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Dan Webster reviews "The Beast"

Film still of Léa Seydoux as Gabrielle in The Beast (2023).
The Beast, Les Films du Bélier/My New Picture/Janus Films/Sideshow, 2023.
Film still of Léa Seydoux as Gabrielle in The Beast (2023).


Everywhere you turn, you hear about both the wonder, and the dangers, of artificial intelligence.

AI, as it’s referred to, is either “a magnificent creation of next-generation developments and progressions” as one writer calls it or, as the late Stephen Hawking described it, the “worst event in the history of our civilization.” Hawking even went on to say that he feared “that AI may replace humans altogether.”

Hawking’s doomsday scenario is at the heart of The Beast, a film directed and co-written by the French filmmaker Bertrand Bonello. Keying on two characters, and playing with chronology over any number of decades, Bonello’s film doesn’t present a scenario in which AI replaces humans but, instead, seeks to improve them.

How it does this, though, is what worries Gabrielle (played by Lea Seydoux), a young woman stuck in a boring job. She wants a more interesting position, but to get it she must submit to an interview with what, presumably, is an AI interviewer. And why only presumably? Because that’s one concern with what Bonello has put on the screen: He doesn’t provide a whole lot of explanation.

But let’s just go with it. The presumed AI interviewer, which is merely a voice Gabrielle hears over a loudspeaker, tells her that what’s holding her back is her emotions. Furthermore, it tells her that a procedure exists that can help her… a procedure that involves sticking a four-inch-long needle in her ear.

If that isn’t frightening enough, the prospect of what is supposed to result certainly concerns Gabrielle: the loss of all those troubling emotions. That loss may make her more like the AI itself, but at what cost?

For whatever reason, Gabrielle does agree to proceed and pretty soon she is ensconced in a kind of mud bath, or maybe a tar bath—the liquid she’s immersed in being that dark and viscous. Then here comes that needle.

What happens next places Bonello’s film firmly in the realm of science fiction/fantasy. For Gabrielle leaves the year 2014 and begins to time travel, first going back to 1910 when she finds herself the wife of a guy who owns and runs a company that—symbol alert—makes dolls.

While attending a party and wandering from room to room idly asking other guests whether they’ve seen her husband (played by Martin Scali) ], she meets Louis (played by George Mackay), who while making small talk asks her if she remembers him.

And here is where I’m going to do what Bonello does, and that is reveal something out of order. It involves a moment just after Gabrielle’s first interview with the AI that she by chance meets the real Louis, which reveals why in her fantasy—because it is a fantasy, right?—he poses his question.

It isn’t the only time they meet up either. When Gabrielle visits a club with an assigned “doll” companion (played by Guslagie Malanda), Louis is there. When in another procedure-produced scenario, she is thrown forward to the year 2044, he’s there as well—only this time he’s cast as one of those "incel" guys who hates women and broadcasts his rage on social media.

Bad things happen to Gabrielle in the fantasy sequences, some caused by history (the 1910 sequence is set around a famous flood that hit Paris that year) and some caused by Louis (beware gun-toting misogynists). But what occurs to her in her 2014 real life may be even worse. Hard to say.

What’s easier to say is that Bonello seems to be influenced both by the visual style of Stanley Kubrick and the themes important to David Lynch. One of the scenes, in which Gabrielle consults with an online fortune-teller, could have come straight out of a typical Lynch waking-dream nightmare.

The difference, though, is that at his best Lynch is a master of creating a world that is as chilling as it is psychologically astute. Bonello is so intent on capturing that same kind of Lynchian cool, but at the same time seemingly trying to make social statements—just who is the beast here, AI or young rageful virgin men?—that he ends up in achieving neither one.

For Spokane Public Radio, I’m Dan Webster.


Movies 101 host Dan Webster is a senior film critic for Spokane Public Radio and a blogger for