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Home Culture ‘The beast’: Henry James’ universe turns towards a future around artificial intelligence and ‘incels’ | Culture

‘The beast’: Henry James’ universe turns towards a future around artificial intelligence and ‘incels’ | Culture

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That two French directors of a similar generation—Patric Chiha, 49, and Bertrand Bonello, 55—have adapted in the same year, last 2023, a story by Henry James that had never before been brought to film as a unit. gives a lot to think about. That both films —The beast in the jungleby Chiha, and The Beast (The Beast), by Bonello, have been released in Spain with an interval of less than three weeks, to the delight of admirers of the elevated, profound and intricate prose of the American author. And this despite the fact that neither of them ends up being a good film, even though they are brave bets and with certain interesting notes, and even fewer cinematographic works at the level of James’s literary work.

The beast in the jungle, a story published by James in 1903, is a loving reflection that drifts towards the emotional labyrinth and metaphysical disquisition. A wonder in 50 pages that, in a much more conceptual than specific way, comes to tell the story of encounters through the ages of a man and a woman in which love fits, but which never materializes. A text that is almost impossible to adapt to film, so it is not surprising that no one had dared before, except another Frenchman, this legendary one, François Truffaut, who selected some of its aspects for his film. The green room (1978), although combining them with two other stories by James about sentimental (dis)unions: The altar of the dead y friends of friends.

George MacKay and Léa Seydoux in an image from ‘The Beast’.The Aries Films

The fact that Chiha, in its entirety, and Bonello, in part, have set these encounters in discos and nightclubs throughout the times of man and woman is already a reward (for industrial and artistic espionage). In any case, Bonello turns the film genre towards science fiction through a dystopia set in three times: the beginning of the 20th century, when the story was published, the year 2014 and 2044 after a civil war and a tragedy that began in 2025. The successive encounters of the story are in the film, as well as the metaphysical element, that beast in the jungle of the title, crouching to act – “what could be that thing that had to happen, in the end and in the end, if not precisely the that had already started to happen?”, in the words of James. But the film, as was also the case with Chiha’s, does not have the elegant and profound cinematographic prose of James’ text.

Bonello points in the dialogue to the essence of the writer, “an ominous feeling that something strange, unusual and fatal will happen sooner or later”, although changing the point of view from the male to the female lead. However, it ends up being lost with a reflection on artificial intelligence with some interesting notes (that 67% unemployment rate caused by the evolution of too many jobs, and the Machiavellian phrase of the ideologue of the future, who dictates that in the future “it will not be intelligent people are necessary”), and ends up drifting towards a kind of David Lynch of balance, too inspired by his imagery, his colors, his environments and his music, although without his capacity for restlessness.

There remains, at least, a stretch in which, with clear reminiscences of The pier (1962), by Chris Marker, tells part of the story based on still frames, with Paris converted into a new Venice flooded by water, and powerful images in the style of the photographic pioneers of the early 20th century. And also an interesting update of the essence of James’ story about involuntary celibacy, the so-called incel, men who say they are incapable of having romantic or sexual relationships with women, even though that would be their desire. But, like much of the film, it gets lost in a structure that is more incomprehensible than complex and in a thematic clutter that is more pretentious than fascinating.

The beast

Address: Bertrand Bonello.

Interpreters: Léa Seydoux, George MacKay, Dasha Nekrasova, Julia Faure.

Gender: Science fiction. France, 2023.

Duration: 146 minutes.

Premiere: March 27th.

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