In 2024, moviegoers can expect the highly anticipated release of “The Beast,” a dystopian half-drama, half-satire film directed by Bertrand Bonnello. As a reviewer, I had the opportunity to attend a screening at the esteemed 2023 New York Film Festival. While Bonnello’s latest work is timely and thought-provoking, its central metaphor may feel heavy-handed to some. Set across three different time periods, the film explores the themes of doomed relationships, looming environmental catastrophe, and the impact of unchecked technologies.
The Beast takes viewers on a journey through time, starting in 1910. Léa Seydoux plays a French aristocrat who becomes involved with a charming Englishman (George MacKay). Together, they navigate a disintegrating Paris on the eve of a tragic weather event. Fast-forward to 2014, and Seydoux portrays a struggling actress in Los Angeles. Her friendship with a fellow artist puts her in the crosshairs of a potentially dangerous incel (also played by MacKay). Finally, in the near-future of 2044, artificial intelligence reigns supreme, and humans are urged to undergo a DNA-purifying medical procedure. Seydoux’s character, Gabrielle, agrees, only to find herself transported through time, reliving her past lives.
The Beast draws inspiration from various sources, but its execution feels disappointingly unoriginal. The Russian doll timeline reminiscent of the Wachowskis’ “Cloud Atlas” and the computer-run dystopia reminiscent of Jean-Luc Godard’s “Alphaville” are prevalent throughout the film. Some moments, like a devastating scene towards the end, seem straight out of Twin Peaks: The Return. Even MacKay’s dialogue in the 2014 segment borrows intentionally from Elliot Rodger’s manifestos, the Isla Vista shooter. While Bonnello has taken risks with tone in previous works, The Beast lacks the freshness and creativity seen in his earlier films.
Despite its shortcomings, The Beast does have redeeming qualities. The concept of psychic time travel is intriguing and adds depth to the storytelling. Bonnello uses this device to connect the dots and give meaning to repeated dialogues that culminate in a powerful climax. Seydoux delivers exceptional performances in various time periods, seamlessly transitioning from a turn-of-the-century Parisian aristocrat to a modern-day actress. MacKay, particularly as the incel character, captivates audiences with his portrayal of hidden savagery beneath a veil of awkwardness. Additionally, the brief appearance of Dasha Nekrasova adds a touch of mid-2010s L.A. charm to the film.
Summarizing the essence of The Beast proves challenging, as it explores a range of themes and emotions. However, a line uttered by Seydoux towards the end of the film, “We had it all and we fucked it up,” encapsulates the overarching sentiment. The movie delves into the doomed grandiosity of the past, the broken promises of the new millennium, and the encroaching dominance of technology. Regrettably, The Beast fails to leave a lasting emotional impact, leaving viewers yearning for something more profound before surrendering to the inevitable dominance of machines.