Tesla – What If the World Is One Gigantic Cat

An attempt to represent the scientist's course of life in a new way in Tesla (2020) does nothing but entangles the viewer even more.

by Violetta Efimova


Nikola Tesla's been of huge interest for cinematographers in recent times. Personified by David Bowie in Nolan's famous The Prestige (2006), in The Current War (2017) by Nicholas Hoult and in some episodes of Doctor Who (2005-...) series by Gorman Visnich, the scholar has been returned to the screens by Ethan Hawke in a new biographical drama directed by Michael Almereyda. However, the word "biographical" gives rise to many doubts after watching the film.

Michael Almereyda became famous as a representative of independent cinema, so it was predictable of him to show the life of one of the greatest (and the most mysterious) scientists of the 20th century in such a freewheeling way. But this is completely not what the viewer anticipates to see in the movie about the real historical figure.
The role of the narrator in the film is given to Anne Morgan (Eve Hewson), the American financier J.P. Morgan' daughter and Tesla's close friend who seems to have a romantic interest in him. Though the heroine sometimes fades in comparison with the background of the confrontation between Thomas Edison (Kyle MacLachlan) and Tesla, she might even be a more contradictory figure than Tesla himself.
The girl simultaneously appears in two incompatible worlds: in the 19th century alongside Nikola Tesla, witnessing everything that is happening, and in the 21st century alongside MacBook with the searchlight, telling Tesla's story to the viewers, although still wearing a dress of the Victorian era. She tells the viewers about Tesla's life, his childhood and how he became obsessed with the idea of electricity when, stroking a cat, he noticed particles of light on his hand. It all looks very unorthodox, but in any case is divergent for the most of ordinary viewers.

Be that as it may, striking elements don't end on this blatant concoction. Bewildering since the very beginning, the soundtrack of the film is manifestly present-day and sometimes even sounds like nightclub music. Some episodes make it especially clear to envisage – the dancing-party with sparkling multi-colored lights around the mansion or the last scene with Tesla performing a song into the microphone à la Freddie Mercury.

Another curious thing in the set of bewilderments is the backgrounds. When Tesla arrives in Colorado to continue working on his coil, the scenery around him is completely artificial. Vast fields under the stormy sky, as if displayed on a big screen behind Tesla, mentally send the viewer back to the storyteller with MacBook.
To give credit to the director, the main plot line is told smoothly and properly: Tesla's strained relationships with Edison give a pure sense of rivalry between the almost emotionless protagonist and the resolute antagonist the only wish of whom is to retain his power in the electrical world precluding Tesla's success. Though some new elements were intertwined into the old story, it doesn't bother a lot: the eccentric scientist himself harmonizes with them.
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