a white couple in their thirties (a woman dressed in an electric blue Victorian style dress and a man dressed in a muddy green cord suit) share shelter from rain under an electric blue umbrella. They stand in a grassy garden and stare in amazement at a black and white cat surrounded by buttercup flowers and lavender.
Credit: New York Times

Review: The Electric Life of Louis Wain

By Jackson Harvey

Jackson discusses the endearing quirks of this kitten-centric film.

A True Story. That was what popped up first onto the screen when I went to see The Electric Life of Louis Wain. I thought, “that’s bold, innit”. I’m not sure if that’s verbatim. Can your inner voice even be considered verbatim? Is innit even part of my vernacular? What? Anyway, I thought that because, in recent memory, I can only ever recall flicks relaying “Based on a True Story/Events/etc”, and often, only at the end of a film rather than the start, and more, over and often, than not, with some catch like; “the likenesses have been something or another, please don’t sue us etc.”  So, I gathered that this Louis character must now be pretty well dead and forgotten about and their ensuing (sorry) lineage = long gone silver and out of the picture. And then I watched it. 

Before I set off writing weird articles, and oblique and impertinent reviews, I was decisively apprehensive about ever having to write about something I didn’t like. I’ve always got a kick out of the notion of columnists as liberally scathing sardonic arbiters of what, I guess, might be considered quality. I get a kick, but it’s a kick out of the idea, and certainly not the notion of ever actually doing it. Who am I to say what’s what’s what’s what? When all I, the writer, is ever really interested in is the word count clock totting up and checking off. Thus, allowing me to get on with whatever it is that I, the human, (I guess) like doing in my free time. I think I’m trying to say that I’ve just realised I don’t ever have to write scathingly because there is always going to be so much mad stuff out there that pleases me. And the reason this has popped into my bunnet is because I went to see The Electric Life of Louis Wain.

Yeah, em, the movie. I went to see it solely because Nick Cave was in the trailer and I have a basic instinct, by which I mean I’m basic and predictable. Imagine that’s what Basic Instinct was about. Lads, lads, lads, just sat talking about their favourite Quentin Tarantoeno movie.  How on earth did I ever make it through the film? I have the attention span of a gnat. I just looked it up there. Apparently, it’s zero seconds, but that reads like fake news to me. Are they just like “ah, wtf, wt, wt, w, w, ahh, I’m a gnat, I’m a, I’m, I, I, bz, bz, bz”? I’m so sorry. I don’t know what to say. I mean, clearly. I’m going to start again. 

“I went to see it solely because Nick Cave was in the trailer and I have a basic instinct, by which I mean I’m basic and predictable.”

The Electric Life of Louis Wain is about this Victorian-ish era character who draws cats. Whew. I don’t want to give too much away, and to be honest, it doesn’t seem likely that I even have the capacity. So, without any further ado, Louis is delightfully idiosyncratic. And yet, due to a series of heartpummelling events (there were points throughout the movie where I actually stopped crying) his singularity delves deeply into a torrid struggle with mental health. Throughout these stints, the viewer is permitted into the, albeit fictionalised, mind of the artist. In one particularly harrowing scene, Louis believes himself to be drowning, and we are presented with this as reality, because, in a way, it is. The film is a chromatic wonderland, the moving picture, and life therein, as art itself, gifts us a glimpse through the eyes of a beautiful mind. The lens flares, saturation burns, and kaleidoscopic visions of anamorphic beauty are suffused through the narrative. 

The Electric Life of Louis Wain is a true story. It could have been portrayed in black and white. It could have depicted a chronological and biographically accurate account of the subject’s life. And, in a way, it wouldn’t have been right. It wouldn’t have given full scope. Our actions only amount to part of our existence. What goes on in our heads when we lie in bed probably offers more than our entire penned works collated. Our emotions are borne out from within. I can’t speak for anyone, but I can safely say that I’m personally more, much more, in my head than outside. This film demonstrates this. Not my absolute inability to function. This article demonstrates that. What The Electric Life of Louis Wain demonstrates is that a really true story denotes more, much more than what happens out there in the “real” world. It is a dream out loud, and I sincerely hope you enjoy the movie, or anything else you decide to go see, or do, as much as I did, this. 


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