Poor Things (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2023): Ireland | United Kingdom | United States | Hungary

Reviewed by Maya Kingsbury. Viewed at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2024.

I watched Poor Things at the 2024 Santa Barbara International Film Festival. To me, this film was nothing short of genius. I found that everything I feel as a woman, that never is portrayed or talked about in film, was put together in a beautifully wrapped package, topped even with a beautiful ribbon. Poor Things is brought to us by a Greek director, Yorgos Lanthimos, and scriptwriter Tony McNamara who adapted it from the Alasdair Gray novel, Poor Things. Shona Heath and James Price were the masterminds behind the fantastical, theatrical set design with Zsuzsa Mihalek as set decorator. Holly Waddignton made her film career debut as costume designer, having done mostly theater work before. Robbie Ryan is the Director of Photography, bringing us along through Bella Baxter’s world, stitched together by editor Yorgos Mavropsaridis. Jerskin Fendrix brought an eerie, surreal soundtrack that accentuated the strange world of Poor Things. Finally, casting director Dixie Chassay shines, casting Emma Stone as the lead Bella Baxter and Mark Ruffalo as supporting actor Duncan Wedderburn. 

Poor Things follows Bella Baxter, a woman crafted and reinvented by the unorthodox scientist, Dr. Godwin Baxter, who poses as a father figure to her. We see the world through Bella Baxter’s unusual perspective and watch her evolution as she gets to know the outside world and the people in it for the first time. She confronts many stigmas and behaviors commonly taught as shameful, learns about polite society, the patriarchy, possession and ownership, and relationship dynamics with a fresh and unique perspective. 

Interestingly, I felt like Greta Gerwig’s, Barbie (2023), helped pave the way for Poor Things. While Barbie was a funny, witty, palatable portrayal of feminism, Poor Things came after with shameless, relentless, sex, grit, prostitution and all. The film had a little bit of everything, some sad, some funny, some philosophical, some artistic, and all while dealing with real world problems and stigmatisms in a very engaging and nuanced way. The surreal world that she lives in creates a platform to discuss the cultural filter that people judge behavior through typically, which we learn as children and hardens with time. Bella Baxter on the other hand is a fresh slate, free of the shaming, quieting, and conforming that women are often if not directly, indirectly, told to adhere to. At first I was surprised at how much the film resonated with the female perspective, and though there was much nudity, did not feel like it was in the form of the male gaze, coming from a male director and male writer. However, I feel it’s important to note that I recently discovered Emma Stone discussed in a conversation with Olivia Coleman that her role as a producer on Poor Things is often overlooked because she also acted in the film, and that she did have a large voice, saying that this was, “a story we wanted to tell and the way we wanted to tell it.”

Go see it. I can not promise you will love it as I do, it’s definitely far down on the weird scale, but at the very least it will expand your horizons or leave you feeling like you’ve tried a new cuisine for the first time. Using an sheltered, childlike mind in a womans body, as a vessel to discuss what the it might look like if a woman wasn’t quieted or shamed by the confines of a patriarchal social structure like we often see today, is a brilliant and refreshing story that tells you to have your cake and eat it to.


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