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Until It’s Too Late: Bertrand Bonello on The Beast | Interviews

Until It’s Too Late: Bertrand Bonello on The Beast | Interviews

Other distortions in your cinema are existential, such as your motif of actors seeing themselves reflected in these simulacra of humanity: shop mannequins in “Nocturama,” masks in “House of Tolerance,” inanimate dolls across “Cindy: The Doll Is Mine,” “The Beast,” and “Coma.” 

I know, I do use them a lot… It’s filming a face whose expression you don’t know, which is both mysterious and scary. If you look at a doll’s face or see someone wearing a mask, it’s about what’s behind that. For example, one of my favorite scenes in “The Beast” is when Léa Seydoux is in the salon de thé and [impersonating] the doll; her face just stops moving. For a couple of seconds, you say, “Wow, she’s very beautiful.” And after another five seconds, you say, “She’s f—ing freaky.” I really like this because you do not know what she is thinking. I love this sensation.

And the dialogue in that scene directly addresses the peculiarity of sculpting emotion onto a mold. On some level, we recognize this uncannily “neutral” face, but it lacks emotion and humanity. Gabrielle is haunted by a premonition of catastrophe, and the dolls recur—including in the 2044 section, where a “doll” robot companion is played by Guslagie Malanda—in a way that feels linked to this premonition, as well as to the film’s overriding themes of fear and love.

It really comes from the Henry James novella. This is the argument of Henry James that I took. What’s great about the idea of premonition, of a sign that precedes something, is that you don’t know what the beast is. You don’t see it, and it’s not an actual beast, so you can put a lot of fears into the word “beast,” just as the characters can put a lot of fears into the word “catastrophe.” Something is going to happen. It’s an amazing argument from Henry James, that something can happen and so everyone is in fear, like animals, looking at what’s going to happen. And that makes you very alive. And, of course, the ending is sad because the beast is the fear of love. And when they realize this, it’s too late. But that’s the essence of a melodrama: it’s too late. The idea that we might wait for something to happen until it’s too late is very tragic.

When I was a little lost in my story, I always went back to the novella. Even though it’s short, and even after I took its arguments, everything is in it. Everything. When I was working on the 2014 section, and the fear of love in this period, I went back to the novella: the fear of love, and the beast, what would that be in 2014? And I was thinking about the loneliness of this period. She’s connected to a computer, and he with the iPhone, but there is loneliness. In 2014, the fear of love made me think about incels. But I always came back to the novel, even if I didn’t take much of it. What I took was the argument that something is going to happen. It’s the best argument possible: everything can happen, so everything is possible in the mind of the audience and the characters. 

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