Do we need another account of Croatian inventor Nikola Tesla’s life? Once obscure to all but the most tech-obsessed, he’s now a well-known figure. We just saw Nicholas Hoult portray him in last year’s The Current War, an account of the rivalry between early electricity impresarios George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison. Heck, he’s got a car named after him. What can a new cinematic take give us that 20 minutes on Wikipedia couldn’t?
Plenty, thanks to arthouse filmmaker Michael Almereyda (Nadja, Hamlet), who takes a postmodern approach to the historical facts of Tesla’s life, filtering dry detail through experimental sensibilities to give us what Werner Herzog might call the “ecstatic truth” of Tesla’s life. To be clear, the historical Tesla never sang Everybody Wants to Rule the World by Tears for Fears. Here, as played by Ethan Hawke, he does, and the film is better for it.
Almereyda is trying not just to give us an account of Tesla’s life and work, but an impression of how he informs our contemporary world—and if the facts need to be zhuzhed to that end, well, like I said, there’s always Wikipedia.