“Poor Things,” a dark, sexy, humorous, and philosophical film from director Yorgos Lanthimos, is like nothing that’s been done before. In some ways, it’s a feminist thinkpiece, in others, it’s a capitalist commentary; across the board, it alludes to stories that have come before it like “Frankenstein.”
Based on the 1992 book of the same name, “Poor Things” follows a thorough, winding course of plot, highlighted most by the character development of its main character, Bella Baxter (Emma Stone). Brought back to life in the body of a grown woman with the brain of an infant by Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe) as a daughter-like companion, Bella begins her new life rediscovering language and motor skills. As Bella gains a desire for independence, she embarks on a journey with Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo) to see the world and discover herself, a journey filled with sexual liberation, dancing, and the hard truths of life.
Some of the best parts of this movie were purely visual. Portions of the movie were in black and white, with others in vibrant color; this choice represented the growth of Bella as a woman. Other visual choices were made that enhanced the movie, including the use of fish-eye lenses and vignettes, drawing attention at certain moments and pulling it away at others. Another fantastic visual element in this movie were the costumes. Set in a dystopian Victorian London, the costumes definitely matched the fantastical yet realistic approach of the movie. Most of the characters were in clothing that blended into the time period, but it was Bella Baxter’s costumes that always drew the eye. Her extravagant, colorful, and evolving outfits served as more than just clothes; they were a representation of her growth from a woman crudely and forcibly brought back to life to a woman fully in control and capable in her own right.
Where this movie struggles is in a few places. One is its length. The film very well could have been condensed in several places, making it feel less endless, coming from someone who watched it twice. Its other struggle finds itself in the film’s claim to feminism. While there is no denying this film is one that takes a classic story, “Frankenstein,” and twists and turns it for modern society, it does not in fact tell a story for this modern society. A story about a woman coming of age, in circumstances against her will, that portrays her primary method of liberation and awakening as one of sexuality is one-dimensional to say the least. It is often that stories told by men about women show them as such through a lens of sexuality, fetishization, and control.
This film is successful in its beauty and visual mastery, but when it comes to its substance, “Poor Things” leaves too much room for improvement. Confusing in some aspects and strange in most, “Poor Things” left an odd aftertaste.
I would rate “Poor Things” a 7 out of 10.
Ameera Salman is the Editor-in-Chief of Cellar Roots, EMU's Art Magazine. She has written news, opinions, and columns for The Echo.