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In Tenet, Neil and the Protagonist had this conversation when they were discussing how to infiltrate Sanjay Singh's house in Mumbai:

Neil: Would you take a child hostage?
Protagonist: [Shakes head]
Neil: A woman?
Protagonist: If I had to. I'm not looking to make much noise here.

Since Neil did not pursue the matter any further, I was wondering why Neil asked about it in the first place. When they infiltrated Sanjay Singh's house, there was no hostage-taking involved.

Near the film's end, we learn that Neil had actually known the Protagonist for years prior to their meeting in Mumbai. (Neil: "Years ago for me. Years from now for you.") Because of that, I thought that Neil asking the question is not about infiltrating Sanjay Singh's house, but because he wants to know more about the Protagonist's character. I was thinking that it might be about how the Protagonist will treat (or have treated) Kat (a woman) and Max (a child), but the idea of the Protagonist or Tenet possibly taking them hostages wasn't mentioned or hinted at in the film.

Why did Neil ask the Protagonist if he would take a child or a woman hostage? Does this have significance other than brainstorming ideas on how to infiltrate Sanjay Singh's house?

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    There is this theory that Max is Neil (false name). The hostage of the woman and man might then refer to his mother and himself when they were with Sator. It's a wild theory, but a fun one. – MovieMe Dec 13 '20 at 8:31
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I don't think it's either about developing strategy on how to infiltrate Sanjay Singh's house or how will protagonist treat Kat or Max, as we know later on that Neil knows the protagonist from his past.

I think it's about building the rapport when you meet first time. It also maybe to exhibit the extent Neil is willing to go through to accomplish the mission hence gaining confidence of the protagonist.

The question is also irrelevant because they both probably know from their reconnaissance that there is only Sanjay Singh, his wife and their bodyguards in the apartment.

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@Rahul is right that it's about building rapport, but I think it's also about maintaining cover. At this point, Neil is hiding the fact that he knows the future, so he needs to pretend that the assault on Priya's compound needs to be cunningly planned. In reality, he already knows what approach to use because of a broader "temporal pincer" movement that the audience (and protagonist) do not yet know about.

As for why he asked that particular question? We're not told, but I suppose it might be a question the protagonist had asked Neil at some point in his (the protagonist's) future and his (Neil's) past, and that Neil is re-using for his own amusement.

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