moving forward in time and Neil is moving backwards. How does he not wear an oxygen mask throughout the film?

If it's time-travel then doesn't it contradict with the movie's tagline? (Not time travel, inversion).

  • 4
    Neil isn't moving inverted the entire time or he simply couldn't interact with everyone else through the rest of the movie. And being inverted is the only time you need a mask. I think you must have misunderstood something. However, it's also not quite clear what you misunderstood. Can you flesh out the question a little more with which part is specifically unclear and what you did understand?
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Sep 26, 2020 at 21:08
  • 1
    If they're like me, that's: none of it in the slightest.
    – Mazura
    Jan 10, 2021 at 23:56
  • Neil has made a long trip backwards and is now moving forwards (generally) with the Protagonist. He tends to move backwards sometimes, but is generally moving forwards.
    – Möoz
    Aug 17, 2021 at 4:33

3 Answers 3


I read the theory of that Neil is moving backwards throughout the film, but not sure if that is accurate. What I think it really is, that He was not moving backwards throughout the film events as we see him, but he already moved backwards all the way to the point where he saved the protagonist at the opera, then inverted back to the normal timeline, then we see him in the film.

  • How's even possible? If The Protagonist has recruited him in the future then how he can meet him in Mumbai without wearing mask (As its clear that if you want to go in the past, you need to be inverted)? Sep 27, 2020 at 15:32
  • 2
    Neil was going backwords without meeting the protagonist till he saved him in the opera house. Then he inverted back to normal time and then met him in Mumbai.
    – Mocas
    Sep 27, 2020 at 15:46
  • It also may have been the Protagonist that traveled backwards in time to recruit Neil before we see him in Mumbai or the opera
    – Alchemist
    Sep 27, 2020 at 17:40
  • 1
    @RaviManiyar - The Protagonist recruited Neil in the past, not the future.
    – MovieMe
    Dec 15, 2020 at 4:53
  • 1
    MovieMe - agree. Looks like this dialogue has you confused @Möoz. A classic time travel dialogue. TP's future is in the past... means he's gonna go back in time to start everything... including recruiting Neal. If TP must go back in time to start Tenet, how could he recruit Neal in the future?
    – Gomes
    Aug 18, 2021 at 6:12

The theory that deals with Neil moving backwards the whole time make no sense, it's a complete shot in the dark. Any backward moving person will unable to communicate coordinate with a forward movie person.

When one is inverted, they need inverted oxygen to breathe. For the first time The Protagonist inverts we see him wear the mask. In every scene of the movie if we see people with masks, that's our visual cue that they are inverted.

In the end, The Protagonist saw a dead inverted man who took a bullet for him. On seeing the ring on Neil's bag, The Protagonist realizes that Neil is going to go back, invert himself and go back to the location of the bomb. Over there he will get killed.

Neil is walking away to his death. The Protagonist knows this. Neil has also guessed this. Which is why he says "It's the end of a beautiful friendship for him".

  • How would Neil guessed that he is going to die?
    – Mocas
    Dec 15, 2020 at 17:47
  • @mocas - I'm going to guess because The Protagonist has tears in his eyes.
    – MovieMe
    Dec 16, 2020 at 5:31

it's revealed at the end that The Protagonist is moving forward in time and Neil is moving backwards

Not exactly.

Both Neil and the Protagonist (as well as many other characters) invert backwards and forwards several times along the plot.

There are times when a forward moving character meets themselves moving backwards (e.g. the Protagonist fighting his clone in the Freeport vault). There are even times when the "original" forward moving characters see their clones from the future (which have inverted, moved backwards and inverted forwards again) e.g. Kat in the boat seeing herself jump from the yacht (having just killed Sator's clone from the future).

The challenge for the audience is to keep track who is who and from where, and imagine how they see the world from their perspectives.

Neil was hired by the Protagonist in the future, quietly traveled backwards all the time to the Kiev Opera siege time, inverted forwards again and did what shown in the film — inverting backwards/forwards again and again as required. When moving forwards he does not need to wear oxygen mask.

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