Film Review

Poor Things

todayJanuary 18, 2024 120

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By – Gareth Jones

For fans of fantastically absurd and surreal cinema, feminist and adult themes, Emma Stone, Yorgos Lanthimos

I finally saw Poor Things and went in with high expectations.  It has been sweeping the awards with Emma Stone getting the prize for her full-bodied, accomplished, and moving performance.  It is a tour-de-force and will most likely result in her second Oscar.  I was mesmerized by her portrayal of Bella Baxter, as well as the direction of Yorgos Lanthimos, the production design of Shona Heath and James Price, and the costumes of Holly Waddington.  My expectations were exceeded.

This is the second collaboration between Lanthimos and Stone and they are fully in sync with this adaptation of the novel by Alasdair Gray.  I have not read the novel so I was not let down in the process of adaptation like some folks.  I fully understand their concerns and complaints, but for me this film is a fully realized piece of cinematic art.  One filled with bodily fluids, gore, and adult behavior, but still a work of art.  Lanthimos has now created a “body” of work that matches any other contemporary filmmaker.  He continually challenges audiences and is the offspring of surrealists Luis Bunuel and David Lynch, but also in this case James Whale, the man behind the original Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. Like Whale, Lanthimos does a masterful job of connecting us to the “monster”.  Many critics have brought us the underground film Frankenhooker as a point of comparison as well, but although there are some basic similarities, Lanthimos is working with a bigger theme and palette here. 

The story is an adaptation of the Frankenstein mythology, in this case the Dr. Godwin Baxter (played with humor and pathos by the incomparable Willem Dafoe) brings to life a young, pregnant woman back to life by transplanting the brain of her child into the body of the mother.  This gives Emma Stone the opportunity to show the progression of the “monster” from childhood to adulthood as she discovers the world.  Along the way, she challenges preconceived notions of women and science.

The cinematography of Irishman Robbie Ryan is so effective in forcing perspectives as it moves back and forth between fisheye lenses in black and white to full color.  It forces the audience to think about how we look at the world.  This is the second time that Ryan has worked with Lanthimos after collaborating on The Favorite.  Ryan is a fascinating cinematographer to use for a surrealist like Lanthimos, as Ryan has worked extensively with many realist filmmakers in the UK such as Andrea Arnold and Ken Loach.  However, that realist approach balances out the fantastic nature of much that is on display in this film.

I have already mentioned Willem Dafoe and of course Emma Stone, but one of the true delights of the film is the performance of Mark Ruffalo.  He is terrifically funny as the dastardly (right down to the mustache) villain Duncan Wedderburn.  The dance sequence alone is worth the price of admission.  I also must highlight the short but memorable presence of the great Hanna Schygulla, the muse of the influential German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder.  She is the connective tissue to this influence and brings a depth to a small role because of it.

Poor Things is a strong reason to see Emma Stone as one the best actors working today, with incredible versatility and Lanthimos gives her the stage to perform.  I must also state that Lanthimos is one of a few directors with a large distribution that is making films for adults. It is frank in its presentation of sex and gore, believing that audiences are capable of processing the two together without their minds being degraded.  In many ways, it is a throwback to another era when these films were more common and adults could see challenging cinema in a theater. 

Go see it in a movie theater like Sidewalk Cinema with other adults who appreciate film as an art form.

Written by: Gareth Jones

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