THE STORY – In the near future where emotions have become a threat, Gabrielle finally decides to purify her DNA in a machine that will plunge her into her past lives and rid her of all strong feelings. She then meets Louis and feels a powerful connection, as if she had always known him. The story unfolds over three distinct periods: 1910, 2014 and 2044.
THE CAST – Léa Seydoux, George MacKay, Guslagie Malanda & Dasha Nekrasova
THE TEAM – Bertrand Bonello (Director/Writer), Guillaume Bréaud & Benjamin Charbit (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 145 Minutes
The puzzling nature of technology is one that allows for intriguing explorations to occur. It’s a world filled with unique interactions and infinite possibilities, often dictating exact guidance in how we conduct our lives and sometimes seizing control in subtle ways that the mind has not even realized it has relinquished control over. The reconciliation of how to tolerate such a powerful influence on society with cherished personal independence has been a never-ending conflict that is ripe for profound exploration. “The Beast” exists in such a realm and looks to juxtapose this concept against themes of evolving human relationships. Unfortunately, what is provided is a primarily tedious examination.
The setting is a not-too-distant future in which artificial intelligence is the ruling force in the world. This technological being sees human emotion, a dangerous and unpredictable element, as a significant threat to its ruling status. As such, it mandates that individuals be subjected to DNA scrubs, a procedure that allows them to experience traumatic events from the past and purge the intense feelings associated with these experiences. Gabrielle (Léa Seydoux) undergoes this process, taking a trip through the several past lives she has lived. Whether it be the aristocratic French community in the early 20th century or a more modern setting in Los Angeles, she is always accompanied by Louis (George MacKay), a man who evokes complicated feelings of love that she will soon find has grave consequences.
One can greatly appreciate the thematic commentary that director/writer Bertrand Bonello attempts to create here. The theories on the cyclical nature of relationships as viewed through this lens of time are fascinating on the surface. The notion of such strong connectivity finding its way back to a new starting point to reveal novel dimensions with such connections is a compelling argument. Unfortunately, the film mightily struggles with binding such ideas in a cohesive form. Bonello and his co-writers assemble this narrative in a disjointed manner, constantly bouncing between the time periods at what feels like arbitrary points. It is difficult for the film to establish any sort of momentum that propels the storytelling forward. The courtship in 1910 is charming but so arduous to watch unfold. There’s a foreboding aura in Los Angeles with Louis inhabiting an incel with violent attitudes towards women, but the looming threat does not have an intriguing follow-through. Despite trying desperately to evoke a pensive analysis, the laborious monotony is the overriding mood.
For her part, Seydoux does deserve a lot of credit for carrying so much of the film. She has always been a compelling performer, able to find all dimensions within a character and bring vibrancy to the screen. It’s no different here, as even when one’s attention may be strained by the meandering material, her presence is enough to be pulled back in. She navigates the different sections with a grace that makes for an empathetic portrayal, no matter what frantic state of mind she is enduring. MacKay has also shown himself to be an equally capable performer, though his role is much less effective. The earnest romance is sweet but mundane, and he can’t quite find any engrossing aspect to this disturbed stalker. This doesn’t take away from his overall talent, but his efforts don’t make that much of an impression. In truth, a very brief turn from Guslagie Malanda, previously seen giving a fantastic performance in “Saint Omer,” makes a great impact in the subtle yet mysterious aura she provides that is immediately alluring.
The ambition at the heart of “The Beast” is still something that can be admired. The conflicts themselves even start to become a bit more engaging in the finale, when it actually seems like the tension is finally building up to established stakes. However, at that point, it’s too late to salvage such a sluggish and tiresome enterprise. The motifs displayed may have inherent value, but the execution is so stale and lifeless. The actors do their best, but only Seydoux comes close to elevating this work. There is obviously much to say on the subjects at the core of this film, but this particular presentation leaves a lot to be desired.