by Ray Schillaci
The Movie Guys

Once again, director Yorgos Lanthimos unveils an unsettling creation that is not for the general public. He has done this with several of his films: The Lobster, Killing of a Sacred Deer and the unnerving The Favourite. His vision is not for everyone and the same could be said for Poor Things. Lanthimos teams up once more with writer Tony McNamara (The Favourite), adapting the late Alasdair Grey’s novel escorting us into a fantasy world seen quite a bit through a fish-eye lens where Frankenstein has been reinvented as the ugly and sad monster of a doctor, Willem Dafoe as Godwin Baxter, only to revive a beautiful mysterious woman, played by Emma Stone, who has committed suicide by leaping off a bridge and into a river in her last month of pregnancy for unknown reasons.

Poor Thing’s story is set sometime in Victorian London, a fantastical world that is part Jules Verne and part Brothers Grimm fairytale land where imagination knows no bounds. This is only accentuated by the amazing Oscar-winning production design created by Shona Heath, Zsuzsa Mihalek and James Price. After retrieving the suicide victim from the murky waters, the eccentric scientist takes the woman’s brain and replaces it with that of her unborn fetus’s brain.

At this point alone you’ll either go with the fantasy or find it distasteful and go no further. But, you would be missing out on quite a woman’s journey that is probably more insightful than Barbie, but also far more graphic. The operation is a success and she is a child-like woman reborn that the good doctor addresses as his ward, naming her Bella Baxter.

To many in the medical community along with several of his students, Dr. Baxter is a very strange one. His looks do not help matters since he appears to be stitched up and operated on from head to toe mostly due to early experiments that his father had subjected him to. Although, this has not diminished the man’s ability as an expert surgeon and his Bella is hidden well from anyone.

At one point, he does feel Bella is becoming too hard to manage and carefully enlists a young medical student, Max McCandles, in the hopes of assisting him with Bella’s progress. Max practically worships Dr. Baxter and is in awe of the experiment to the point of falling in love with her. But, things become ever so complicated as Bella rebels over her captivity in the safe haven that Dr. Baxter has provided. Her intelligence develops rapidly and she craves to see the outside world and soon discovers herself, masturbation and sexual pleasure.

Bella goes off the rails pleasuring herself in front of the help, grabbing fruits and vegetables. Some will find this off-putting, others will find it hilarious. Bella is seeking pleasure wherever she can find it and all the secrets that are hiding outside of her confines. All the while, Dr. Baxter encourages Max to marry Bella.

He feels he can trust him and he will keep her safe, but the good doctor, not knowing that he has hired a perverted scoundrel of a lawyer, Duncan Wedderburn, to draw up the nuptials, has all his plans fall apart when Bella runs away with him. Mark Ruffalo as Wedderburn plays a great villain that goes from high comedy to tragedy demonstrating a prowess not seen before. Aside from Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo is the other bright shining star in this peculiar tale.

We are mesmerized throughout Bella’s journey into womanhood and from each of her various adventures from which she learns a valuable lesson. She is constantly wide-eyed with wonder, and when Bella’s heart aches so does ours. Her experience of the hard truths to face is both devastating and philosophical. Bella Baxter is a high point in this young actress’s career. Every nuance that she imbues into Bella is remarkable. She is breathtaking to watch, heart wrenching and funny as all hell. A well deserved Oscar performance.

As for director Yorgos Lanthimos and his writer Tony McNamara, they have brought a wondrous vision to Grey’s novel. The film is a marvel to behold with a variety of emotions that whisk through our hearts and minds. Lanthimos is a true original. A bold artist that does not shirk from controversy. Is he a box office draw? Not really since his movies are more relatable to the art and indie crowd.

Although, with Poor Things and the prowess he has demonstrated with his other films he could easily be one of those who end up in the cinema history books alongside Kubrick, Fellini, Godard, Bergman, Kurosawa and Scorsese. If you go in with an open mind while viewing Poor Things, in the end, you cannot help but feel happier for it. Emma Stone alone is worth the price.

Visit Ray’s blog at themonsterinmyhead.com.

Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos
Release Date: December 8, 2023
Rated: R
Run Time: 141 Minutes
Country: Ireland/United States/Hungary/United Kingdom
Distributor: Searchlight Pictures

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