The Radio Times logo

Tenet – who is the Protagonist, and what is his real name?

The main character in Christopher Nolan's long-awaited film is known by a rather unusual moniker.

Warner bros
Published: Wednesday, 26th August 2020 at 4:05 pm

It's likely that film fans making their return to the big screen for Christopher Nolan's mind-bending espionage thriller Tenet will leave the cinema with a host of questions: not just what Tenet means, but what exactly is time inversion? And what on earth is a temporal pincer movement?


Well, one of the more basic questions that could also leave viewers scratching their heads relates to the name of the main character, who in the credits is referred to simply as the Protagonist.

Read on for everything you need to know about the character - and a warning that major spoilers for Tenet will be included.

Who is the Protagonist?

Well, as that title would suggest, the Protagonist is the character at the centre of Tenet - and, as it turns out towards the end of the film, the man responsible for putting together the Tenet operation in the first place.

We first join him as a CIA Agent carrying out an undercover operation during a siege on a Kiev opera house, before he is enlisted into a new operation that revolves around a secret organisation going by the name "Tenet".

Throughout the whole film we never see him mentioned by name - but on a couple of occasions we do actually see him referred to as the Protagonist.

Tenet filming
Director Christopher Nolan with John David Washington on the set of Tenet (Warner Bros)

Towards the start of the film, he is referred to by arms dealer Priya (Dimple Kapadia) as a “fresh-faced protagonist” while much later on in proceedings, when he tells her “I’m the protagonist of this operation” she disagrees and claims that he is only a Protagonist rather than the Protagonist.

The character, however, is insistent - he is the Protagonist, and the most important person in the operation to stop Andrei Sator. As the film concludes it is quite clear that he was correct - he was leading the operation, and a future version of himself had been responsible for recruiting the past version of himself in the first place.

Confused? You're not alone! (If you were bewildered by the film's convoluted climax, here's the Tenet ending explained.)

What is the Protagonist's real name?

It's a question worth asking - but unfortunately it's not one with a readily available answer. No name is listed for the character in any of the promotional material for the film, nor is he ever addressed using a name in the entirety of the film's two and a half hour run time.

This doesn't mean he doesn't have a name of course - just that Christopher Nolan didn't feel it essential for us to know what he was born as.


He's played, however, by played by BlacKkKlansman star (and Denzel's son) John David Washington.

Tenet is released in UK cinemas from Wednesday 26th August – find something to watch now with our TV Guide

Sponsored content