Poor Things (2023) | Review

Emma Stone shines in Yorgos Lanthimos' beautiful and excellently executed tale of a naive woman exploring the world.

poor things movie poster
Credit: The Movie Database

Synopsis: After suffering tragedy, child-like Bella Baxter escapes her care to explore the world and learn all she can about people, the way things are, and what she wants to make of her life.

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, Willem Defoe, Ramy Youseff, Jerrod Carmicheal, Kathryn Hunter

Yorgos Lanthimos’ newest film is arguably his best so far. A supporting cast of people ranging from entertaining to magnetically watchable orbits around Emma Stone’s incredible Bella Baxter, a grown woman with an infant mind venturing out into the world. Combined with Lanthimos' now trademark sexual humour, you're set to enjoy the weirdest laugh riot in years.

It would have been very easy for Bella to be played too innocently or insensitively (especially when aiming for black comedy) but it’s impossible not to become attached to her as she evolves from a gawping child to an enlightened adult. There is a real tenderness to how Bella recalls and interprets the many teachings of her father figure Dr. Godwin (Willem Defoe) as her rational and emotional sides gradually balance themselves after exploring more of the world.

Much of the comedy comes from Mark Ruffalo's Duncan Wedderburn, who becomes infatuated with Bella until she develops critical thinking. Duncan achieves an exact reverse of Bella, a regression from a wealthy dandy to a tantrumming man-child in wonderfully comedic form.

BELLA: So it is no evidence base, as God would say. And so how judge it
DUNCAN: What the fuck are you talking about? Who are you? You don’t know what bananas are, you’ve never heard of chess, and yet you know what empirically means?
colourful screenshot from poor things
Credit: The Movie Database

The production design from Shona Heath and James Price is divine and married with gorgeous camerawork to create a distorted world worthy of Bella's exploration. While grey skies and stunted attitudes remain in London, the rest of the world teems with light and excitement. It's suitably surreal without seeming too strange - like a toned-down dream from the mind of Dave McKean - while colourful off-Victorian costumes pepper the many streets and dining halls along the journey. The score deserves special attention too, ranging from light harp plucking as Bella plods around Godwin's house to sudden, harsh screams as she enjoys her debauched times with Duncan.

The result of all of this is a creative film that mixes monster fiction with a positively modern view of womanhood, independence, and liberation through sex. Bella's first enlightening moment comes from discovering the orgasm and using this as her moral North Star quickly puts her at odds with many of the people she encounters. Sometimes this yields a philosophical conversation, and other times it yields a horrible attempt on her life, but everything is taken with a good pace and many belly laughs.

Poor Things achieves everything it sets out to do in spades and I implore you to watch it.

BELLA: As God my father says, it is only the way it is until we discover the new way it is and then that is the way it is until we discover the new way it is and so it goes until the world is no longer flat, electricity lights the night and shoes no longer are tied with ribbons.

Source: YouTube