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  • Writer's pictureLucas Friesen

Review: Poor Things

Poor Things is a 2023 Searchlight Pictures movie directed by Yorgos Lanthimos on a script by Tony McNamara, which is based on a novel by Alasdair Gray. Yorgos has directed other movies like The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer and The Favourite, which starred Emma Stone. McNamara also wrote The Favourite and Cruella, both of which starred Stone. Gray was a Scottish writer whose style has been compared with Franz Kafka and George Orwell.

Poor Things stars Stone with a supporting cast of Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe, Ramy Youssef, Jerrod Carmichael, Christopher Abbot, Margaret Qualley and Suzy Bemba. The movie won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 2023. Stone has won a best actress award at the Golden Globes and the Critics’ Choice Awards. The movie won Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes. It had a budget of $35-million and, so far, has made $24.5-million at the box office. When I went, the theatre was nearly full. The movie has awards-season buzz. Is it any good or even a classic?

It depends on what you’re looking at. Poor Things has a plethora of costumes, great makeup and lovely studio sets, which were filmed at Origo Studios, Budapest. The story takes place in a retrofuturistic past, comparable with a steampunk world, and tells a Frankensteinian tale of an abused doctor who runs wild experiments. One of these experiments is Stone’s Bella Baxter.

Stone’s performance carries the movie. Bella Baxter goes from person to person looking for an understanding of life. What she finds is a great deal of sex and possessive men. Ruffalo plays one of these men with hilarious energy. Stone’s character is fascinating and her development through the movie is startling. I very much enjoyed the use of language to show Bella Baxter’s development. The nudity of Stone and others becomes quite frequent in the second act.

The shock value of Poor Things sometimes feels more important than the story. At its core, the story is of an evil doctor’s brain experiment on a woman who develops from infant to maturity. Outside of shock and humour, the movie had some philosophy and moments of on-the-nose revelation, but it did not pull my heart. The movie lacked tenderness and warmth. A cold movie does not have as much of an audience as the movie's producers may have hoped.

Although it tries to be insightful, it relies heavily on its sex and humour. Humour is best served through Stone and Ruffalo. Abbot’s Alfie was a funny, late-movie character. His use of his gun to stop his perceived revolution of the help was black comedy with clever commentary.

The movie is about female liberation. It does not have the female gaze as Saltburn and I don’t know if it is a feminist movie. Stone’s Baxter uses sex as her driving force. A man introduces her to her second passion of reading. From a psychological perspective, as this movie understand sex, a developing brain’s first test is the orgasm. This perspective adds a subversive commentary on the nature of Ruffalo’s character, who is in love with a baby-brained woman.

This baby-brained-woman theme becomes the essential undercurrent of the movie. It informs how we perceive Bella Baxter’s actions and the subtext we use to understand her development. However, this all-men-are-either-evil-or-nihilists exploration of humanity is jaded and counterintuitive. It is interesting to watch once. How it will hold up will be answered by the test of time. There will always be an interest in a movie with an A-list actor in an avant-garde curveball. Is Poor Things a classic? Not from my perspective.

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