‘The Beast’ Review: A Lynchian Fever Dream

the beast

I just finished watching Bertrand Bonello’s The Beast and my head is still spinning. The picture features impressive performances across the board with Léa Seydoux shining in the lead role. Additionally, the film delivers astute commentary on love, existential dread, and much more. One will get the most mileage out of The Beast by evaluating the film as a work of art and mining its themes and subtext, rather than watching solely for entertainment value.   

The Beast is loosely inspired by the Henry James novella The Beast in the Jungle. The source material deals with themes of fate, love, and destiny. Similar ideas are explored within The Beast but through a complex non-linear narrative. Accordingly, the film will appeal to fans of stylish arthouse fare but may alienate those looking for a breezy escape from the harsh realities of life.  

The Beast takes place in a series of distinct timelines: 1910, 2014, and 2044. We catch up with lead character Gabrielle (Seydoux) in 2044 as she attempts to cleanse the DNA of her past lives from her present. To erase the past from her consciousness, she must revisit her former selves. Throughout her journey, Gabrielle has an unshakable sense of foreboding, a palpable sense of dread she can’t quite identify. As she attempts to sanitize her memories, she must agonizingly relive the past and cope with existential dread. 

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In each respective period, Gabrielle encounters different versions of Louis Lewanski (George MacKay). Via the 1910 timeline, she becomes romantically intertwined with Louis while still married to her husband. In 2014, Louis is an incel with an axe to grind. Where the 20th-century timeline is rife with romance, its 21st-century counterpart is tense and unsettling. Each version of Gabrielle and Louis represents the diversity of the human condition and the different twists and turns our paths take as we journey through existence. 

Léa Seydoux plays Gabrielle (whose name remains the same) in every timeline. She demonstrates a versatility that makes her past lives feel distinctive and separate but brings cohesion to the various versions of the character that ties all the different incarnations together.

What I enjoyed most about the picture is Bonello’s visual presentation. The film is gorgeous with lust cinematography. Plus, the set design is immersive and enraptures the viewer in the distinct time periods.

The 2044 timeline is not all that far off from the present. But the state of the world as it’s depicted just 20 years from now is utterly terrifying. AI rules and humanity is seen as obsolete.

Bonello (along with cowriters Guillaume Bréaud and Benjamin Charbit) provides an admonition regarding the dangers of artificial intelligence in the 2044 timeline, warning that our humanity is what makes us special and unique. Even though we are imperfect, our flaws and past traumas inform our existence and make us who we are. The screenwriters also speak to the dangers of shielding ourselves from past trauma. As uncomfortable as they may be, those painful experiences shape us. And to detach from them is to give up a piece of ourselves, leaving us short of our identity.

Also Read: ‘The Shedding’ Review: A Stunning Portrayal Of The Monstrous Feminine 

The Beast takes a level of inspiration from the cinematic output of David Lynch. Not just the nonlinear timeline, but also the surreal quality of the narrative and the breathtaking visuals. Each of the distinct timelines is hazy and dreamlike, sometimes defying the laws of physics and employing dream logic in place of grounding the proceedings in reality. Bonello pays ample tribute to Lynch’s filmography but avoids aping the iconic director’s style, rather taking a level of influence and then plotting his own course from there.  

All things considered, The Beast is a visually striking piece of artwork likely to delight some and alienate others. Your mileage will vary based on how willing you are to submit yourself to a narrative that feels like a two-and-a-half-hour-long fever dream. If you’re looking for a piece of watchable art, you will find plenty to enjoy. However, if you seek something more tangible with a conventional narrative structure and a breezy runtime, you may not be the target audience for this cinematic offering. 

If you’re keen to check The Beast out, it’s available now on digital.  

  • ‘The Beast'


‘The Beast’ is visually striking and surreal to its core.

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