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‘THE BEAST’ Movie Review: A sprawling, deeply reflective narrative, marred by a lack of cohesive structure

French director Betrand Bonello’s work in The Beast explores both a dystopian future run by artificial intelligence and the romantic idea of soulmates that transcends across different centuries.

As an adaptation of Henry James’s short story ‘The Beast in the Jungle,’ the aptly named sci-fi drama The Beast follows Gabrielle (Lea Seydoux), a young woman in the year 2024, a time when artificial intelligence has become dominant in the world. Gabrielle seeks a procedure which purifies your DNA by reaching into your past lives and removing any strong emotions, in order to find better work. After meeting Louis (George MacKay), a man who she is instantly drawn to, Gabrielle finds that he has appeared in every one of her lives including 1910 and 2014.

The Beast addresses several overarching themes, with a focus on our overreliance on technology. The idea that one can be cleansed of their emotion, traipsing back throughout the eras in order to rid our souls of the innate suffering, is an unusual yet interesting conceit. It asks us to examine who we are if we were to rid ourselves of our strong, if albeit, wild emotions to become more efficient. In this cinematic theory, the world is cold and as Gabrielle seeks out the same love, over and over again, it demands that we too seek and almost cherish the pain of our lives for that is what makes us human – that is what makes us alive. Lea Seydoux is perhaps the most perfect actress to explore this with an almost steely exterior whilst she tackles the underlying turmoil.

Bonello imbues this overarching exploration with other topics that are certain aspects of contention throughout our modern lives. In 2014, George MacKay plays Louis as an incel, inspired by the real-life murderer Elliot Rodger. Perhaps McKay’s strongest acting work within the movie – a towering and haunting presence that encapsulates a man who believes himself to be wronged by women and life. For large parts of this sequence, Louis films himself speaking about his anger and rage at being unable to secure a girlfriend yet MacKay adds this startling undercurrent of loneliness, the true root of his anguish, in a world that is increasingly getting bleaker. As his paths cross with Gabrielle, a house-sitter-model, trying to make it in Los Angeles, Louis’ frustrations spill over and there are true disastrous consequences for both of them.

Arguably this examination of misogyny stretches back to the 1910s segment where Gabrielle is trapped in a loveless yet upper-class marriage. The hubris of the wealthy elite is almost a reflection of the artificial intelligence of the future – their collection and production of beautiful things with dangerous mass production and a presentation of cold exteriors is all too clear. As Gabrielle and Louis meet, this emotionless life is threatened by their immediate and needing attraction.

Bonello has all the elements – the acting, the themes, the weirdness, and the gorgeous filming – but somehow along the way, it doesn’t gel well at all. This is perhaps largely down to the pacing. There is no build of dread nor of mediation. Instead, it just drags itself through these sequences without fully piecing the pieces together or offering any sense of proper cohesion across the segments.

Despite its flaws, The Beast feels like a film that will reward with repeated viewings, going back to transverse through the characters’ past lives and stories, and its ending is undoubtedly one of the most powerful and impactful in recent memory.

VERDICT:

The Beast releases in cinemas on 31 May, 2024.

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