Words by Nya Furber
Feminist. Freudian. Frankenstein-esque. Sexy.
Yorgos Lanthimos' latest film has it all, and opened the bill this year for the 21st edition of Cinecity at a special early screening for festival goers. Poor Things is adapted from a 1992 novel of the same name, and Lanthimos has brought the novel to life in a fantastically decadent, gothic interpretation. The film takes us on a whirlwind trip throughout a distorted Europe; from London to Lisbon to Paris and strange places in-between. It's fantastically like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein but for the modern day woman.
Emma Stone plays Bella Baxter, the secret experiment of Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe), whose development we chart over the movie. At the outset of the movie, Bella has tried to kill herself by throwing herself off London Bridge, and Godwin recovers her remains and reanimates them in a fantastically ghoulish way. Bella is subsequently a child in an adult’s body, a curious creature who discovers the pleasures of masturbation - and doesn't understand why she can't do it at the kitchen table over breakfast. This sexual awakening begins Bella's development of autonomy and marks her need for discovering new experiences and embarks on a love affair across Europe with a debauched lawyer Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo). Bella discovers in turns the highs and lows of life but does so in a simple way free from shame, and is liberating to watch. Bella is consistently controlled by the men in her life, from her creator to her lovers, and her developing agency fights against their prejudiced ideas of the Victorian Era. Wedderburn, for example, tells Bella it's only necessary for her to eat one Pastel de Nata. Bella then leaves their hotel room while she sleeps and gorges on a plate of Pastel de Nata's. It is these small moments which so faithfully reflect the development of someone who has no understanding of the rules of polite society. And as Bella develops, it hilariously infuriates the men around her as she loses her naive, girlish appeal. Poor Things was a visual delight, filmed in both black and white and colour, with all kinds of garish camera angles. The costumes were perhaps my favourite aspect of the movie, changing subtly to reflect her developing character. Designer Holly Waddington dresses Bella in all kinds of wonderful nightgowns with giant puffy sleeves and elegant boned corsets, all in strange colours and textures that only Emma Stone could pull off.
It was a wonderful experience to see this film, and to dream about the metaphor it represents; a woman starting anew yet fully formed, making her choices free of shame, trying to understand sexuality, class and power on her own terms. Poor Things is out in UK cinemas on 12th January 2024.
A big thank you as always to Cinecity for inviting me to review this fabulous film! View their upcoming festival program here.