Edison vs Tesla—Whose Side Are You On?

A photo-shopped image for The Current War (2017) featuring (left to right) Thomas Edison (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) looking at something through a magnifying glass and Nikolai Tesla (played by Nicholas Hoult) holding a cylindrical light bulb

In the wake of one of the most revolutionary, cutthroat battles that literally lit up the modern world, we find the story of three visionaries set out in a charged race for the future of the world in The Current War (2017). This epic from a crucial moment in history features Benedict Cumberbatch as Thomas Edison, a celebrity inventor who has just debuted his radical, new Direct Current (DC) technology. But when charismatic businessman George Westinghouse (played by Michael Shannon) sees a fatal flaw in Edison's direct current design, he solicits the help of his partner, a revolutionary from Croatia named Nikola Tesla (played by Nicholas Hoult), and risks everything on a superior, yet likely dangerous alternating current.

As Edison and Westinghouse contend to have their inventions power the nation, they spark one of the biggest and first corporate conflicts in American history, laying the groundwork for all future titans of industry. But while we may know the historical outcome of this “war of the currents,” many (in hindsight) have shown favor to Tesla’s contribution to science and innovation.

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Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) in The Current War (2017)

Inventor George Westinghouse (played by Michael Shannon in a sensitive, understated performance) has developed a system of electrification using alternating current. While this system was developed by Westinghouse, Tesla had secured a number of patents for the use of alternating currents. 

When the two teamed up, they became the first threat to Edison’s inventions, proving to be superior in cost and efficiency, beating out Edison’s direct-current system. Westinghouse did offer Edison a partnership, but Edison refused to swallow his pride, disparaging Westinghouse’s technology as being “lethal,” even leading him to electrocute dogs, sheep, and horses with AC currents, just to prove his point. In a terribly ironic twist, Edison’s demonstrations of the lethality of AC current lead him towards designing, against his ethical judgement, the first electric chair.

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Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult) in The Current War (2017)

As well as documenting their fierce rivalry, the The Current War also follows closely the personal lives of Edison and Westinghouse, which helps to soften the tone of combative rivalry in the movie. Within a 107-minute runtime, director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon is able to explore the depths of these characters’ lives during this crusade of innovation in an electrifying take on one of history’s most critical moments. 

As much as the movie celebrates the accomplishments of Edison, Tesla, and Westinghouse, its core message is the importance of holding onto those we love most and not letting ambition take over as we pursue our goals. With a stellar cast, gripping plot, and an important message, The Current War is an illuminating watch. Catch the director's cut of this historical drama as it lights up the big screen at Regal on October 25th. 

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