This isn’t the most fun time to be alive, obviously. But it could be worse. So so much worse.
The quarantine is not ideal, but it isn’t intolerable or miserable or desperately boring. That is because we still have electricity.
With all due respect to antibiotics and automobiles, electricity being wired into our homes is by far the most important innovation of the last 200 years.
I use electricity every minute of every day. It powers my work computer. It powers the devices that I use to get my information and entertainment. It allows me to make food. It heats the water in my sink and shower. It recharges the MP3 player that I listen to while exercising. I sleep with a fan for ambient noise.
We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the inventor and the capitalist who teamed up to wire our world: Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse.
The villain of this story is none other than Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch). “The Current War” begins in 1880. The celebrity inventor Edison is confidently conning the most powerful men in American to fund his New York City electric project.
On Sept 4, 1882, Thomas Edison triumphantly unveiled his Pearl St. Power Station, which used direct current to illuminate one square mile of lower Manhattan. The power station was a rousing success and it changed the lives of the few thousand people who lived and worked in the richest square mile in America.
But what about the not-so-rich people who inhabited the other 3.8 million square miles?
Enter Pittsburgh industrialist George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon). He believed that direct current (DC) is unnecessarily inefficient. He saw alternating current (AC) as the future and started his own competing power company.
Thomas Edison was not a believer in gentlemanly competition. Too blinded by ego to see that Westinghouse was right, Edison went to war. First he tried to sue Westinghouse Electric out of existence.
When that failed, Edison fought even dirtier. He told reporters that alternating current is deadly. Since people at the time didn’t even know what electricity was (the flow of free electrons moving from atom to atom), Edison’s scare tactics worked. The inventor hosted macabre media events in which he used AC power to kill stray dogs and horses. He even worked with the state to use AC to execute a prisoner.
The AC/DC rivalry is a wonderfully interesting and hugely important story. It deserves a better movie than this. Remember in elementary school when the teacher would show an old film strip that poorly dramatized a major historical event? “The Current War” is like a big budget film strip, funded by the Westinghouse Corporation.
One of the silliest aspects of “The Current War” is how saintly George Westinghouse is. He refuses to fight back against Edison. He doesn’t even care about money; he just selflessly works to make the future of America brighter.
The brutal and unexpected failure of the film is its misuse of Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult). Tesla doesn’t get enough screen time. And director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon does a lousy job of explaining what the brilliant Serbian did to perfect Westinghouse’s AC system.
“The Current War” tells an amazing true story with weak characterization, shoddy scientific explanations, and bad drama.
I can’t promise you’ll be able to watch this movie without getting bored. But you will be able to enjoy entertainment and comfort for the rest of the quarantine due to the wonder of alternating current electricity. Thank you, Mr. Westinghouse! Thank you, Mr. Tesla!
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