Venice #80 - Poor Things
Updated: Sep 4
Yorgos Lanthimos is back. And no, you haven’t seen anything like this before. Poor Things, but lucky us.
With The Favourite, the Greek filmmaker stepped away from the sombre, deadpan delivery style that distinguished his early films, and with that moved a little closer to tinseltown. It was a more commercial product with a higher budget and big stars. The question up to yesterday was: did he sell his soul for fame, trading his art for a Beverly Hills mansion, or was that just a necessary manoeuvre to upgrade his artistic freedom and popularity to unparalleled heights? We finally have the answer- no studio would have ever bet so much on Poor Things, not with its crazy fisheye shots, vibrant surreal studio sets, and its omnipresent extravaganza.
Dr. Godwin Baxter, played by a formidable Willem Dafoe, is a deformed genius/mad scientist living in Victorian London, surrounded by his living experiments such as crossbreeds of a dogs, ducks and chickens, and his “adoptive daughter” Bella. She (Emma Stone), who simply refers to her father as “God”, appears to be mentally and physically disabled - but it is soon revealed that she’s just a baby. Or rather, her brain is, still functioning in her young mothers’ corpse, revived by the doctor.
This is the setup, and what follows is not Frankenstein, but instead a sweet and weird coming of age story. Bella’s captive upbringing is depicted in black and white until she discovers the pleasures of life, when, growing up, she begins to travel - sipping champagne, devouring pastel de natas, and performing a lot of “furious jumping”- you get the idea. Uncontrolled by social structures, she follows her instincts and feelings, unaware of public customs. There is no right or wrong, just what she primordially feels right. Thus, she also obliges in spitting out bad food if it doesn’t meet her taste, or punching a crying baby for being irritating. Her naïvety questions societal paradigms, and we are left to wonder whether it would be best if we would all start from scratch, and re-discover our own education based on pleasure instead.
Poor Things is philosophical, without ever stopping to being laugh-out-loud irreverent. It deservedly scored several rounds of applause for the irresistible stingers that kept on coming and coming. In other words, it’s an overall rollicking experience, as Mark Ruffalo’s showstealing character would put it, and who, together with Bella, accomplish the most bizarre dance sequence, destined to become a cult hit.
This is the story of “a woman plotting her course to freedom”.
Mary Shelley would be proud.