TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2023 REVIEW! A sci-fi fantasy film like Bertrand Bonello’s The Beast (La Béte) greatly benefits from the beautiful face of an actress like Léa Seydoux. She allows the viewer to become emotionally connected and invested in discovering what is haunting her character, Gabrielle, over the span of a century. A dystopian tale told over A.I.-induced hypnosis to recall her past lives from 1904 to 2014, this dizzying non-linear story would be more cohesive if just one of those years were the primary focus.
Gabrielle lives in the year 2044, where artificial intelligence controls humanity and suppresses their emotions. In this futuristic world, human emotions threaten the peace A.I. has created. An unknown global catastrophe, probably climate change related, has occurred that has humans living in a world where they are a shadow of the former glories from just a few decades earlier. The population is minuscule, and the landscape is minimalistic and naturalistic. It recalls The Time Machine (1960), where humans hundreds of centuries into the future are simple-minded livestock waiting for the next day. The A.I. entities are using past life regressions to ferret out the emotional trigger that makes Gabrielle cling to that trauma, and she becomes the .07% who fail to cleanse their DNA of it.
“The key connection to Gabrielle’s past is her love for Louis…”
The key connection to Gabrielle’s past is her love for Louis (George MacKay), her brave and protective French love in 1904 but a dangerous stalker incel in Los Angeles in 2014. The character is more interesting as the stalker reincarnation because his insanity is funny and scary, and the actor perfectly juxtaposes his outrageous behavior and attitude with little effort. Gabrielle’s life ends in the same watery grave in both eras, but Louis is at fault for her death in one of them. When they meet up in 2044, they both feel a deep connection, but neither understands what it means. However, it appears that Gabrielle is the one who is more affected by the trauma of one, or perhaps both, of her deaths because Louis was there. The beast of The Beast refers to is a metaphor for Gabrielle’s paranoid, foreboding feeling of impending doom, which is the lingering trauma of her death along with and at the hands of Louis.
Screenwriters Bonello, Guillaume Bréaud, and Benjamin Charbit analyze how love survives three reincarnations and how people can be interconnected on an emotionally visceral molecular memory level, which A.I. can manipulate to suppress and control humans. Seydoux is bedazzling as her early 20th-century high-society French dollmaker and a model in L.A. in her second life. She’s believable in both lives as her beauty, charisma, and intelligence span both lives and shines. The camera loves her face as she is speaking into the camera, answering questions from an unseen entity, revealing all the wariness, pain, and dread her DNA is burdening her with currently.
The Beast is a bold, creative, and heady dystopian film that clocks in way too long at 145 minutes. There were walkouts at my screening due to its massive length. Even still, I would watch this again to get a better appreciation for the scale of this beautiful-looking film and the futuristic aesthetics of the world only 20 years from now.
The Beast screened at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.
"…Seydoux is bedazzling..."