‘The Beast (La Bête)’ Review: An Esoteric Many Lives-Spanning Epic That Frustrates & Fascinates

Kevin Taft reviews The Beast, a curious epic with elements of sci-fi and drama that allow for plenty of emotion, even in its more frustating moments.
User Rating: 8

What to say about Bertrand Bonello’s (Nocturama) new 146-minute epic, The Beast (La Bête), except that it is one wild ride. Well, “ride” might not be the right word, as the film has a soft pace that builds to a heart-wrenching conclusion.

The film is based on the Henry James novella “The Beast in the Jungle,” about a man who doesn’t pursue the woman he loves because he has been foretold tragedy will befall him if he does. Bonello, however, switches the main character to a female and adds three time periods, some sci-fi, and a bit of horror to the mix.

In The Beast (La Bête), our protagonist is Gabrielle Monnier (Léa Seydoux), who meets the man she falls in love with, Louis (George MacKay), in 1910 Paris and then runs into him over a century later in both 2014 and 2044 as different versions of herself. The film moves back and forth between these different periods, showing the similarities and differences between their interactions and Gabrielle’s constant need to know the future – and the fear that results.

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In 1910, Gabrielle is a married society woman in Paris whose husband owns and runs a doll-making factory. At a ball, she meets Louis and develops a liking for him. Afraid of her feelings, she consults a medium who portends tragedy if certain things occur – including falling for a man with traits she illuminates.

In 2014, Gabrielle is a Parisian model house-sitting in a lavish Beverly Hills estate, trying to break into acting. There, she attempts to form relationships with people but finds it difficult. Eventually, she is so desperate for company that she invites a stranger named Louis (also MacKay) into her home. The problem is that Louis has a rage problem aimed explicitly at females he feels have ignored him.

In 2044, Gabrielle has a mundane job monitoring a heating system while AI robots have taken over most of the everyday jobs. Paris is now a dystopian city with bad air quality and empty streets. Unable to cope with the world, she has to decide whether or not to have her mind wiped so that all the traumas in her past lives can be erased so she can move forward in life. While going through various interviews to determine if she’s really prepared to go through with the procedure, she meets Louis again, this version a kind and gentle man who is also deciding whether to have his mind wiped of all trauma.

The issue with the mind wipe is that it will act almost like an anti-depressant, dampening the patient’s mood and making their feelings not as heightened. The decision, then, is whether you want to live a very stable life where love and joy are so tempered they are barely felt.

Bonello and fellow screenwriters Guillaume Bréaud and Benjamin Charbit move these stories in and out of each other, book-ending them by the 2044 sequences. It can take a bit to get used to, and as a result, this film isn’t going to be for those not willing to accept a challenge.

The theme of following your one true love through many lives is the primary exploration here, but it also posits the question of how we can be affected by other people’s absolutes that affect how we move in and out of them.

In all three lives, Gabrielle is told by fortune-tellers (or AI) that falling for a specific man will spell doom. Is that true? Or is it the work of charlatans just in it for some quick cash? But those premonitions and predictions carry throughout Gabrielle’s lives, causing the love she desires to be out of reach.

In essence, that inability to connect to the person she wants (and who wants to in return) is the “beast” of Bonello’s story and the heartbreaking reality of Gabrielle’s lives.

Seydoux is fantastic here, falling into each version of Gabrielle so fully that you see three very different women. Her control over her mannerisms, affectations, and emotions is endlessly compelling, and it’s the main reason the film is enjoyable—even if you aren’t sure you know exactly what the filmmakers are trying to do.

MacKay shows how much he is coming into his own. With amazing turns in films like Pride, 1917, and the current Femme, he exhibits remarkable range, and in The Beast, he proves that threefold. From a distinguished gentleman in the early 20th century to a pleasant man in the future to the disturbed loner on the edge, he never fails to engross.

The tech credits are all exemplary here, making the film all the more fascinating through the cinematography, editing, set design, and musical choices. The only drawbacks are some inconsistent tones and a sprawling, sometimes overlong narrative that might lose some viewers.

While I had to think about this one for a while, it haunted me for days after I watched it. I even had a 24-hour period of consistent Deja-vu, which I attribute to having just watched the film.

The Beast (La Bête) is a fascinating look at how we bring traumas through our lives and how easily other people can affect our future. It might not be for everyone, but for those looking to dive into something curious and exotic, this beast might be one to sidle up to.

The Beast opens in select theaters on April 5, 2024.

Written by
Kevin is a long-time movie buff with a wide variety of tastes and fixations in the film world. He cried the moment Benji appeared onscreen in “Benji,” and it took him about four times to finally watch “The Exorcist” (at age 24) without passing out. “Star Wars: A New Hope” was the movie that changed everything and when his obsession with films and filmmaking began. A screenwriter himself (one long-ago horror script sale to New Line remains on a shelf), his first film "Two Tickets to Paradise" that he co-wrote premiered in June 2022 on Hallmark. He is currently working on another for the iconic brand.

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