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  Poor Things Poor Things - Rich Rewards
Year: 2023
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Stars: Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe
Genre: Comedy, Drama, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  9 (from 2 votes)
Review: (Spoiler-Free)

Forgive me - it's my first time (as a reviewer), so please be gentle with me...

No such concerns however for Bella Baxter, the central character of Poor Things, as she heads off on a hedonistic journey of self-discovery.

Bella (played by Emma Stone) is the naive but inquisitive adoptive daughter of eccentric and disfigured surgeon Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe). The latest film from director Yorgos Lanthimos begins with Bella's early life in the Baxter household, where she learns to eat, converse, and play with cadavers in her father's laboratory. As you do. However, she soon outgrows this loving, yet sheltered upbringing, as 'God' (her nickname for her father Godwin) does not permit her to leave the house. The only companions she has are the housemaid, and later Max McCandles, a young medical student employed by God to journal Bellas's progress.

Actually that is not entirely true, as her other companions are a menagerie of manmade chimera-like pets. Imagine cute versions of the Frankenstein toys that the bully Sid in Toy Story created and you're not far off. Lanthimos once again defies the maxim about working with animals. He had rooms-full of rabbits in his previous film The Favourite and pigs, peacocks and dogs in The Lobster. The inclusion of these hybrids however, is not just some whimsical cinematic indulgence. As you will learn, they have their part to play in the film. It is the arrival of lawyer Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo channelling an uber-sleazy Terry-Thomas) that convinces Bella to embark on her Grand Journey, so that she can discover what the world has to offer.

The film is based on the award-winning novel of the same name by Scottish writer Alasdair Gray, written in 1992. You will be forgiven for not knowing about the author, but once you have seen the film, you will be compelled to explore his life and writing. A postmodern polymath, Glasgow-born Gray wrote plays, books and poems and was also a muralist, and illustrator of both his own books and those of other writers. While Lanthimos takes much of his inspiration and themes from the original text, he takes Bella out of Glasgow and offers her the world.

A lot has been said about the sex and nudity in this film, and it is true that Bella's education goes well beyond discovering politics, philosophy and the lives of the less privileged. It may be graphic, but the nudity does not feel gratuitous or exploitative. Stone is a mature actress and like her character Bella, has agency over her own body. She is not a young aspiring actress, persuaded to disrobe to further their career. Besides, it is Bella that is naked, not Stone.

This film marks her third collaboration with Lanthimos, having previously appeared inThe Favourite and the lesser known Bleat, a silent short shot in black and white, and only screened with live music from the Greek National Opera. With the curiously titled And on its way and another undisclosed project to follow, actor and director obviously find working together rewarding.

There is so much to enjoy with this surreal, quirky, intelligent film. The characters are exaggerated but relatable, and the dialogue is witty and quotable. Sets and costumes are sumptuous, being heavily influenced by a heady mixture of Art Nouveau and Steam Punk. The world of Poor Things is set in an alternative Victorian era, as if to underline that this is not a REAL story, but instead an existential morality fable. The music and soundscape is both deliciously jarring and subtle when it needs to be, and the creative cinematography maintains engagement with this fantastical world. There are a lot of filmic techniques applied, from the switch from black and white to colour to the frequent use of fisheye lenses, lend an intimate, almost voyeuristic feel to some scenes.

Like all good films, you leave the cinema talking and thinking about it for a long time afterwards. In other less capable hands, the film might have been an expensive art-house indulgence. But Lanthimos has created something that demands to be watched multiple times, if only to spot the things that your brain simply didn't have time to process the first time around.

Reviewer: Mark Le Surf-hall

 

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