Film review: Poor Things – A marmite masterpiece

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Featured image: Atsushi Nishijima. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.© 2023 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.

Combining unreliable narration, visual horror, and in-your-face philosophy, Yorgos Lanthimos produces a marmite masterpiece.

Highly anticipated and insane ‘Poor Things’ explores the coming-of-age of Bella Baxter, a beautiful and naive Frankenstein created by ‘God’ Baxter. The film is inspired by the 1992 Alisdair Gray novel, set in a fantastical take on Victorian-era London. An A-list cast of Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe, and Mark Ruffalo star. Playing a God-like scientist, Dafoe creates an unfathomable world of cross-bred animals and visual whacky burps. 

Making this viewing a solo date was one of my better choices. This film is best viewed with complete attention. It is arthouse, gothic, and dreamlike with a screeching score. The narrative unfolds slowly, and by the end, you’re utterly convinced of the nonsensical world shown on screen. 

Emma Stone and Mark Ruffalo in POOR THINGS. Photo by Atsushi Nishijima. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.

Emma Stone plays an enrapturing Bella, conveying her childlike nature with a hilarity that makes the 142-minute run time pass swiftly. Initially, her sexual awakening feels uncomfortable and exploitative. However, as the story continues, a feminist learning is developed through her erotomania. 

Craving autonomy, Bella runs away with corrupt lawyer Duncan (Ruffalo) on a whirlwind adventure abroad. Ruffalo plays a hysterical man desperate to control his lover. He is a perverse jester, providing a hilariously unlikeable lothario-turned-leech.  

The cinematography is stunning in this whimsical world, with elements of Victorian fantasy combined with steampunk and art nouveau. This setting connects the movie to the Glasgow-inspired novel. 

Emma Stone in POOR THINGS. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.

Although disconcerting, the gore and bodily horror portrayed are completely absurd and not out of place in the expertly crafted picture. It certainly isn’t a film for the faint-hearted, though the bizarre comedy and witty dialogue forgive the unsettling scenes. 

‘Poor Things’ is an emotional rollercoaster, I have never expressed reactions so viscerally and visibly at a piece of cinema. Whilst symbolic, it is on point and almost camp in its liberal expressions of feminism. Bella is purposely unsettling and factual. Neurodivergent women can well understand the misinterpretation of her blunt viewpoints and earnest desire to discover. It is a rarity to see clinical women as protagonists, let alone succeed in their dismissal of male control. This is a refreshing take. 

For those who wish Barbie could have been macabre and insane, Poor Things is a niche and wildly entertaining watch.

About the author / 

Jess Berry

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