Movie review: Poor Things

Yorgos Lanthimos

I was wary of seeing the film Poor Things. A knowledgeable friend of mine wrote that the film was not on his list to be seen “due to my dislike for Emma Stone’s acting and my doubts about having the stomach for another Yorgos Lanthimos grossout.” I was unfamiliar with the director.

The good news is that this movie of Frankenstein’s monster’s monster, of a sort, was not particularly gross. It was weird and funny, and weirdly funny. But though I saw it a couple of weeks ago at the Spectrum 8 in Albany, I’ve been bereft of useful descriptions.

Weird:  it had impossible combinations of animals walking about the laboratory of Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe) as he, er, “re-animated” Bella (Stone). Early on, Bella acts like a very large infant but matures relatively quickly.  While Dr. Baxter’s assistant Max (Ramy Youssef) is assiduously recording Bella’s development, she is fascinated by the flashy Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo), who wants to liberate her from the cloister Dr. Baxter has created.

I agree with the general assessment that the movie is “wildly imaginative and exhilaratingly over the top… bizarre, brilliant…” Reviewers used terms such as fascinating, disturbing, beautifully odd duckling, darkly comedic, and cerebral.

Know thyself

One critic notes, correctly, “Bella comes to identify herself and her possibilities … in accordance with Goethe’s notion that ‘Man knows himself only in as much as he knows the world … Each new object truly recognized, opens up a new organ within ourselves.'”

Another one notes that it’s a surreal/acid movie… “It wonderfully combines fantasy, sex, and a tiny bit of Sic-Fi to shape a fable about chauvinism, toxic masculinity, and female sexuality, using Emma Stone’s performance as the perfect vessel.”

Oh, yeah, sex. There’s a fair amount of that in the middle third of the film as part of Bella’s self-discovery. It’s not particularly sexy.

The critics who hated this film REALLY hated it as “dull, arthouse trash… Hollywood elites are fawning over this reprehensible film, claiming it’s about female empowerment, but that supposed empowerment actually disguises the worst sort of exploitation.” So either it’s the proto-Barbie or the anti-Barbie, I guess.

I am not sure what the title means, although I surmise that those who don’t embrace life are the poor things, I guess, maybe.

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