At the end of the 19th-century, inventors across the world compete to produce a moving picture machines. While visiting the successful Paris exposition of Edison's Kinetoscope, Luis Lumiere is commanded by his father to reinvent Edison's device, to invent a projector so people may watch films together as an audience, expanding the potential for profit per machines. Louis, an artist and inventor in his own right, at first refuses to placate his money-oriented father, but then changes his mind when he becomes entranced with the sensual dancer captured on the filmstrip inside the Kinetoscope. He identifies with this ensnared woman, since he himself feels trapped by demands of his family and career, and he sets off to invent a projector to release her from the machine. Her image haunts him as he struggles against his controlling father, his brother's bourgeois complacency, his wife's peculiar jealousy, and the conservative world-view of 19th-century Paris, which fears that this new and "ungodly" technology will disrupt the already teetering status quo. In a disastrous fire caused by Louis' invention, dozen of lives are lost and Louis is blamed. He is forced to prove, once and for all, that cinema is not just "an invention without a future."