• Sun. Mar 3rd, 2024

Review: Poor Things

ByFlorence O'Neill

Feb 5, 2024
digital illustration of emma stone in poor things

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

One thing many people have questioned when thinking about the recent movie Poor Things is whether it can be considered a feminist film. Starting with facts, the film is directed by a man, based on a book written by a man, focusing on a female’s sexual liberation. I have no issues with men creating feminist films or books, Martin McDonagh does a fantastic job with his film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2018), and many of Thomas Hardy’s books bring up important issues for women and can be considered great feminist texts. However, I don’t see this as a feminist film.

Regardless of its feministic standing, it is fantastic. It is humourous, dark, inventive, and completely nuanced. Emma Stone is a fantastic actress who seems to be a chameleon when it comes to her profession and can pull off every role she is faced with. Yorgos Lanthimos is also a fantastic director with a great filmography behind him, and one can assume an inspired future. I’m particularly excited to see his adaptation of Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation, one of my favourite books transformed into film by a director that I love. 

Before writing this review, I read up on what other people have said about the film. Initially I loved it– and I do still— but when the film ended, I was aware that I had seen something spectacular. Yet, something just didn’t sit quite right. Whether it is the mind of a child in the body of a sexually active woman (though this film is certainly not promoting paedophilia— I would like to make that clear) or the myth that traumatised, abused girls have a desire to sleep with as many men as possible– all points discussed in Samira Ahmed’s review in the Guardian. It is not a feminist story, it is a retelling of the story of Frankenstein, and, from this description, the film is excellent.

Bella Baxter is an exquisite character, in an intriguing world, and her inquisitive mind thrives in the peculiar setting of Poor Things. She explores, as we desire to explore, the strange world that Dr. Godwin Baxter, or God, depicted brilliantly by Willem Dafoe, has created away from those that would judge them. Bella is sheltered and hidden until she meets Duncan Wedderburn, played by Mark Ruffalo— in my opinion— in what is his best performance yet. He takes her away, shows her the world, and they go on a journey of exploration in regard to travel and Bella’s sexual freedom. Duncan aims to control her, keeping her for himself, but she learns about the world quickly, questioning him, and the morals she observes, often making Duncan look like a fool. 

The setting has been described as a ‘steampunk-styled Victorian era London’ and, in this surreal universe, Lanthimos gets to really play with the world the characters live in. The setting is continuously beautiful and mesmerising, making the film feel like a fever dream or an illusion of an idea. Not to sound too pretentious, it is, simply put, a piece of art. The costumes were really something to marvel at, and I hope Holly Waddington gets the acclaim she deserves.

The genre of surrealism allows for so much. Bella Baxter has a freedom to explore her sexuality in this supposedly reserved world, never suffering consequences as other women from that suggested era would have. The film does not offer the image of a real world, but after-all neither does Frankenstein. Instead, it suggests ideas and points of view, pointing out problems the world is yet to deal with, which is what science fiction can do. 

I do find it slightly unfair to refer to the film with terms such as ‘the male gaze’ and while I see this as a prominent problem in many literatures and films, I feel it is misplaced here. The sex in the film isn’t ‘sexual’ and Bella isn’t ‘sexualised’, we simply follow her journey of self-discovery. She has autonomy and freedom of thought, learning and loving to do so, isn’t housed by Duncan, despite his attempts, and is intrigued by certain people, choosing to remain honest. A refreshing character in cinema, to say the very least.

Poor Things is sublime. It is a unique, original, incredibly funny, and beautiful. To create something so unlike anything we are used to in film, is nothing short of complete talent. It is a great film which I highly recommend. And now that I have completed my review, I must go punch that baby!

Illustration by Lucy Keegan