Dogs and cats are featured prominently in Michael Almereyda’s unconventional biopic of “Tesla,” starring Ethan Hawke as the brilliant inventor Nikola Tesla.
Cats are used as a metaphor of nature and its unpredictable power, while dogs, unfortunately, are used as lab rats.
Actress Eve Hewson, as Anne Morgan, daughter of millionaire J. Pierpont Morgan, narrates the film, often poised anachronistically over her laptop as she googles Tesla.
In the film, she and Tesla have a flirtation that never quite becomes a romance. She asks him, “Is nature a gigantic cat, and, if so, who strokes its back?” Tesla is seen petting various cats, evidence both of his kind nature and his enormous curiosity about how the world works.
He also meets legendary actress Sandra Bernhardt (Rebecca Dayan), who is also drawn to the enigmatic inventor. He compares his work with electricity to trying to tame a wild cat, adding, “I’ve become nothing but a mass of bloody scratches.”
“Oh, you like being scratched,” she replies seductively.
“If necessary,” he replies.
Sadly, it wasn’t metaphorical when dogs were used in electricity experiments. Tesla and his former mentor Thomas Edison (here played by Kyle MacLachlan) were each a proponent of rival forms of electricity: Alternating Current and Direct Current. To prove that Tesla’s invention, Alternating Current, was dangerous, Edison electrocuted several animals, including dogs, cats and (although not shown in the film) even an elephant.
In the film, a poor, chained-up pup is linked up to AC while a crowd awaits its execution. The film mercifully cuts away from the dog to the horrified faces of the onlookers after the switch is thrown.
The story of the rivalry of Tesla and Edison was also shown in the recent film “The Current Wars” and a 2010 episode of “Drunk History.”
“Tesla” is now available to rent on Vudu or Amazon.
It premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize.