By Sheila Mutua

Poor Things is the latest feature from one of Hollywood’s most beloved weirdos, Yorgos Lanthimos, adapted from Alasdair Grey’s novel of the same name.

Despite being indifferent toward Lanthimos’ work, I found myself waiting in anticipation for this film – intrigued by its visual style, dissonant score, and the ever-so-charming Emma Stone. After running to the cinema on opening night, I was met with a grotesque and picturesque exploration of gender, sexuality, and love. And a cute complimentary keyring!

It’s an unconventional take on the bildungsroman that follows the first test subject in a dangerous game of playing “God”, led by unorthodox scientist Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe). After Victoria Blessington takes her own life, Godwin brings her back from the dead by replacing her brain with that of her unborn child. She is a woman resurrected but not fully revived: she must navigate life from the very beginning in an adult body as Bella Baxter (Emma Stone). 

Stone’s wonderfully animated performance is a fascinating portrayal of the journey from adolescence to adulthood. It is well-complemented by Mark Ruffalo as Duncan Wedderburn, a glib lawyer who compels Bella to escape from Godwin’s grasp – that is, when you ignore the questionable accent work.

The film is a technical feat. The production design is garish but beautifully so, with some of my favourite uses of colour in 2023. The fish eye lens is used generously, creating a voyeuristic experience as we are also tasked with the surveillance of Dr. Baxter’s experiment. But the real standout is costume designer, Holly Waddington, whose unique silhouettes will definitely garner a lot of attention this awards season.

Some have critiqued the story for centering itself on a dated conception of female empowerment through sexual liberation; however, I think that is a slightly unmerciful reading. One might find the sex scenes excessive but I believe that they capture the way in which Bella views sex: a series of repeated experiments designed to help her understand her own body that eventually teaches her more about others’ behaviour and her position as a woman in society. After all, she is her Father’s daughter.

Although the film loses some of its sense of wonder toward the end, Lanthimos makes a decent attempt at navigating the area between being alive and feeling alive that science doesn’t seem to explain. And Poor Things is at its best when it is exploring rather than explaining.

Yorgos Lanthimos and Emma Stone reunite in the weird and wonderful Poor Things


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