Ben’s Breakdown | “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain” Gives Beautiful and Moving Insight into Autism

My only familiarity with Louis Wain was from his beautiful cat drawings and illustrations I had seen in my youth, but I knew nothing of the man. When I learned of this movie it was apparent to me that I had to see it because it not only starred an actor who has made an incredible name for himself, but the trailer for the film showed cats. That was enough for me to want to watch The Electrical Life of Louis Wain. However, what I saw taught me so much more about the man.

Louis Wain is an illustrator for an English publication. Being the only male in a family with 5 sisters and a widowed mother it fell to him to become the caretaker during this Victorian period in England. He meets the new Governess who is instructed to help educate his younger sisters and he becomes quite taken by her. After a scandal, the Governess, named Caroline, is discharged from her duties, but Louis falls in love with her and marries her. What follows is a troubling life for Louis as he battles grief, apparent mental illness (which is debated by some today in the medical community), and probably his most creative period when he began to illustrate cats as people. Louis was also obsessed with the concept of electricity as he felt it was the fundamental force in the universe that connected people as well as push us through time.

CLAIRE FOY and BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH in THE ELECTRIC LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN
Photo: Jaap Buitendijk

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain takes some bold steps in partially addressing the issues that Louis Wain dealt with. One of his sisters was diagnosed and committed to a hospital for schizophrenia and it is believed that Louis suffered from that as well. I disagree. From my perspective Louis was autistic and as he grew older some of the more dysfunctional elements of his autism began to manifest. But it was also that autism that gave him both a unique perspective and a unique sense of perception in regards to electricity. It also gave him that incredible artistic ability to draw and see cats in the way that he did. The film also shifted from scenes of clear organization to those of pure chaos, as if the director Will Sharpe was attempting to capture the chaos that might be present in the mind of someone who was seriously autistic. It was jarring to see it happen, but it did a magnificent job at communicating what was going on inside of Louis Wain’s mind.

BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH and TOBY JONES in THE ELECTRIC LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN
Photo: Jaap Buitendijk

The cast is all very strong, but the weight of this film is carried on the shoulders of its star as Louis Wain. Benedict Cumberbatch is a chameleon. He has shown incredible growth as an actor over the last decade and this role is just another notch in his belt of outstanding performances. Even during Louis’s days as a young man, Cumberbatch gives the character those special quirks illustrating that he’s a character who is out of step with the rest of the world around him. Even as pressures build we see displayed on his face as he struggles with it. But it is some of the more passive scenes with his eyes when you see him observe a world that passes most people by. Through the most subtle of acting techniques, we can see that Louis’s mind is operating in a manner that we cannot comprehend. The Electrical Life of Louis Wain is a tribute to Benedict Cumberbatch’s acting skill and talent. Aside from Cumberbatch, the big delight in this film is the cast of furry felines, starting with an adorable tuxedo cat named Pete. Then comes other cats and kittens that will undoubtedly have the movie watchers saying “Aaaawwwwwww!!!!!”

BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH in THE ELECTRIC LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN

The direction by Will Sharpe is beautiful and at times stunning. There are moments throughout the film where through lighting and color certain scenes start to resemble a painting, usually highlighting a magical moment as experienced by Wain. I would also be remiss if I did not make mention of this film’s score. Arthur Sharpe gives a score that is beautiful and uplifting, while at times also haunting. It sounds as if the score makes use of the theremin, but while in the past it has been used to create a feeling of unease, here it accentuates a beautiful melody that might be considered Louis Wain’s theme.

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain is nothing that I expected it to be. Without knowing much about Louis Wain, and based on the trailers I was expecting a rather light-hearted film about this artist and the muses who served him. Instead, I saw a film about a man with autism who was misunderstood but eventually loved by all who knew him.

BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH in THE ELECTRIC LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN

My only issue with this movie is that it was very difficult to understand at times. Even turning up the volume didn’t adequately help with some of the dialogue as there were moments where the characters spoke both very quietly and quickly. Without the benefit of closed captions, I found it necessary to rewatch scenes repeatedly to understand what was being said. Other than that, I found this movie to be visually beautiful and emotionally moving.

I give The Electrical Life of Louis Wain 4 out of 5 Illustrated Cats!


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The Electrical Life of Louis Wain

Genre: Biography/Drama/History

The extraordinary true story of eccentric British artist Louis Wain (Benedict Cumberbatch), whose playful, sometimes even psychedelic pictures helped to transform the public’s perception of cats forever. Moving from the late 1800s through to the 1930s, we follow the incredible adventures of this inspiring, unsung hero, as he seeks to unlock the “electrical” mysteries of the world and, in so doing, to better understand his own life and the profound love he shared with his wife Emily Richardson (Claire Foy). THE ELECTRICAL LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN opens in select theaters on October 22, 2021, then on Amazon Prime on November 5, 2021.

ONE-LINER: English artist Louis Wain rises to prominence at the end of the 19th century for his surreal cat paintings.


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