Sunday, March 17, 2024

Poor Things

Movie Name:
Poor Things
Year of Release: 2023
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe, Mark Ruffalo, Ramy Youssef, Jerrod Charmichael, Margaret Qualley, Christopher Abbott, Hanna Schygulla, Kathryn Hunter, Suzy Bemba, John Locke, Keeley Forsyth, Vicki Pepperdine 
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review
Yorgos Lanthimos' "Poor Things" is a reunion of sorts, in the sense he has assembled some of the same creative team he leveraged for his celebrated "The Favourite" (namely the screenwriter Tony McNamara, cinematographer Robbie Ryan and lead actress Emma Stone). The narrative is an adaptation of the novel by Alasdair Gray, and follows the story of Bella Baxter, whom we first encounter under the tutelage of Godwin Baxter, a medical scientist/surgeon, whom we also soon discover to be the one responsible for Bella's existence. In one flashback we realize Bella killed herself by leaping off a bridge, and Godwin brought her back to life, but he also replaced her brain with the one of her unborn baby. As Bella's socializing develops, in parallel with her cognitive skills, Godwin encourages his assistant Max to document Bella's intellectual growth, and as a result they become close. Max proposes marriage to Bella, which she accepts, however she decides before settling into marriage to discover what lies beyond London, and to do so with the shrewd Duncan Wedderburn, a lawyer Godwin hired to oversee the nuptial contract. They have a strong sexual connection, something Bella enjoys exploring. Duncan who's somewhat of a cad, and never attaches himself to anyone, starts developing feelings for Bella, and fearing his inability to control her in Lisbon, smuggles her onto a cruise ship. There Bella continues her intellectual growth, making friends with two other passengers, who both provide friendship and intellectual stimulation. She also starts seeing Duncan for who he is, leading to more arguments. Things come to a dramatic halt when they port in Alexandria. 
Yorgos Lanthimos has the ability to leverage the abstract and apparently absurd to make great points about human nature and life itself. His narratives marry both the beauty of what being human is all about (the ability to love and be kind), with the grotesqueness, vile, and violent things people are able to do, sometimes all in the same situation. "Poor Things" walks that terrain, bringing to mind Fran├žois Truffaut's "L'Enfant Sauvage" to mind, in the sense that Bella is akin to a child that is being socialized, but who quickly blooms to a woman, with her own mindset, someone who doesn't want to be trapped by the patriarchy of Victorian society or by the taboos of what society considers "acceptable". Yorgos Lanthimos smartly avoids falling into the trappings of doing a "Forrest Gump" or a "Being There" type of narrative (the simple minded central hero who shows everyone that a simple take on life is the solution to all problems), opting instead for a tale where Bella grows into her own abilities, understanding how the world works, but still remaining herself, with her own unique point of view informed by her life experiences and her ambitions. All of these topics could potentially come across as either too philosophical or even pedantic, but to the director and his creative team's credit, the film has a momentum and beauty to it, one where all the pieces come together perfectly, and where humor is always present. There are certain pacing issues with the film, particularly when the narrative lands in Paris, but the director manages to bring back that rhythm. The cast is impeccable, with Emma Stone creating yet another fantastic character, with solid support from Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe, Christopher Abbott and Hanna Schygulla (who is always a pleasure to see). The production team is impeccable with highlights going to Robbie Ryan's cinematography, Shona Heath and James Price's production design, Holly Waddington's costumes and Jerskin Fendrix's score. A wonderful film from one the most interesting film makers currently working.