Almereyda’s Strange Nikola Tesla

Pie in Your Face?

DATELINE: Not Your Standard Tesla Biog

If Michael Almereyda makes the movie, it will be unconventional. It’s been 20 years since he and Ethan Hawke did Hamlet, and now they are teamed to take on Tesla who is even more morose and downbeat. What’s bizarre is that this biopic of Tesla is actually comedic.

Where else can you have a pie in the face moment between Edison and Tesla? Well, they use ice cream cones. Tesla on roller skates? Yes, that too.

If there is a point of utter amusement, it is Kyle MacLachlan as Edison. The real wizard of Menlo stole all his best ideas, and the actor playing him steals every scene with relish and pizzazz. Yes, you ought to call this film Edison. 

One fascinating and unusual technique is to use black and white 19thcentury photos in front of which Tesla walks (in Hawke’s prolonged stupor). Also outrageous is the blatant cruelty of Edison in killing dogs, horses, elephants, or people, with electricity to prove a point. It is appalling sociopathic behavior.

Most of the film covers the years that Tesla and Edison were reasonably young in the 19thcentury, though both actors seem like middle-aged versions, even in youth.

The film is narrated by J. Pierpont Morgan’s daughter, Anne (Eve Hewson), who is smitten with Tesla and knows her influence over her father will bode well for investment.  She often tells tales that never happened, like Edison and Tesla meeting at the 1893 World’s Fair for apology over pie. Edison wants a partnership and is proud of his motion picture invention (a conceit of Almereyda likely).

Other amusing scenes include Tesla and Edison vying for the attention of Sarah Bernhardt (unlikely as Tesla was likely gay), and the experiments in Colorado take on the appearance of Dr. Frankenstein in his laboratory. A brief meeting with the founding Swami of Hinduism is shown, but not of their ties to other famous believers in spiritualism.

The final straw for J.P. Morgan was Tesla’s belief he was receiving vibrations from Mars (or the undead, not noted in film). Of all the bizarre elements, the finish of Ethan Hawke singing “Everyone Wants to Rule the World,” is both delicious and hilarious.