Yorgos Lanthimos’ ‘Poor Things’ and its strange approach to the coming of age genre — Mount Holyoke News (2024)

By Daniela Chamarro Angeles ’27

Staff Writer

Editor’s note: This story contains spoilers.

Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest film, “Poor Things,” is a bizarre yet hilarious reimagination of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.” The film, based on a novel of the same name written by the Scottish author Alasdair Gray and published in 1992, uses mesmerizing cinematography inspired by surrealist art, catches the viewer’s eye and engages them in this eccentric coming-of-age story.

“Poor Things” follows the story of Bella Baxter (Emma Stone), a child-like Victorian woman under the care of Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe). The audience later finds out that Bella used to be a pregnant woman who jumped off of a bridge; Dr. Baxter saved her life by transferring the unborn fetus’s brain into Bella’s body. After the brain transfer, Bella is raised as an experiment rather than a normal child. Bella’s behavior is observed by Max McCandles (Ramy Youssef), a student assistant hired by Godwin to manage her. Despite Godwin's attempts to shield Bella from the world, she harbors a deep desire for adventure and understanding of the outside world. Eventually, Godwin manipulates her into marrying Max, presenting it as an act of kindness but actually as a means of further control. Bella embarks on a tumultuous journey with a lawyer named Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo), during which she takes on lovers, eats pastries, contemplates her life and engages in constant sexual encounters with Wedderburn.

Bella grows significantly every day, so as a viewer, you experience her behavior changing from an adventurous child to a horny teenager and finally to a free woman who discovers her worth. Stone does a marvelous job as Bella, as she plays Bella in different stages of her development, so she gives the sensation of Stone playing several characters in the film. Her performance is receiving praise and recognition; Stone won the Golden Globe for Best Performance by a Female Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical in 2023 and currently has an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Stone shows her range as an actress in the film, and she is the true star of the project.

The theme of sexual awakening and liberation is present throughout the entire film. Bella explores human emotions through sex and, through it, becomes a full person rather than just an experiment. Before discovering sex, Bella feels trapped and restrained from discovering the world. All her movements are recorded as research, and Dr. Baxter refuses to let her have contact with the outside world, as he believes it will alter his experiment. By achieving sexual liberation through discovering how to masturbat* and escaping with Duncan Wedderburn, Bella truly experiences freedom for the first time and lives her life as a real person.

Throughout the film, Yorgos Lanthimos uses sex to portray womanhood. While some may argue that the film is an attempt to portray feminism through the lens of the male gaze, sexuality is a big part of women’s lives. The film is not afraid to be explicit by using masturbation and sex as a device to portray Bella’s character development. At first, Bella sees sex as a form of euphoria and instant joy, but as the film develops, she learns the depressing and strange side of intimacy and carnal relations.

Emma Stone has spoken several times about the role of sex scenes in “Poor Things” and how these scenes are essential to who her character is. She told BBC Radio 4, “I'm not a person that just wants to be naked all the time, but I am someone who wants to honor the character as fully as I possibly can. That's part of her journey.” According to Stone, Bella is a character who’s not ashamed of her body, and the discovery of sex is as important as the discovery of other things like philosophy and food.

I really enjoyed the performances of all the actors, especially Emma Stone. She is the true heart of the film. The surrealistic cinematography is what intrigued me the most, and I found the use of fisheye shots creative. Even though the whole point of the film is to represent womanhood through sex, there are so many more aspects to being a woman that go beyond sexual experimentation. I would have liked it better if Lanthimos had explored other themes outside of sex.

“Poor Things” has a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and has been a huge topic of conversation during the 2024 award season due to its unconventional portrayal of sex and womanhood. The film is a strange approach to a coming-of-age story, focusing on sexual discovery without being scared of making their audience uncomfortable. Overall, the film is definitely worth a watch just for its witty, dark, comedic screenplay and intriguing performances by Stone, Dafoe and Ruffalo.

Yorgos Lanthimos’ ‘Poor Things’ and its strange approach to the coming of age genre — Mount Holyoke News (2024)
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