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The Beast

Unveiling the Enigmatic: Bertrand Bonello’s The Beast

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“To die, to sleep
No moreand by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. ‘Tis a consummation”

– Shakespeare, Hamlet


In today’s digital age, it is often said that artificial intelligence will take over the world in ways that we cannot fathom. Although AI may not always be perfect, it does not mean that humanity is completely out of the woods. French film director and screenwriter Bertrand Bonello’s 2023 project, The Beast (La Bête), gives the audience a look into the power that AI can have over regulating human emotions. The plot of this film might bear resemblance to that of The Giver, the 2014 adaptation of Lois Lowry’s 1993 young adult dystopian novel of the same title.

Bonello’s film combines three genres into one: science fiction, romance, and drama. The Beast draws partial inspiration from Henry James’ 1903 novel, The Beast in the Jungle, adopting a similar concept of an unknown, eerie creature or entity lurking in the darkness. Perhaps AI can be considered a beast or a creature that has unknown consequences if used under dangerous circumstances. The same can be said about the power of human emotions that cannot be tamed. The film is set in the year 2044, when humans have the capacity to “delete” their emotional experiences.

The Beast 2What is most interesting about the project is that Bonello explores the idea of being able to medically eliminate emotional pain from past lives. A young woman named Gabrielle (Léa Seydoux) participates in this program called “purification,” which uses science to get rid of emotions by changing her DNA. It is a risky medical procedure wherein she explores the trauma of the past lives she has experienced over the centuries. Another issue to consider is that Gabrielle falls in love with a man named Louis (George MacKay) over several lifetimes.

The young woman is grappling with the decision between choosing to feel everything or nothing at all. Gabrielle has the fear of no longer being able to experience the feelings she is currently able to feel. She could experience the freedom of not having any emotions, but at what cost? Could this “purification” process potentially alter her life or even result in death? If not her death, but someone else’s?

Making such a big decision at a heavy price and unknown consequence is a beast in itself. This film plot also reminds me of an episode of a 2020 horror Netflix show called The Haunting of Bly Manor, which was produced by American screenwriter Mike Flanagan and also inspired by the works of Henry James. One of the characters states, “To truly love another person is to accept the work of loving them is worth the pain of losing them.” This quote is definitely relevant in terms of whether or not Gabrielle decides to fully accept the pain that comes with loving Louis over the several lifetimes she spent with him.

Some say that pain is the root of all emotion, and this may be true in Gabrielle’s situation. How she decides to deal with her emotions is the ultimate factor of what happens in her future and possibly even the fates of those around her. It is a frightening concept to think about how suppressing one’s negative emotions or reliving past lives can cause potential catastrophe.

To truly understand Gabrielle and Louis’ journey, one must watch The Beast to discover their ultimate fate. Will they be doomed to repeat the past? Bonello’s film explores the loss of human connection through modern technology in the near future. It is profound to think about, given that loss of everyday human interaction can be seen through the unhealthy dependence of social media. That is one of the many examples that I can think of when it comes to AI or technology taking over what makes us human.

The Beast screens through Thursday, April 25th.
Monday, Apr 22 – 5pm
Tuesday, Apr 23 – 2pm
Wednesday, Apr 24 – 2pm, 5pm
Thursday, Apr 25 – 2pm
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