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‘Poor Things’: A Stone Cold Classic!

TALA LADKI celebrates Emma Stone’s performance in the Oscar-nominated film about a resurrected young woman on a journey of self-discovery

Poor Things is not your typical movie. I’m not well acquainted with Yorgos Lanthimos’ works, but if the rest of his movies are similar in style to Poor Things, then I have a feeling I will, weirdly enough, like them. You might too, especially if you’re into Lars Von Trier films.

In his latest movie starring Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, Willem Defoe and Ramy Youssef, Lanthimos combines a little bit of Alice in Wonderland with a little bit of Frankenstein and successfully presents us with an enticing plot laced with dark humor and absurdity.


 A baby’s brain in an adult body

In the opening scene, we see a woman throwing herself from a bridge. Next, as the tone shifts, the movie continues in black-and-white. We’re introduced to Bella – a charming, peculiar and evolving young lady. We later discover that Bella is the same woman from the bridge, but with a different brain – her baby’s. Childlike in behavior and development, yet in an adult’s body, Bella is looked after by her “creator”, Dr. Godwin Baxter (or ‘God, as she refers to him, played by Willem Defoe), a maid, and just a few minutes into the movie, by Max (Ramy Youssef), God’s medical assistant and soon-to-be Bella’s husband. The two men go to extreme lengths to protect her from the cruelties of the world. When Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo) promises to show her extraordinary things, Bella begins her journey of self-discovery with him. The two travel the world, from Portugal to Egypt and end up in France.


A kaleidoscope of colours

We witness Bella’s development throughout the movie, from her inability to formulate complete sentences, to her growth into a young adult. Riding a bicycle. Asking questions. Learning to eat properly. Getting acquainted with social cues. All with the help of Dr. Godwin and Max. As she develops, so do her desires, and she discovers self-pleasure. With Duncan’s appearance in her life, she explores sex and sexuality. Her black-and-white world gives way to a kaleidoscope of colours during their first sexual encounter and the movie progresses in colour after that, emphasizing the importance of sex in Bella’s journey.

Soon after, Bella learns that men can be cruel, and she grows bored of her relationship with Wedderburn. On a cruise, she expands her knowledge, begins reading and making friends, one of whom shows her poverty in Alexandria. Her awareness of the reality she’s very much detached from throws her into tears and an emotional fury, after which she gives away Wedderburn’s money.

Stranded in Paris, Bella decides to become a sex worker. Her experience of brothels is enjoyable at first but soon becomes tiresome. After several obstacles, the movie ends with Bella and Max finally married.


Divided opinions

This coming-of-age, retro-futurist, cynical, Victorian, funny and sometimes, heartbreaking journey teaches Bella all about the world – the good, the bad, the ugly, the enjoyable – and allows her to experience different events that shape the woman she becomes by the end of the movie. Since its release, there have been contradicting views, with some viewers seeing it as a liberating tale of female empowerment, where Bella's erotic awakening becomes the key to her independence while others dismissed it as shallow. See for instance these Guardian commentaries.

Bella’s journey is riddled with feminist undertones and social commentary on wealth and poverty, and Emma Stone does an incredible job in showcasing Bella’s development to understand her own needs and views of the world. Her co-star, Mark Ruffalo, doesn’t disappoint in his portrayal of Duncan Wedderburn – a rich, impulsive man who’s interested in Bella for her looks, naivety and sexual desire. The emotional roller-coaster he’s taken on by Bella becomes a part of the audience’s journey of experiencing the movie from his perspective. Willem Dafoe's mad scientist and Rami Youssef's innocent aid add their own layers of eccentricity through stellar performances.


Stellar Bella!

This movie is not for everyone. Personally, I thought the movie was weird at first, but the more I watched, the more I grew attached to Bella’s character and her journey. I wanted her to find everything she longed for. I wanted to shield her from the cruelty of the world too. I think this role was made for Emma Stone, and I couldn’t imagine anyone else inhabiting this character so gracefully. Ultimately, Bella steals the show with her irresistible charm, radiance and relatability.

Written by Tala Ladki


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