The race to light up the world

Edison and Westinghouse’s competition culminates as they bid to secure the contract for the Chicago World Fair. Press photo.

The Current War pits two electricity titans against each other in a fight of wit and ego

It is the age of darkness, and two bright minds compete to be the first to turn night into day.

The Current War depicts the intense competition between Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon), two brilliant American inventors whose respective patents saved lives and changed the world in their own right in the late 1880s.

Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, the film shines a light not only on the brilliance of the men at the forefront of science, but also on the egos that ruled their decisions, pitting sheer innovation against strategic political marketing. It pulls the curtain back from these historical miracles to highlight how sometimes the greater electrical system isn’t the one that is most efficient, but the one that is best marketed.

When Westinghouse finds a better, cheaper way to transport electricity over vast distances, he reaches out to collaborate with Edison, who scoffs at the thought of someone creating a better electrical invention than his own. But as more American cities subscribe to Westinghouse Electric, Edison uses dubious methods to ensure that his system is perceived as safer and better overall. As the 1893 Chicago World Fair approaches, Westinghouse and Edison wage a very public battle to secure the contract to light up the fair, thus ensuring their names be inscribed in the history books.

The film dabbles in the mudslinging used in the press, especially by Edison, who claimed his competitor’s system was dangerous. Fueled by the fear of having his ideas stolen from him, Edison uses all tactics possible to destroy Westinghouse’s reputation, preying on the fears the general public had of electricity.

The film idolizes neither inventor, instead portraying each as human. Despite their brilliance, both Edison and Westinghouse were ruled by their egos and were deeply flawed human beings. But this contributes to the film’s success as it shows that even the most brilliant and revered historical figures were human.

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