Review: Poor Things


If you have a chance to see this film, be prepared for a WILD ride!

Professor Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe – “The Lighthouse”) is a ruin of a man – brilliant, but disfigured physically and worse by his insane scientist father. He invites one of his anatomy students, Max McCandles (Ramy Youssef – “Wish”), to assist him by detailing the developmental progress of his ward, Bella (Emma Stone – “The Help”), a young woman who has suffered a severe brain injury. Despite her adult body, Bella has the muscular coordination and conversational skills of a two year old.

Max quickly becomes infatuated with Bella, who is developing rapidly and longs to be free of the confines of the Professor’s bizarre house.

Max eventually discovers that Bella is in fact a composite being. An anonymous pregnant gentlewoman committed suicide by jumping into the Thames. A “resurrectionist” found the body and sold it to the professor who discovered the unborn child still lived in the dead womb. He took the brain of the baby and substituted it for that of the unknown woman, whom he then brought back to life via electrical stimulation.

The two men decide Max and Bella should be wed, but before the ceremony can be held, an unscrupulous lawyer, Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo – “Spotlight”), spirits her off to Lisbon, Portugal. Here the developing Bella comes into her own as first a sexual and then a free living woman.

Director Yorgos Lanthemos (“The Lobster”) and writer Tony McNamara (“The Favorite”) have taken the novel by Alasdair Gray and created an incredible surreal adventure based on the real life parents of “Frankenstein” creator Mary Shelley. William Godwin, Mary’s father, was a free thinking political philosopher and journalist. He married Mary Wollstonecraft, a strong proponent of open social arrangements and women’s rights. Mary Wollstonecraft, despite her support for more informal relationships, did attempt suicide following a romantic breakup: she jumped off a bridge into the Thames. However, she was saved, went on to marry Godwin, and give birth to her daughter Mary. But within two weeks, she was dead of septicemia, and little Mary was raised by her father. These and other elements of the history around Godwin, Wollstonecraft, and Mary Shelley are woven into this surreal tale.

Special recognition is due to the production designers, Shena Heath (“Eye Ear You”), and James Price (“Judy”). They have created a fantasy world of light, shapes, hues, joy, fear, misery and triumph. Kudos!

Director Lanthemos has gotten fabulous performances out of all his players, but especially Emma Stone. If you have ever had a two-year-old of your own, you would instantly recognize the stuttering muscular control, the sheer exuberance of life, and the uncontrolled emotions. Her evolution into a fully emancipated adult female is a pleasure to observe. This is made all the more daunting for Stone since so much of it is heavily sexually laden, including full-frontal nudity.

Willem Dafoe performs with his usual aplomb. The way he nonchalantly delivers his lines – describing everything from the monstrous torments inflicted upon his body by his demented father – to his creation of Bella, are a pleasure to hear. Finally, Mark Ruffalo as the lecherous lawyer is all bravado, then fury, then insecurity and finally a destroyed but still devoted lover, to his Bella.

There are numerous supporting roles, each expertly delineated. There is not a single false note to be found in any category of production.

I strongly recommended this film to any serious lover of the fantastic. “Poor Things” is a true work of art. But a warning: this film contains strong sexual content, language, and some brutally realistic images of dissection.

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