Poor Things – Film Review

Adapted from Alasdair Gray’s novel of the same name, Poor Things is one of the most coveted films of the 2024 Oscar marathon, already guaranteed to leave the ceremony adorned with numerous awards. Returning with a new film five years after his Oscar-winning The Favourite, Lanthimos has revisited the absurdities he momentarily set aside after The Favourite, albeit in a single film. Lanthimos is a figure of considerable intrigue, both in his style and narrative approach, consistently standing out with his distinctive directorial flair. However, this time, the star of the film is not him. In fact, he even delivers a somewhat weak performance.

Let’s briefly touch upon the plot… Scientist and surgeon Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe) brings life to a corpse he finds in the river by implanting the brain of the fetus inside its pregnant belly. Bella Baxter, raised at home as Godwin Baxter’s daughter, experiences her childhood within an adult body. But as her brain develops and Emma begins to uncover the secrets of her own body, her hunger for exploration and learning intensifies, prompting her to venture out into the world.

I want to get the essential point out from the outset. The sole factor that makes the film successful is Emma Stone. Not the story, nor the narrative style. Solely Emma Stone and her expressive eyes. Emma, who more than deserves her Oscar nomination, skillfully utilizes the vast canvas the film provides her, captivating the audience from beginning to end. Her bold approach, the transformations in her character as she gains experience, and her manner of speech, all leave the viewer both impressed and entertained. Despite the film’s flaws, the reason for my enjoyment lies solely in Emma Stone’s courageous portrayal of this peculiar tale.

For a significant portion of the film, Bella experiences life with a developing child’s brain. Ultimately, it’s the brain that defines who we are, even if the body is that of an adult. Looking at it from this perspective, Bella spending much of the film engaged in sexual activity felt somewhat problematic to me, as it may to many others. In fact, I would go so far as to say it’s directly problematic. While it may be a valid inference that the brain of a man resides in his penis, having a woman with a child’s brain prove this reality inherently raises issues. While I found the process of Bella’s development and her discovery of how harsh and brutal the world can truly be quite compelling, the story’s essence revolving around sex undermines the intended destination, causing harm midway through the journey.

I found the steampunk world design borrowed from the Victorian era in the film quite successful. Particularly, the embellishment of this design with pastel colors, reminiscent of vivid and romantic period paintings, is one of the film’s highlights. The film fully embodies Lanthimos’s absurd sensibilities in its design. The director, who is fond of delving into the perversions of the human subconscious, constantly strives to depict his characters in close-ups, highlighting their ugliness. While his approach is typically successful, this time, he falls short in the directorial aspect of the film.

Lanthimos is a superb storyteller and a successful world-builder. However, his directorial style in Poor Things, while still his usual style, falters due to its excessive nature. His infatuation with the fisheye lens, which emerged in his last two films, is used somewhat arbitrarily this time. While this wide-angle approach worked impressively within the colossal Victorian architecture in The Favourite, it doesn’t quite translate in Poor Things, which takes place in mostly confined spaces. Unfortunately, this time, it’s clear that Lanthimos’s camera lags behind, only standing out through his approach to design. However, the film is not carried by him; it’s solely and entirely by Emma Stone.

In essence… Poor Things is an enjoyable and quite absurd, albeit somewhat debatable film, solely propelled by Emma Stone’s character. While Lanthimos once again proves his prowess as a writer and his ability to construct absurd settings, he falls short this time in directing. Despite his attempt to inject color into the film with the fisheye lens, he fails. Yet, the technical aspect is not what draws attention. It’s Emma Stone and the values she symbolizes that form the core of the film. While I generally appreciate the film’s approach and the transformative journeys that begin with reading and researching, the fact that the character is essentially a “child” cannot be overlooked. Thus, centering the film around sex is unfortunately problematic and leaves it vulnerable to criticism.

Cast & Crew

director: Yorgos Lanthimos

writers: Tony McNamara, Alasdair Gray (based on the novel by) 

starring: Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe, Ramy Youssef, Mark Ruffalo, Margaret Qualley 

USA – UK – IRELAND | 2023 | 141 MINUTES |


Ukrainian Creative Director | Motion Picture Writer | Horror Freak

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *