It is said that it takes 8 seconds to grab someone’s attention, and this has been beautifully done in this most intriguing biopic of the world’s most perspicacious yet highly overlooked Siberian-American inventor Nikola Tesla. The movie starts with the “cat analogy”, comparing lightning in the sky to the sparks felt when Tesla strokes his cat’s back.
“Is Nature a gigantic cat? And if so, who strokes its back?”
In that 1 minute, we know that it is not a conventional biopic, narrating someone’s story from cradle to grave but a musical sequence of the life events of the most ingenious inventor. It commences with Tesla working for Edison in Edison Machine Works, but not quite able to grow in his presence, as Tesla quotes
“Nothing grows in the shadow of the oak”
Edison disregarded the idea of the proposed alternating current, calling it “a waste of time, impractical and deadly” and denying Tesla any funds for his motor.
“A man who says he doesn’t care about money can find himself tormented by the lack of it.”
Tesla then struggles for funds and resources to design his system advancing in the movie. He first gets funding from Westinghouse, after which he was able to showcase his system, to harness alternating current, to the world, and ultimately Pierpont Morgan for his invention in communication. Edison, on the other hand, was determined to prove alternating current as deadly, when he proposed that it should be used in giving capital punishment to criminals. The lethality of AC is clearly seen when Kemmler, a murderer, was electrocuted for killing his wife.
Although, this never stopped Tesla from introducing to the world the power of the alternating current, as we all have witnessed now.
The movie merges past, present, and future instead of going in a sequence of time (something we have already witnessed in the amazing biopic of Marie Curie, Radioactive), which makes us realize that we have now, a new way of narrating a biopic. The movie is narrated by a third person, Anne Morgan, daughter of Pierpont Morgan who hopelessly falls in love with Tesla. It gives the elements of irony, with google searches in Mac and when she describes the scenes which could have happened but never really happened.
The main purport that the movie was trying to convey and successfully does, is that Tesla neither yearned for money nor fame as opposed to other characters in his life, precisely Edison, Westinghouse, Morgan who wanted to make their brand and accumulate a large fortune and Sarah Barnhart, a celebrated artist who desired fame. This is vividly conveyed where Anne mentions the number of results we receive when we give Tesla a google search as opposed to others.
The most inspiring of the scenes was Tesla working in Colorado in a small hut, synchronizing electricity in the sky and the earth with currents surging through his magnifying transmitter, aka a tesla coil which was stated as “experiments that have never been duplicated or fully understood”. It distinctly depicts the extent of Tesla’s brilliance.
“It was like getting the ocean to sit for a portrait.”
The emotions manifested in the movie, cannot stop us from empathizing with Tesla as he sings a karaoke-bar rendition of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody wants to rule the world” that explained his exasperation in a way the man himself never could, making it the finest scene in the movie.
“My only fear is the very real possibility that I may set the sky on fire. It is as if I am trying to tame a wild cat and I have become nothing but a mass of bloody scratches.”
Ethan Hawke has done a commendable job with his Siberian accent and we could surely realize that nobody could have justified the character more. Michael Almereyda has beautifully shown us the memoirs of Nikola Tesla’s life capturing his brilliance, ideas, and beliefs so that we can celebrate him and his works and the impact that he has left in the world.
“He was always looking ahead, projecting himself into the future. Maybe he promised more than he could deliver, maybe he overreached or maybe the world that we are living in is a dream that Tesla dreamed first.”
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