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‘The Beast’: sublime sci-fi — Play It Again, Tim

Lea Seydoux and George MacKay star in “The Beast.” (Carole Bethuel)
Written by Tim Miller

I mean, really, why don’t people just have A.I. go out and eat pizza for them?

That’s what I ask my students when the topic of artificial intelligence comes up. If we’re going to let A.I. write for us, think for us, why not let it live for us?

French director Bertrand Bonello’s sublime sci-fi drama “The Beast” (146 minutes, in theaters) addresses A.I.’s threat to humanity and related issues. Scripted by Bonello and two other writers, it’s “freely adapted” on the Henry James novella “The Beast in the Jungle.”

Lea Seydoux and George MacKay star in “The Beast.” (Carole Bethuel)

Lea Seydoux and George MacKay star in “The Beast.” (Carole Bethuel)

“The Beast” showcases a hypnotic performance by Lea Seydoux (“Blue Is the Warmest Color”) – or perhaps I should say performances, since she plays three versions of the same person in three different time periods. Seydoux has a certain quality – an ability to project suppressed or subtle emotions, perhaps – that allows her to make even the most seemingly mundane scene gripping. She is remarkable here.

The film begins in 2044, a time when A.I. essentially controls society. In order to survive in this world, humans must rid themselves of extreme emotions, which are considered insurmountable obstacles to leading successful lives. Seydoux’s Gabrielle (Seydoux) reluctantly undergoes a procedure in which she is sent back into her past lives (in 1910 and 2014), through which she experiences extreme emotions. By re-experiencing them, the A.I. thinking goes, she should be able to rid herself of those emotions to then become a more productive person in 2044.

The film skips back and forth to these three periods, with Gabrielle living different lives in each and having close encounters with three variations of Lewis (George MacKay of “1917”), a potential romantic partner in each.

There’s a strong sense of foreboding, with every word and movement seemingly heavy with meaning, throughout the film – which not only is justified in each time period but leads to a brilliant twist to serve as an exclamation point at the end.

Meanwhile, we’re left to wonder: If we could get rid of emotional pain, would we? And what would be the cost?

“The Beast” can be chilling, tragic, even horrific, as it explores these questions. But it’s also quite beautiful, in its way, as it considers the fear of feeling, the fear of loving, and what it means to be human. **** (out of four)

** Click here for  Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **

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Tim Miller

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is co-president of the Boston Society of Film Critics and a Tomatometer-approved critic. He teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.

About the author

Tim Miller

Tim Miller, a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics, was the Cape Cod Times film critic for nearly 36 years. A Detroit native (and hardcore Tigers fan), he’s been obsessed with movies since skipping school in 1962 to see “Lawrence of Arabia” with his parents when he was 7. Miller earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and his master’s from Suffolk University, where he taught film and journalism for 10 years. He continues to teach film at Curry College and Cape Cod Community College. He is a juror each year for the short-film competition of the Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival, has moderated several panel discussions at the Woods Hole Film Festival and frequently is heard as a guest on Cape & Islands NPR station WCAI. His work appeared as a chapter in the book “John Sayles: Interviews.” His favorite movie is Cameron Crowe's “Almost Famous” – because it makes him feel good to be alive.

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