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At the opera in Tenet, when Neil saves the protagonist, he shot an inverted bullet. Before you say that he himself was inverted, I would say think again.

The protagonist sees him leaving running down the stairs in a normal movement, if he was inverted, he would be running down backwards, which in his normal time means he is arriving at the scene to shoot the bullet.

If he was actually inverted, then this means in his normal time he was arriving at the seen running up the stairs backwards, which doesn't make sense.

I lean toward that it is a mistake in the movie, just to allow the protagonist to see the red ribbon on his back pack for the final scene, but not 100% sure.

  • Neil could have worked in reverse to make himself appear normal. Someone who has a solid understanding of the mechanics of Inversion could in theory, at least in the important moments, run backwards down the stairs, and then backwards up the stairs, so that when the Protagonist sees him, he appears to be moving normally, and then saves him with the inverted bullet. – Carson Dec 21 '20 at 20:17
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    Why all the hassle? What for? Why bother covering the inversion of himself if his bullet going to be observed inverted. Also, it is extremely difficult to move backwards where when played in reverse would look normal, specially running up the stairs, if you try to do that the movement would look very weird. – Mocas Dec 22 '20 at 13:24
  • Maybe he fired the bullet at an earlier time, then unfired the bullet at the right moment? As far as all of the hassle, that was the first time the Protagonist saw inversion. It made it much easier to believe in later on. Instead of trying to convince him of some crazy idea, he was having a bizarre event explained. Neil could have done prep work on the opera in the inverted world, since they have the benefit of future knowledge before the events begin. – Carson Dec 22 '20 at 15:29
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    Who says that Neil was inverted there? The bullet obviously was, but you don't need to be inverted yourself to use an inverted bullet (the Protagonist learnt inversion shooting inverted bullets). Neil could be just inverted back to normal. – Greendrake Dec 23 '20 at 4:25
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    But why and how does he know that an inverted bullet is in the stage stair/step, and going in with an empty gun? when the protagonist shot the inverted bullet at the lab, the female scientist already knew there are inverted ones in the wall, that's why she asked him to pull the trigger. – Mocas Jan 2 at 15:23
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Yes, we can conclude that the bullet was inverted from the reverse effect it has before/after(?!) impacting the wall. Were Neil inverted no more explanation would be required, but he appears to be moving normally; a viable course of events is that, after (in his un-inverted perspective) Neil leaves the opera, he then removes the magazine from his pistol and unloads the inverted bullet from it (the casing, powder, and slug of which were sucked into the ejection port and barrel respectively after he shot the SWAT officer). That inverted bullet then continues moving forward in our timeline (backwards from its perspective) before reverse-entering the "blue" side of a turnstile, concurrent to its un-inverted counterpart entering the "red" side. Its un-inverted counterpart (the same bullet, ontologically) would have been moving forward in time since its conventional manufacture.

As to why Neil would go to the trouble of using inverted ammunition, hard explanations are scarcer. Perhaps it's because they leave no evidence behind? That they're lighter to carry around? I'd guess the real reason exists in the viewers reality: it was another opportunity in the narrative to show inverted objects in action.

Source on the bullet being inverted/disappearing hole (from the script, page 6):

BLAM! With EXPLOSIVE FORCE THE BULLET HOLE DISAPPEARS – A
NICK HAS APPEARED IN THE PROTAGONIST’S UNIFORM – he SPINS –
the SWAT is SHOT THROUGH THE CHEST AND DROPS... revealing a
FIGURE, also in a gas mask and tactical gear...
  • Not leaving evidence is a good reason. You might have "unlimited ammunition" or exactly the amount you'll end up needing (as long as you remember to unload it and get all of the bullets back to the turnstile). It also might be easier to travel or go certain places with an unloaded gun, particularly if the rounds are an illegal variety. – Tahlor Jan 21 at 16:50

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