Tesla Parent Guide
Often jarringly ahistorical, this biopic attempts to tell the story of the life of pioneering inventor Nikola Tesla.
Parent Movie Review
The turn of the last century was a wild time for inventors. Two of the best, Nikola Tesla (Ethan Hawke) and Thomas Edison (Kyle MacLachlan), are locked in competition to provide power to the nation: Tesla with an ingenious alternating current (AC) design, Edison with a better-funded direct current (DC) design. The competition soon turns ugly, with Edison spearheading a smear campaign which insinuates that AC is dangerous, eventually persuading the local government to use it in the execution of a convicted murderer. Tesla, on the other hand, has all the brains in the world but no head for business, and soon finds himself struggling financially.
This is probably the most…unique biopic I’ve ever seen. It is heavily stylized, featuring scenes which the narrator readily admits didn’t happen, characters using modern technology, and a score that is certainly from the 21st century. Whether this works or not is going to vary hugely from person to person.
There are a few things which don’t quite translate for me. Notably, a scene which features Tesla singing, er, mumbling Tears for Fears’ classic “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” which is, in all fairness, a great song. Unfortunately, it feels wildly out of place and it isn’t really justified in the movie. Honestly, if they’d done that over the credits, I wouldn’t have mentioned it, but after this little music video there are still around ten minutes of movie left. It’s just a bit disorienting.
More effective is the occasional glimpse of modern technology – most of which Tesla predicted or tried to develop himself nearly a hundred years before any of it eventually appeared. For me, those peeks into the future further reinforce Tesla’s unusual brilliance and the unfortunate effects that a capricious capital market had on his ingenuity. If the man had a better understanding of the market, and more specifically how investors make decisions, the world might have been a hugely different place.
The content is all fairly mild, and nothing stands out too much. I would recommend this for family viewing but it’s, well…weird. I don’t know how well this would appeal to kids, and I’m not sure I’d want to use something so admittedly ahistorical as an educational tool. On the other hand, it is useful in humanizing historical figures (always a good idea) and giving a complex history a more concrete narrative: one which is, in the broad strokes at least, fairly accurate. That said, it still feels a little like a fever dream – if you aren’t down with watching a biopic while feeling like you’re running an internal temperature of about 105, maybe give this one a miss.Directed by Michael Almereyda. Starring Ethan Hawke, Kyle MacLachlan, and Eve Hewson. Running time: 96 minutes. Theatrical release August 21, 2020. Updated October 2, 2020
Watch the trailer for Tesla
Rating & Content Info
Why is Tesla rated PG-13? Tesla is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for some thematic material and nude images.
Violence: A dog is killed off-screen. A man is killed in an electric chair and is shown with smoke rising from behind his mask.
Sexual Content: There are several paintings which feature nudity of various kinds, and a female character is shown wearing a fairly translucent outfit.
Profanity: There is one mild profanity and one use of a term of deity.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Characters are shown smoking cigars and drinking, typically socially.
Page last updated October 2, 2020
Tesla Parents' Guide
Who was Nikola Tesla? Why is he so much less well known than Thomas Edison? Who do you think was the
Loved this movie? Try these books…
There’s lots to choose from for biographies of Nikola Tesla. Tesla: Man Out of Time by Margaret Cheney, Nikola Tesla: Prophet of the Modern Technological Age by Michael W Simmons, and Wizard: the Life and Times of Nikola Tesla by Marc J Seifer all provide a third person examination of Tesla’s life. You can hear his own perspective in his memoir, Nikola Tesla: My Life, My Research.
For more about the early years of electricity, you can read Jill Jonnes’ Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World. Maury Klein’s The Power Makers: Steam, Electricity, and the Men Who Invented Modern America provides a similar history that goes back even further in time.
The most recent home video release of Tesla movie is October 6, 2020. Here are some details…
Related home video titles:
The Current War: Director’s Cutcovers the same historical period and covers the battle between Tesla, Edison, and Westinghouse for control of electricity. An inventor, but on a smaller scale is the subject of Joy. This film is based on the true story of a single mother who uses her inventive and entrepreneurial skills to provide for her family.
Fictional inventors are at the heart of plenty of family-friendly films. Flubber stars the late Robin Williams as an absent-minded professor who has invented a useful substance he calls Flubber, and which, somehow, seems to be sentient. A boy genius invents a potion that turns a superspy into a pigeon (a real one). Now he has to figure out how to change him back and stop a super villain in the animated movie, Spies in Disguise. An orphaned genius uses his brain power to try to uncover the identity of his parents, only to travel into the future in Meet the Robinsons. Teens and adults will enjoy watching as Tony Stark builds a high tech armored suit to battle terrorists in Iron Manand Iron Man 2.