The Electrical Life of Louis Wain is joy and sadness, lightheartedness and seriousness, just like his paintings. It’s about love and art in the oddly beautiful vagaries of what it means to be a human (in the company of cats). Wain’s cats graced the epochs before Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse (and Minnie) and His Gangs) debuted. But Wain was not Disney, and would he have even wished it? Perhaps, that is why Benedict Cumberbatch decided to give Wain a second chance to shine his name once more on earth in the magic of moving pictures that resurrected him from the lapse of time through the chapters of his story in this superbly narrative of the artist.
Louise Wain was a brilliant artist, a contemporary of French impressionist artists, such as Monet, Pissarro, Degas, and Renoir, and Dutch Vincent Van Gogh, all of whom were united in the brotherhood of independent spirits and resilient creativity. Yet Wain’s was a different sort, more existentially debauched in the provisional circulation of works, in the crossroads of the reality of being the only male figure in the parentless family led by the dominant matriarchal sister and of the ideal of ensconcing himself in the solitary niche. All artists are by nature sensitive, but Wain was extraordinarily sensitive, and the world was too much for someone like him to deal with. His wife, the light of his life, was the only happiness and love he felt and shared, but jealous God took her away from him and left him in the lurch of the familial duties and responsibilities in the somber household. This house eventually drove him and his younger sister into the oblivion of reason to the end. Yet, notwithstanding the personal tragedy, Wain’s unique visual world articulated with the sonar modulation of impulse that sparked his creative spirit yearning to soar up to the boundless ether on a par with constellations with stars.
Benedict Cumberbatch, now universally recognized as the Sherlock thanks to the phenomenally successful BBC series, proved to be a superb character actor who became Louis Wain rather than merely playing the artist’s part. Ancient Greeks and Romans regarded actors as an equivalent of a spiritual medium whose body could be channeled into another spirit for a willful possession during a mysterious rite of sacred ceremony. If that was the case, as it were, that was how I felt watching Cumberbatch being Wain as if he had summoned the soul of the dead artist from the beyond and asked him how the artist’s life would be told. His naturally mild, gentle deliverance of character nuanced the inner fear, confusion, and frustration that Wain must have felt in dealing with the realities of everyday life as a reluctant and unlikely head of household. Yet, his passionate eyes and particular diction dictate that Wain was an artist of force, a man not of an age but for all seasons.