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Live, Die, Repeat: A TIFF Review of ‘The Beast’

September 12, 2023Ben MK

The concept of reincarnation is one that some people subscribe to while others scoff at. But no matter what your beliefs on the metaphysical are, it's hard to deny the intriguing possibilities behind the idea of past lives. Whether it's reuniting with a loved one from generations ago or being able to retain the experience of several lifetimes, the notion that death is not the final destination is something that has been explored in films like Dead Again and Cloud Atlas. And in The Beast, director Bertrand Bonello brings his contribution to that growing list, in this tale about one couple's many interconnected lives.

The time and place is 2044 Paris, and artificial intelligence has become the world's dominant force, leading to a 67% human unemployment rate that has left people like Gabrielle Monnier (Léa Seydoux) relegated to working dull and dissatisfying jobs. However, when Gabrielle agrees to undergo a DNA cleansing procedure to free herself of the traumatic memories from her previous lives in order to make her more employable, she ends up embarking on a perilous journey into the past. It's a voyage backwards in time that will have her reliving her encounters with Louis Lewansky (George MacKay), a stranger from her present whom she happened to have met back in 1910, during the Great Flood of Paris, and in 2013 Los Angeles. But with each of those meetings ending in very different yet also very similar ways, what does it mean for Gabrielle and Louis in 2044? And how is she meant to interpret the foreboding sense of dread that something terrible and unstoppable is coming to obliterate her?

The cinematic equivalent of a haiku, Bonello's eighth feature is a polarizing movie that evokes shades of David Lynch's Mulholland Drive cross-pollinated with the déjà vu narrative structure of Groundhog Day. Unfortunately, though, the result is simply too pretentious for its own good. And while there's no disputing The Beast's thematic and audiovisual poetry, this is ultimately one poem that will leave most audiences confounded.

The Beast screens under the Special Presentations programme at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. Its runtime is 2 hrs. 25 min.

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