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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Lighting Up America

The Current War: Director's Cut (2017) on IMDb
man w/a plan

Plot Overview

distribution panel“The Current War” depicts the culture war between alternating current (AC) and direct current (DC) for hegemony on the electric grid that powers our homes. It covers the formative period between 1880 and 1893. Incan­descent lamps glow just as well on either current, and at first blush would suffer the same limitation of voltage drop along the distribution line that was limiting it to a mile or so to adequately power the bulbs at the end of the line with­out reducing their life span at the beginning. Thomas Edison was invested in DC but upstart Slav immigrant Nikola Tesla wanted to use AC for its ability to be stepped up in voltage by a trans­former at the start of a run to reduce relative voltage losses on the line and then stepped down at the end of the run to make it more manageable. AC is economically feasible for distant customers; DC is not.

These two men were at loggerheads with each other, but it looked like Edison was starting to come around when he asked Tesla for license to use one of his systems in an installation in upstate New York. An agreeable Tesla was later shocked to read in the paper that the installation was an electric chair powered by AC that was more deadly than DC. To be sure, one doesn't want to be shocked by either, but AC is the worse. Due to the material composition of the iron core of a trans­former and other factors, the most efficient frequency for AC is 60 cycles per second (cps,) which is close enough to the heart's regulating pulses to arrest its beating. Further­more, while one would instantly with­draw his hand from a DC contact, the AC will contract one's muscles into a death grip. Bad news, that. Society has now accepted AC for its economic benefits, and we've learned to guard against its dangers. But back then it was scary.

What Tesla did in response was at the Chicago World's Fair, he entered an exhibit of his Tesla coil, which essentially is a trans­former producing voltages high enough to shoot out small lightning bolts but at such a low current as to be harmless. He would sit atop the thing with lightning dancing off his body to demonstrate how harmless AC was. Seeing is believing.

This movie takes this dramatic conflict between inventor Thomas Alva Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and visionary Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult) moving it to the economic sphere between Edison and Tesla's business partner George Westing­house (Michael Shannon.) Here on the big screen, Tesla—in real life an unmitigated genius—plays second fiddle to Westinghouse. In Randall M. Miller's book on how Holly­wood views ethnic groups, he writes that Slavs aren't like Jews interacting with the public in their shops, but they are often employed in-house as servants, thus out of the public's view resulting in unfamiliarity with them. In the public's ignorance they're perceived as coarse and oversexed. He writes:

Slavs are … Russians, Poles, or what not—

Slavs were not as conspicuous as other immigrant groups because their work and settle­ment patterns were significantly different. …

The most popular Slavik image was that of the “peasant” … and, like animals, [they] were super-fecund, with “a rather gross attitude towards sexual morality” (136–139).

Here Tesla comes across as a ditch-digging dandy, whose fuzzy ideas he has difficulty articulating, but canny Westing­house some­how managed to use them. Hey, it's Hollywood. A film set not long after the Civil War. Here blacks had a presence and women a voice. You pay your money and you get what they dish out.

When automobiles first came on the scene, they used steam engines for power. Soon these were supplanted by the internal combustion engine that has since dominated the roads. Now we are seeing electric cars. Author Michael Connelly writes about one of his character's Uber experience:

The car took off up the hill. There was no engine sound. It reminded Bosch of amusement park bumper cars.

“It's quiet,” he said. “You could sneak up on people.”

“Yes, I drive Tesla,” Marko said. “The people out here like the electric car. The Holly­wood people. I get repeat business, you see. Besides this, I am Serb. From Smiljan.”

Bosch nodded like he understood the connection between Hollywood and Smiljan.

“Tesla,” Marko explained. “A great man who came from my hometown.”

“The car? It's his company?”

“No, he worked with Edison to make electricity. Long time ago. The car, it is name for him.”

“Right. I forgot” (255–6.)


“There be four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise”—Prov. 30:24:

technicianWhen Tesla got off the boat, he wandered around Manhattan penniless. By and by he heard some­one cursing in his native Serbian tongue and turned into a shop to find the owner having trouble with an electric motor. He repaired the motor for him taking as payment a baloney sandwich. Soon he found him­self working for Edison at slave wages, which is where the movie begins. There's a business lesson here. (Prov. 30:25) “The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer.” Start out right away when you're young to earn money even if it's a small venture at first.

(Prov. 30:26) “The conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks.” Location is very important. Tesla came to America the land of opportunity and to the big apple where the nascent electric industry was getting started. He took his demonstration to the public draw of the Chicago world fair and with Westinghouse built a plant at the mighty Niagara Falls.

(Prov. 30:27) “The locusts have no king, yet go they forth all of them by bands.” It is good to have a network of alliances; all three of the principals in this movie realized that.

(Prov. 30:28) “The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings' palaces.” That spider keeps laying down webs until she finds her money niche. Edison was a tireless experimenter who kept developing his ideas until he found ones that worked. He is responsible for the light bulb, the phono­graph, the tele­phone, and moving pictures, to name just a few of his inventions. He said invention is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.

(Eccl. 9:13-15) “This wisdom have I seen also under the sun, and it seemed great unto me: There was a little city, and few men within it; and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it: Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city; yet no man remembered that same poor man.” There was this great juggernaut deployed of a form of electricity that would have rendered it a city dweller's toy not on tap for the under-represented rural or small town hick. It was Nikola Tesla who kept us from that fate, but he's not much remembered any­more, this movie notwithstanding.

Production Values

” (2019) was directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. It was scripted by Michael Mitnick. It stars Tom Holland, Benedict Cumber­batch, Michael Shannon, Matthew Macfadyen, Tuppence Middleton, Katherine Waterston, and Nicholas Hoult. Cumberbatch is an intense Edison. Shannon plays Westing­house straight. They had a strong supporting cast.

MPAA rated it PG–13 for some violent content and thematic elements. They killed a horse. It was filmed at Waltham Abbey, Essex, England, UK. There's more than one edition of this movie with different musical scores. I have the Director's Cut, but I didn't like the one I got.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

As a drama it was so-so. As a biography it sucked. As history it was palaver concocted for the masses. Knock yourself out.

Movie Ratings

Action Factor: Weak action scenes. Suitability for Children: Suitable for children 13+ years with guidance. Special effects: Average special effects. Video Occasion: Better than watching TV. Suspense: Keeps you on the edge of your seat. Overall movie rating, Drama: Three stars out of five. Overall movie rating, History: Two stars out of five. Overall Movie Rating, Biography: One star out of five.

Works Cited

Scripture taken from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software.

Connelly, Michael. The Crossing. Copy­right © 2015 by Hieronymus, Inc. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2015. Print.

Miller, Randall M. The Kaleidoscopic Lens: how Hollywood views ethnic groups. Englewood, NJ: Ozer. © 1980. Print.