The film follows the ascent and fall of Nikola Tesla
It’s a story of David and Goliath for the industrial age.
The young idealist Nikola Tesla arrived in the United States in 1884 in the hope that power mogul Thomas Edison would work with him on a new system for producing and distributing electricity. Tesla’s AC system promises to carry electricity longer than the DC configuration developed by Edison. But Edison dismissed Tesla’s ideas as unworkable and forced Tesla to go into business.
Tesla’s new biopic, directed by Michael Almereyda, follows the so-called War of the Waves between Tesla and Edison. The film will be released on August 21 and will be available on demand via various cables and digital platforms.
Tesla (played by Ethan Hawke) is the hero of the underdog. He lacked Edison’s commercial fame and passion for self-promotion, but he was armed with visionary idea and relentless ambition. To achieve its electrical system, Tesla is battling a double business partner and a smear campaign by Edison (Kyle MacLachlan) to view AC power as dangerous. In a grisly scene, one of Edison’s comrades is killed until the audience kills an AC-powered dog.
Ultimately, the Tesla system won as the world’s latest method of generating and distributing electricity. (Although the movie does not explain in detail, alternating current has the advantage over direct current that it can be easily switched between high and low voltage. This allows high voltage electricity to pass over long lines before being safely converted to low voltage for home use.)
Almereydas Tesla was a humble man who cared more about using his inventions forever than earning money or recognition. Be that as it may, Tesla additionally investigates the less complimenting parts of the creator’s character. His delay and over-thinking made it difficult to maintain relationships. One of Tesla’s most loyal employees is Anne Morgan (Eve Hewson), daughter of J.P. Morgan, the Wall Street titanium who supports Tesla’s work. Anne Morgan is drawn to Tesla’s talent and selflessness and seems to want to marry him. But Tesla got married at his job and then moved to Colorado without Morgan to perform some mysterious and powerful experiments. So began the second act of Tesla’s career, in which he pursued increasingly unusual ideas, held back investors and left him without money (SN: 7/7/56).
Sometimes Morgan breaks the fourth wall to tell Tesla’s story as if he’s thinking it from a modern perspective, armed with a laptop and a projector to display images. The film also invites other unusual narrative elements, such as playing out alternate scenes to figure out what might be. Some of the what-if-ifs scenarios are incredible, like the one where Edison admits he misjudged Tesla and suggested they become a dynamic electrical engineering duo. Some of these scenes are just plain crazy, like when Tesla hit Edison in the face with an ice cream cone during an argument.(“It sure didn’t occur that way,” Morgan said.)
These quirks are disgusting at times, but in general Tesla is very similar in its namesake: introspective, attractive, and strangely attractive.