CultureCinema A Feminist Firestorm Of Rebellion In ‘Poor Things’

A Feminist Firestorm Of Rebellion In ‘Poor Things’

At its core, "Poor Things" is a rallying cry for liberation, told through a woman’s journey, a defiant assertion of autonomy and agency

Poor Things, a film based on a novel by Alasdair Gray, is brought to life by Tony McNamara, known for his work on “The Favourite.” It’s a wild adventure that doesn’t hold back creatively. The lead character, Bella Baxter, played by Stone, starts almost unable to speak. But as the story unfolds, we see her transform into a self-educated woman who takes charge of her destiny.

Stone’s performance is bold and physical, driving “Poor Things” forward. It’s a journey of self-discovery and empowerment, where Bella becomes the ultimate example of someone who creates their path in life. 

Yorgos Lanthimos has a cinematic cake you want a piece of 

Yorgos Lanthimos loves showing extreme behaviour in really fancy places. That is something the audience has grown to accept and celebrate about him. You want him to do those things and he does, he puts wild stuff happening in nice, clean settings, whether it’s in a quiet neighbourhood in “Dogtooth,” a super clean lab in “The Lobster,” or a really fancy palace in “The Favourite.” He’s all about showing how people act crazy even in places where they’re supposed to behave. He’s totally into that contrast between how we’re supposed to act and how we act- a mirror that has become a trope of all modern cinema. 

still from Poor Things
Source: NPR

In his latest film, Poor Things everything is super weird but also amazing. The acting is strange, the things they say are weird, and even the way everything looks is odd. But deep down, it’s all about wanting to connect with other people. The main character, Bella Baxter, is on a journey to figure out who she is and to find people who love her for her. She doesn’t want people who just want to control her. 

The premise of a Bildungsroman on stepstone of liberation 

The basic story might sound like stuff you’ve heard before- a young woman goes on a journey to find herself and realises she had the answers all along. But the way it’s done in this film is mind-blowing. Everything about it keeps you surprised and hooked. 

still from Poor Things
Source: IMDb

Meet Baxter, a scientist who marches to the beat of his drum. He’s not your typical scientist; he’s more like a unique butcher, slicing and dicing things both living and dead. He lives in a fancy mansion in London with Bella, his maid, and a bunch of weird animal experiments. Their house is like a museum, full of strange things, and hidden underneath it all is Baxter’s lab, where he does some pretty creepy stuff like dissecting dead bodies to uncover their secrets.

Sometimes, Bella even joins in on the fun. One day, a visitor comes over, and Baxter spills the beans: Bella isn’t just a regular maid, she’s an experiment too. And here’s the kicker—Baxter brought her back to life after finding her dead body by swapping her brain with that of a fetus. 

Now, Bella might look like a grown woman, with long dark hair flowing down her back, but there’s something off about her. Her body seems normal, but her brain acts strange. Sometimes she talks like a little kid, all jumbled up and clumsy, like she’s just learning to walk. Other times, she’s more like a broken robot, moving in a jerky, unnatural way. Bella’s a mixed bag—she’s messy, curious, rude, and sometimes even violent. Just after meeting a guy named Max, she randomly smacks him out of the blue. Yeah, Bella’s a real work in progress. 

Exploring the Woman- Is she the new Monster? 

Despite her flaws, Bella’s also something else: she’s your 21st-century version of Frankenstein’s monster, sure, but she’s also a woman. So, strangely, she’s both. In Victorian London, Bella, played by Emma Stone, lives in a nice house with Dr. Godwin Baxter, who’s like a father to her. Despite his scary appearance, Willem Dafoe’s character is gentle.

Bella, although an adult, acts like a child at first, grunting words, breaking plates, and dancing clumsily. She affectionately calls Dr. Baxter “God,” which isn’t an exaggeration. We’ll learn more about their backstory later. 

still from Poor Things
Source: IMDb

Dr. Baxter isn’t the only man trying to shape Bella’s life. Max McCandles, one of his students played by Ramy Youssef, also gets involved. Max moves in to help with research but falls for Bella and proposes to her. Youssef brings warmth and reason to the chaotic story.

However, Mark Ruffalo’s character, Duncan Wedderburn, swoops in and sweeps Bella off her feet, taking her on a grand world tour. It is as if a child had a choice and a stranger comes with candy in their hand. The candy here is the sexual freedom that Weddernurn dangles in from of Bella. It also encourages the viewer to really view sex as something more than a process of procreation or a tool of titillating pleasure. Their travels mostly involve passionate intimacy, which Bella refers to as “furious jumping,” (something I intend to add to my vocabulary) showing both her growing independence and the film’s bold humour.

Emma Stone delivers a performance of life

Reuniting with Lanthimos after their work together on “The Favourite,” Emma Stone delivers an extraordinary performance in a challenging role. She portrays a character named Bella who undergoes significant changes throughout the story. Instead of stumbling, Stone’s portrayal is full of life and surprises, both big and small. It’s fascinating to watch how she gradually refines Bella’s character, both physically and in her speech, as Bella grows and changes.

Stone’s comedic timing is impeccable, especially in portraying Bella’s childlike beginnings, and later when she embodies a sexually liberated woman. You will not recognise the Olive of Easy A. It is a sight to watch an actress emerge and peel off all the old layers of her career and start as hungry as one could be at the beginning of their career. But one must remember that art is that one field where one only gets better and refined with age. Emma Stone is a marvellous example of that. Stone’s Bella is immensely likeable, even when she’s mischievous, and Stone keeps us rooting for her despite facing increasing challenges from patriarchal forces. 

Supporting cast of gems in Poor Things

Poor Things” showcases remarkable performances from its cast of all sizes. Stone shines in a role that requires both comedic precision and emotional depth, while Ruffalo surprises with his comedic versatility. The supporting cast members each bring something unique to the table, enhancing the film’s narrative and humour. 

still from Poor Things
Source: IMDb

In a departure from his usual roles, Mark Ruffalo delivers a hysterically funny performance. He portrays a character who is both charming and foolish, and unexpectedly, even amusingly, alluring at times. Alongside Ruffalo, comedian Jerrod Carmichael and German actress Hanna Schygulla play supporting roles as Bella’s travelling companions, adding depth to her journey toward self-discovery. There’s a particularly clever scene involving a book on a cruise ship that adds to the humour. 

Dafoe brilliantly portrays Baxter’s split personality, showing both his kindness and cruelty through his expressive eyes and composed demeanour. Baxter seems haunted like he’s carrying a burden, but at the same time, he appears confident and straightforward, not wasting time on unnecessary things. Dafoe makes it clear that Baxter has two sides to him: one that’s good-natured and another that’s cruel and enjoys inflicting pain on others. You can see the conflict within him just by looking at his eyes and how he carries himself.

Kathryn Hunter, known for her recent role as the Witches in Joel Coen’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” brings a dynamic presence to her small role as a madame in Paris. Even in this brief appearance, Hunter adds layers to her character that may surprise viewers. 

The set of a picturesque treat

The film “Poor Things” isn’t just about the actors; it’s also about the people who design the sets and costumes, and the camera work. Bella, the main character, loves new and interesting things, and the film tries to make the audience feel the same way.

For example, the costumes designed by Holly Waddington are unique and eye-catching, and the sets by Shona Heath and James Price are strange in a cool way. One cool detail is Bella’s bedroom, which is decorated with fancy ivory satin pictures, giving it a fancy yet cosy feeling. 

Outside of Bella’s house, the design is inspired by a style called art nouveau. But instead of pretty flowers and animals like usual, it’s more about nature in a raw way. If you look closely, you’ll see a lot of shapes that look like body parts, like penises and vaginas, hidden in the designs. It’s like a secret joke for adults, making the whole world feel kind of naughty but fun. It’s a place where you’d want to stay and explore because there’s always something interesting to see. 

At its core, “Poor Things” is a rallying cry for liberation, told through a woman’s journey, a defiant assertion of autonomy and agency in a world that seeks to confine and control. Through Bella’s journey, the film challenges viewers to question the oppressive structures that govern our lives and to embrace the transformative power of self-discovery and empowerment.

In an age where women’s voices are too often silenced and their bodies commodified, “Poor Things” stands as a testament to the enduring strength and resilience of the feminine spirit.

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