Review of the biographical feature film Tesla

Pros: Interesting approach to biographical cinema; an attempt to show the alienation and timelessness of genius; very good acting by Ethan Hawke and Eve Hewson; costumes and sets Cons: The film is somewhat eclectic; the main events shown in the film are already well known to the audience; a number of assumptions, especially regarding Tesla’s personal life Tesla / “Tesla”

Genre biography, drama
Directed by Michael Almereyda
Starring: Ethan Hawke (Nikola Tesla), Kyle MacLachlan (Thomas Alva Edison), Eve Hewson (Ann Morgan), Jim Gaffigan (George Westinghouse), Hannah Gross (Mina Edison), Ebon Moss-Bachrach (Shigeti), Rebecca Diane (Sarah Bernhardt) and others.
Студии Passage Pictures, BB Film Production, Campbell Grobman Films
Year of release 2020
Site IMDb

However, knowing the previous works of director Michael Almereyda, it is not difficult to guess what this film will be like. Almereyda devoted his entire life to independent cinema, and he wrote the script for the film about Nikola Tesla back in 1980, when he dropped out of Harvard after three years of studying and went to Hollywood. It took 40 years for this picture to become a reality.

The story that is told in Tesla / “Tesla” is in principle well known to those interested in technology. Moreover, most recently it formed the basis of the unlucky film The Current War starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Nicholas Hoult. The Current War, which was scheduled to premiere on December 22, 2017, was postponed due to the sex scandal surrounding Harvey Weinstein, co-owner of The Weinstein Company, which distributed the film. As a result, the film hit the screens only in October 2019, after the bankruptcy of The Weinstein Company and the resale of the rights, received low ratings from the press and failed miserably at the box office. But let’s return to Tesla / “Tesla” by Michael Almereyda.


Yes, the main events of this film again concern the “War of Currents”, the famous confrontation between Nikola Tesla and Thomas Alva Edison, marked by a very dirty struggle between competitors and the mutual hostility of the inventors towards each other, which remained with both for the rest of their lives. But in his work, Almereyda actually wants to show not the known events and facts from Tesla’s biography, but the scientist’s alienation from the whole world, his intertemporal and otherworldly state. Hence the objects that “break through” into the end of the 19th century from the beginning of the 21st, slightly theatrical scenery and openly painted backdrops that separate Tesla from the rest of the people, leaving him alone on the stage.


The narrator of the story of Nikola Tesla in the film is Ann Morgan, the youngest daughter of that same JP Morgan (yes, yes, JPMorgan Chase is him). And although young En most likely knew Tesla, her father nevertheless invested in the inventor, the girl’s love shown by Almereyd is not confirmed by any sources, moreover, En Morgan was most likely more interested in women. This, however, did not stop actress Eve Hewson from playing a very interesting character who goes through different stages of a relationship with a brilliant inventor who repels women.


An Morgan appears in the film as a site-bound but now independent bibliographer who observes Tesla from the 21st century. Therefore, En calmly uses a computer, a projector, Googles Tesla, his competitors and investors on the Internet, etc. All these inventions would not have been possible without Tesla. And in the image of Ann Morgan there are clear features of Katharine Johnson, the only woman, besides her mother, to whom Tesla was probably attached. Some of the lines spoken by Ann Morgan in the film are actually attributed to Catherine Johnson.


Another interesting woman who appears in the film next to Tesla is the legendary actress Sarah Bernhardt. And yes, in this case we can say the same thing as in the paragraph above, Tesla and Bernard definitely knew each other, but there is no confirmation of the connection between them. However, knowing the reputation of Sarah Bernhardt…


Ethan Hawke is one of Michael Almereyda’s most loyal actors. He starred in three of the director’s films, including Almereyda’s most famous work, Hamlet 2000, and another modern Shakespeare adaptation, Cymbeline. The actor is clearly very comfortable in the theatrical settings of the slightly absurd worlds that the director builds. Considering that Hawke has repeatedly declared his love for the stage, this is not surprising. In any case, we liked Ethan Hawke’s Tesla much more than Nicholas Hoult’s Tesla in The Current War. A slightly lost genius, immersed in his thoughts, for whom the world around him only gets in the way.


Tesla / “Tesla” is a very unusual film that not everyone will like. Nikola Tesla and Thomas Alva Edison have a battle on ice cream cups here, Niagara Falls is depicted as a banner with a printed picture, the narration is sometimes interrupted by a slide show with voice-over commentary, and Edison at the most unexpected moment pulls out a smartphone from his jacket pocket. But all this, including Tesla’s final performance of the rock band Tears for Fears’ hit – Everybody Wants To Rule The World, is subordinated to one goal, to show the brilliant inventor as a person who was ahead of his time and lives outside of time. Some may find this approach to biographical drama off-putting, but we found it worthy of attention.


An unusual attempt to show Nikola Tesla as a man out of time

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