18 June 2024
Watch New Poor Things Trailer starring Emma Stone

Film Review – Poor Things (2023)

Read our review of Poor Things now on Disney+ read clotilde's reviewI was lucky enough to first watch Poor Things at the London Film Festival at the end of 2023. Like everyone in the same early morning press screening I was in, I loved the movie. However, upon reflecting on the film, I was unsure of how it would go down with the audience once it came out for the general public. With the director’s strong authorial voice, it is probably the closest thing we have in this day and age to an auteur film, so much so that I have cautiously recommended it to my friends, not sure of what they would make out of it once they actually watched it.

The film follows Bella Baxter (Emma Stone), a young woman who lives in Victorian London and has received a brain transplant from Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe), a god-like and eccentric surgeon. As a result of the experiment, Bella is a grown woman with the brain of an infant and very much acts like the latter. Therefore, Godwin and his assistant Max McCandles (Ramy Youssef) care for her as she starts developing self-consciousness and eventually embarks on a journey of self-discovery across the world with Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo), a lawyer she hired.

The production design is particularly impressive and definitely one of the things that stayed with me the most from the movie. I really liked the use of colours in the movie as it seems to be one of the primary elements that defines the storytelling in the film. As Bella travels the world in her adventures, so does the audience: every physical place that she visits is matched by a moment of personal growth in her self-discovery journey. Similarly, every stage of this journey is matched by a specific colour and atmosphere: for example, London is black and white and represents the beginning of her journey, and Paris is white as Bella finally gains authority over her life and body.

Commentary on gender, escaping prison just to find another, everyone wants Bella to fit into the mould of a preconception of what a woman should be. Throughout the film, it feels like Bella is forced to live in, and further escape, different types of metaphorical prisons: the physical one of not being able to leave Godwin’s house, but as the film goes on she is also subjected to societal and gender pressure, as well as economical constraints. It’s beautiful to see how Bella gains her agency over her own life and body at the end of the movie.

However, Bella’s journey of growth is extremely tied to her work at the brothel, and I wish her self-worth and self-discovery were not entirely based on that. This is a very common trope and while there may be nothing inherently wrong with that, I did feel like it downplayed the dangers of prostitution, which is often not a system in favour of women. This feels very much like a feminist take on Frankenstein, with a poignant exploration of class and gender through its visionary style and colourful cinematography and costumes.

As someone who was not the biggest fan of Yorgos Lanthimos or Emma Stone before watching Poor Things, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it and thrilled that I did. And I am so glad to see that such a daring and vivid film receiving such widespread success both critically and with a more general audience who might not always enjoy this type of movie. It is a bold film that is not afraid of making a strong statement both visually and with its script, and clearly, this has paid off, given the commercial and critical success the film has received ever since it came out.

★★

On Disney+ March 7th (also in UK cinemas now) / Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe, Ramy Youssef, Jerrod Carmichael, Christopher Abbot, Margaret Qualley / Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos / Searchlight Pictures / 18


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