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"Poor Things": A Movie Review


Blurb:  The incredible tale about the fantastical evolution of Bella Baxter, a young woman brought back to life by the brilliant and unorthodox scientist Dr. Godwin Baxter.

Starring: Emma Stone

Mark Ruffalo

Willem Dafoe

Ramy Youssef

Christopher Abbott

Jerrod Carmichael.

Directed by:  

Yorgos Lanthimos

Written by:  Tony McNamara

Based on the novel

Poor Things by Alasdair Gray


"I am Bella Baxter. And there is a world to enjoy, circumnavigate. It is the goal of all to progress, grow."

Upon entering the theater, this was my thoughts: It is clear this is going to be a weird movie, and I am up for that. But I hope that it's not weird just for being weird. One of those movies where the director and production team aren't just being as weird as they can be with no real thought to a story, simply trying to impress us with how supposedly brilliant they are.

I need not have worried.

This is the first of the nominees I've seen since Barbie that I would watch again. And I plan to. Wow.

Poor Things is the story of Bela Baxter (Emma Stone) in an almost The Bride of Frankenstein story, except in creating her from scratch, the scientist/brilliant surgeon--who looks a lot like the Frankenstein monster--finds the body of a woman and decides to bring her back to life. He succeeds.

The problem is that she is no longer the woman she was. She is an entirely different person and very child-like, seeing the world very much in black and white (in fact the beginning of the movie is filmed in black and white), very innocently, judging the world and what happens in it the way a child would.

And since she only has Max Godwin (Willem Dafoe), her creator, for company--and whom she calls God--she totally accepts everything around her, even though what she sees is very un-worldly. The good doctor, besides trying to bring dead women back to life, has also created, through surgery, all manner of cobbled together creatures (watch carefully): A duck-headed goat, a dog-headed duck, a duck-headed dog, and a plethora of others. She can also be rough and hurtful, like a kid that breaks something and laughes.

But she begins to accelerate at a rapid rate, keeping only the innocence of ignorance. It's not okay to try and masturbate at the table with a piece of fruit for instance--which clearly confuses her, as it feels good--or spit out something she's eating because she doesn't like the taste, or in finding someone's body odor disagreeable to simple say, without any thought--"Is that smell you?"

Godwin--who is terribly scarred, mostly from gruesome experiments his own father performs on him when he was a child--decides to take on a medical assistant to help him with Bela. The student, Max McCandles (Ramy Youssef), who is not bothered by the way Godwin's face because this is the opportunity of a lifetime, sees Godwin for who he is, and not how he appears.

That's part of the story, finding out.

Max falls in love with Bela and the two are to be wed, when the scoundrel Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo) comes into the story and convinces Bela to go away with him. She accepts, but not at all for the reasons he thinks. He's becoming obsessed with her, falling hopelessly in love, but she just wants a grand adventure and to have wild sex, which she calls "furious jumping" and wishes to know, "Why do people just not do this all the time?"

And Bella has a grand adventure--it is at this point that the film switches over into vivid, amazing, color--learning wonderful and terrible things, before we find out who the woman was that died in order to become Bela, that woman's past, and where she, Bela's, future lies.

Every performance in this movie deserves an Oscar nomination, including every person she meets on her adventure, including a wealthy old woman named Martha Von Kurtzroc (Hanna Schygulla), her companion Harry, and Madame Swiney, who runs a brothel, all of whom live in a gorgeous, almost steam-punk version of the Victorian world.

I LOVED this movie. Going on 24-hours later, I love it even more that when I was experiencing, and leaving the theater in the afterglow. I mention this because there have been a lot of movies that I liked while watching them, but then a few hours or later or the next I found myself saying, "Wait a minute....that movie has problems! What about [fill-in-the-blank] and [fill-in-the-blank] and [fill-in-the-blank] and [fill-in-the-blank]?? It has holes you could sink the Titanic through!" Perfect examples would be Aquaman or Batman vs Superman or The Justice League. * Watching them and being hit with the special effect and soundtrack was one thing. But once I had a chance to think about it.... I mean, Batman and Superman stopped fighting and became friends because both their mothers were named Martha?!?!

This has not happened with Poor Things.

I thought there was powerful stuff in this movie. How interesting to see the world through the eyes of an innocent. To see her confused by rules that make no sense. Politenesses that are quite silly, but we've taken them as truth because that is what culture/society tells us we're supposed to do. How incredible to see her break down in grief by some of what she witnesses, with no one to teach her what is "acceptable" and what is not. Or what we close our eyes upon because we don't want to fix them.

Yes! Yes, on this movie. I doubt it will win the Oscar for best picture--and I am not happy with the film that probably will--but out of the eight nominees I've seen, Poor Things and Barbie were the two that taught me the most. And that for me, is Oscar Gold.

BEN'S RATING:  ☕☕☕☕☕☕X


Warning: The following is a complete synopsis of the movie. It's nothing but spoilers. Read at your own risk!

In Victorian London, the medical student Max McCandles becomes an assistant to the eccentric surgeon Godwin Baxter. He falls in love with Godwin's ward, Bella, a childlike young woman. Max learns that a pregnant woman killed herself by leaping off a bridge, and Godwin replaced her brain with that of her unborn baby, giving the infant Bella an adult’s body.

With Godwin's encouragement, Max asks for Bella's hand in marriage. Bella accepts, but as her intelligence rapidly develops, she becomes curious about the outside world. She runs off with a debauched lawyer, Duncan Wedderburn. Deciding to let her go, Godwin starts a new experiment with a young woman, Felicity, who matures much more slowly than Bella.

Bella and Duncan embark on a grand journey, starting in Lisbon, where they have frequent sex. When Bella becomes difficult for him to control, Duncan smuggles her onto a cruise ship. Bella befriends the passengers Martha and Harry, who open her mind to philosophy. Duncan attempts to stunt her growth, to no avail. He becomes exasperated and indulges in drinking and gambling.

During a stop at Alexandria, Bella witnesses the suffering of the poor and becomes distraught. She entrusts Duncan's winnings to unscrupulous members of the crew, who promise to give it to the needy. Unable to afford the rest of the trip, Bella and Duncan are dropped at Marseille and make their way to Paris.

Seeking money and accommodation, Bella begins working at a brothel. Duncan, enraged, has a breakdown and Bella abandons him. At the brothel, she comes under the tutelage of Madame Swiney and begins a relationship with another prostitute, Toinette, who introduces her to socialism.

Godwin, now terminally ill, asks Max to bring Bella to him. Max locates her after tracking down Duncan, who has been institutionalized. In London, Bella reconciles with Godwin and renews her plans to marry Max.

The wedding is interrupted by Duncan and General Alfie Blessington. Alfie, addressing Bella as Victoria, declares that they were married before her disappearance and that he has come to reclaim her. She abandons Max to learn of her past life, but discovers Alfie's violent and sadistic nature and realizes she killed herself to escape him.

Alfie confines Bella to his mansion. He threatens her at gunpoint to submit to genital mutilation, demanding she drink a sedative. She tosses the sedative in his face. Alfie shoots himself in the foot and passes out. Godwin dies peacefully with Bella and Max at his side. Bella decides to carry on Godwin's work with the help of Max and Toinette, and transplants a goat's brain into Alfie's head. *

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Very good review. I will admit that the subject matter is a little dark for me so the synopsis was handy. Marj

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