Quick review: 4 Stars! A brilliantly artistic and nuanced portrayal of one of the most intriguing periods in our nation’s history. The precipice of a new world standard, the differing world views, and the dynamic relationships that shaped the modern world is fascinating to me. And I’ve never seen a depiction that made Westinghouse out as anything other than a money hungry tycoon. It was illuminating (I’m not sorry) and lovely. I highly recommend!
Ok, longer review: If you are unfamiliar with the way history plays out, Westinghouse wins, kinda.
The cast is so fantastically brilliant. James Hoult, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Micheal Shannon, as Tesla, Edison, and Westinghouse respectively, are as intense as their characters are known to be. All three demand that these historical figures, often painted as one note orchestras (Edison- arrogant, Tesla- aloof and unrealistic, Westinghouse- greedy), be seen as the complex human beings they were.
Hoult is particularly good at invoking empathy on Tesla’s behalf. Let me own right here, I’m a bit of a Tesla fan girl. I cannot tell you what he invented– cause so much stuff, and I don’t think in terms of physics, but the vision he had for humanity and his refusal to compromise makes my INTJ self squee a bit. Anyway, we want so badly for this earnest, brilliant young man to succeed, but he takes people too much at their word and is ripped off again and again.
And the women, so often ignored in the annals of history, were just fantastic. Tuppence Middleton plays a resigned Mary Edison, doing her best to keep her family moving forward despite their financial uncertainty and father’s well documented absenteeism. She is truly moving in her portrayal of a woman doing her best to keep going, even as she knows she’s dying. Her passing is gut wrenching, and if you don’t feel sorry for at least Edison’s burden of regret, then you might be a robot and should have that checked out.
Katherine Waterston as the driven, enterprising Marguerite Westinghouse is such a joy to watch. Marguerite is portrayed as intelligent, witty, and enterprising. The support, guidance, and at times, strong arming she gives her husband paints a picture of a benevolent Lady Macbeth, a true partner to her husband’s endeavors. The more Katherine does, the more I like her. I hope to see her continue to expand in range and depth.
The final moments of the movie depict the parallel motions of modernity: the beauty of creation and the horror of destruction. And then mirror it in the simultaneous breaks in morality of both Edison and Westinghouse; leaving Tesla to stand alone as the rigid and unyielding bastion of eschewing profit to provide the world with free energy.
The moral, if there is one beyond everyone should make beautiful things, is that we never know for sure what the choices we make, especially when we are on a new horizon, will have the effects we hope for. We can only make the choices that are true to our principles and hope for the best.
Edison marvels that those seated around him will one day forget that there ever was a world without electric lighting and power. It made me wonder what will my children forget they ever lived without. I knew a world without cell phones as a child, and the way we carried on each day without immediate contact with everyone we knew seems ridiculous now.
This movie made me ponder my own values and the ways I might betray them to get what I want. It made me wonder at the possibility threshold that the Chicago World’s Fair occupied for both the good and the evil of humanity. And it made me see Edison as a grieving husband, Westinghouse a visionary willing to take the risks others eschewed, and Tesla as I always have- a man in need of saving from his own mentality.
Make time to see this one in the theaters. It’s worth it.
Until next time, enjoy the show.