The Beast, a film about Artificial intelligence and Emotions, at TIFF 2023


Picture Courtesy TIFF

By Mansi M


Beast is a film about artificial intelligence where it reigns supreme and human emotions have become a threat. When Artificial Intelligence has solved all of humanity’s problems by taking over, an intelligent woman has to make a choice between finding an interesting job or keeping her emotions. And possibly the love of her dreams! To get rid of her feelings, she has to go back into her past lives to cleanse the old traumas contaminating her unconscious. And she comes face to face with a love story that crosses lifetimes and eras, which obviously disturbs her choice. To get rid of her emotions, she (Gabrielle) must purify her DNA by going back into her past lives. There, she reunites with Louis, her great love. But she is overcome by fear, a premonition that catastrophe is on the way.  

 “First, I wanted to paint a portrait of a woman and deal head-on with love and melodrama,” says Bertrand Bonello, director of the film. “Then to confront it with genre cinema since to me, romance and genre seem to respond to each other. My desire was to interweave the intimate and the spectacular, classicism and modernity, the known and the unknown, the visible and the invisible. The film I made is also the portrait of a woman that almost turns into a documentary about an actress.”

The Beast, based on Henry James’ famous novella, The Beast in the Jungle, goes beyond the novel and creates a journey over three distinct periods: 1910, 2014 and 2044.  Each of these, with its own dynamic, combine to create a single love story, crisscrossed by a relationship to memory, all set against a backdrop of permanent catastrophe.

Why these three years, 1910, 2014 and 2044? “1910 is a little later than the year in which the story takes place,” says Bonello. “I chose it because of the historic flooding in Paris that year. Besides, it’s still a bright period, a few years before the collapse of its world in World War I. We shot this part in 35 mm. Not out of nostalgia, but to give it a softer, more sensual feel, something lacking in the film’s other timelines.”

“If 2014 is a little earlier than today, it’s because the character of Louis is inspired by a real-life serial killer. The texts in the videos really are from 2014. Louis is a pure product of this America before #metoo at least began to raise awareness of many men’s predatory behavior. Los Angeles, in the film, is virtually reduced to a terrifying house, a nightclub and a computer screen. A monster city represented as a mental box with all its neuroses, madness and desires. There’s a directing challenge in this minimalism, which is to convey a terrifying world that eludes us, by creating fear in a character.”

“As for 2044, that’s tomorrow. I wanted the findings of past catastrophes to concern us directly. And that’s more and more the case every day.”

“You could say that in the film, in 1910, feelings are expressed,” says Bonello.  “In 2014, they are repressed. In 2044, they are suppressed. The film embraces a certain code of melodrama, namely the failure of love. In 1910, the two characters fail because Gabrielle won’t give in. She’s afraid to love, and they die for it. She refuses him, and a century later, in 2014, Louis is obsessed by the idea that no woman has ever loved him. It is as if the same character reappears, without realizing it, a hundred years later. He transforms this failure of memory into a desire to kill, because his times and the society of the United States produce this kind of character. But his impulse is really grounded in fear, and that’s what Gabrielle perceives in him. She sees him above all as a lost child.”

The film is a quasi-dystopia, according to Bonello, because he wants the future to be close enough for viewers to imagine it, so they can almost touch and project themselves into it. “The Beast is both simple and complex. It may appear complex in its structure, but the concepts are simple,” he says.  “I also think complexity is a wonderful thing and one that is tending to disappear. At the same time, I’ve never made a film so simple and so direct in its emotions. A film about fear, loneliness, love and the characters’ relationship with love. While Gabrielle is constantly afraid, she also feels that this fear is important to her. Because this beast is simply the fear of loving, of abandoning oneself, of being damaged, of losing one’s footing, of being devastated, a fear that I think we can all relate to. And this fear infuses all eras. The film may span three periods, three worlds and six characters, but it tells a single story.”

The film is 145 minutes long and stars Léa Seydoux and George MacKay.

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