Sunday, December 24, 2023

Poor Things


Based on the novel by Alasdair Gray, Poor Things is the story of a scientist who resurrects the body of a Victorian woman following her suicide as she goes into a discovery of self and sexual identity. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos and screenplay by Tony McNamara, the film is a unique take on the story of Frankenstein as it play into men dealing with this woman who has been brought back to life as they are also dealing with her sense of self-discovery. Starring Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe, Ramy Youssef, Margaret Qualley, Christopher Abbott, Jerrod Carmichael, Kathryn Hunter, and Hanna Schygulla. Poor Things is an astonishingly surreal and exhilarating film from Yorgos Lanthimos.

Set in the late 19th Century during the Victorian era of London, the film revolves around a young woman who had killed herself only to be resurrected by a scientist as she goes on a journey of sexual discovery, identity, and ideals through some of the people she meets along the way including a greedy and nefarious attorney who lusts after her. It is a film that follows the life of this woman who despite having a brain transplant following her suicide as she would have the mind of a child that would then grow into a full-fledge woman with an appetite for sex and knowledge. Tony McNamara’s screenplay is filled with not just this unique study of a woman’s mental and emotional development but also through the people she meets in her life including the scientist in Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe) who found her dead body in a river and would make a discovery as he would remove her brain and put in another brain and use electricity to revive her as he would call her Bella (Emma Stone).

Dr. Baxter and his maid Mrs. Prim (Vicki Pepperdine) would take care of Bella who would start off with the mind of a child learning to walk as one of his students in Max McCandles (Ramy Youssef) would aid them both and take notes as he would fall for Bella. Yet, Bella gets the attention of the attorney Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo) who would fall for her and convince Bella to travel with him around the world much to Dr. Baxter’s reluctance and Max’s refusal. Bella’s relationship with Duncan revolves around sex at first until she gets to know him as someone who is a control freak that couldn’t keep up with Bella’s thirst for sex and knowledge as they travel on a ship to Alexandria where she meets the cynical philosopher Harry Astley and the elderly German Martha Von Kurtzroc (Hanna Schygulla) who are both amazed by her. Yet, Bella would also encounter things that would challenge her ideals as it all plays into her own journey and revelations about her past life before her suicide.

Yorgos Lanthimos’ direction is quite sprawling in terms of not just the way he imagines some of the places that Bella would encounter but also a world that is just as odd and wondrous as she would imagine. Shot largely on location in Hungary with several interiors and sets made at the Origo Studios in Budapest, Lanthimos does play into this world that is full of wonders but also a reality that is too terrifying to ignore. Much of the film’s first act is shot in black-and-white with bits of color emerging in flashbacks as Lanthimos’ usage of fish-eyed lenses for wide shots add to the surrealistic tone of the film as well as this world where Bella is protected from during her time living with Dr. Baxter who is a father figure to her while also knows the truth about who she is. Max is also protective of her as he would take notes observing her while all three and Mrs. Prim are happy at Dr. Baxter’s lab in doing experiments including the hybrid animals that Dr. Baxter has surrounded himself. Still, Lanthimos’ direction also play into the outside world as its second act goes into full-blown color while it also play into this sense of manic energy into Bella’s hedonistic attitudes as she finds a partner in Duncan.

The scenes set in Lisbon, Alexandria, and the cruise ship they travel on are quite surreal as it is this strange mix of a futuristic world (by 19th Century standards) and the period of the time as it has something that feels artificial and dream-like. Lanthimos’ usage of the wide and medium shots add to the scope of that world while Lanthimos does maintain some intimacy including the usage of close-ups including some extreme close-ups that play into Bella’s sexual awakening. There is a lot of humor that play into Bella’s understanding of the world as well as humanity where its third act that begins in Paris where she learns a lot about the ways of the world and what Dr. Baxter was trying to shield her from. Especially as there’s revelations into her past life where Max feels the need to take a stand for her as well as realize the sacrifices that Dr. Baxter had done towards her. It all plays into a woman discovering herself but also a world where men do what they can to maintain the status quo unaware that she is willing to challenge these ideals. Overall, Lanthimos crafts a majestic yet wild film about a woman coming of age in her understanding of sex and its many ideals including her own identity.

Cinematographer Robbie Ryan does incredible work with the film’s cinematography from the striking imagery in the black-and-white photography in its daytime interior/exterior scenes to the exterior scenes at night as well as the lush colors for the scenes in Lisbon and the interiors in the ships as it is a highlight of the film. Editor Yorgos Mavropsaridis does excellent work with the editing as it has elements of style as well as some unique jump-cuts and other rhythmic cuts that add to some of the humor and drama. Production designer Shona Heath and James Price, with set decorator Zsuzsa Mihalek and senior art director Jonathan Houlding, do phenomenal work with the set design in the way Lisbon is presented as well as the interiors of the ships as well as the rooms and lab at Dr. Baxter’s home as it is a major highlight of the film. Costume designer Holly Waddington does fantastic work with the design of the dresses that Bella wears as well as the suits that the men wear during that period in the late 19th Century.

Prosthetic makeup designer Mark Coulier and hair/makeup prosthetic designer Nadia Stacey, along with hair/makeup supervisor Carolyn Cousins, do amazing work with the look of Dr. Baxter with his scars and deformed body parts as well as some of the scars that Bella has in her body. Special effects supervisors Balazs Hoffmann and Gabor Kiszelly, along with visual effects supervisor Simon Hughes, do terrific work in some of the visual design of some of the hybrid animals that Dr. Baxter have created as well as some set dressing including some of the cable cars at Lisbon. Sound designer Johnnie Burn does superb work with the sound in creating an atmosphere in the way Bella hears things as well as certain natural sounds and textures that play into the humor and drama. The film’s music by Jerskin Fendrix is brilliant for its unconventional music score filled with unique string and piano arrangements and textures that are offbeat in its presentation as well as some orchestral themes that have some discordant elements as it is a highlight of the film while music supervisors Anne Booty and Sarah Giles cultivate a soundtrack that largely features European folk music of that period performed by Carminho.

The casting by Dixie Chassay is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles from composter Jerskin Fendrix as a restaurant musician in Lisbon, Carminho as a Fado performer Bella sees in Lisbon, Wayne Brett as a priest whom Bella would have sex with, Tom Stourton as a steward on the ship that Duncan tries to fight against, Vicki Pepperdine as Dr. Baxter’s maid/assistant Mrs. Prim who is very loyal to Dr. Baxter, Suzy Bemba as a prostitute in Toinette whom Bella would befriend and learn the ideas of socialism from, and Margaret Qualley in a terrific small role as Felicity as a replacement for Bella at the Baxter home as she provides a lot of humor as someone that has a hard time learning. Kathryn Hunter is superb as Madame Swiney as an aging brothel madam in Paris that gives Bella a job in the film’s third act as well as show her a broader view of the world through good and bad. Hanna Schygulla is fantastic as Martha Von Kurtzroc as an elderly passenger whom Bella befriends on the ship as she gives Bella some joy and insight as well as gaining her own sense of joy through Bella.

Jerrod Carmichael is excellent as the American philosopher in Harry Astley whom Bella meets on the ship towards Alexandria as a cynic who wants to show Bella the cruelties of the world while he also realizes that Bella’s viewpoint also has some upsides. Christopher Abbott is brilliant as Alfie Blessington as a cruel and sadistic general who is a key figure in Bella’s past as he is this representation of the darkest aspects of humanity and masculinity. Ramy Youssef is amazing as Max McCandles as a medical student that Dr. Baxter brings in to assist him as he falls for Bella while also coping with her absence as he copes with Dr. Baxter’s growing illness as he is someone that represents the best in men as he is also open-minded and caring. Mark Ruffalo is great as Duncan Wedderburn as this sleazy and hedonistic attorney that falls for Bella as he would take her around Europe only to be overwhelmed by her as he is full of dark humor and snobbery that adds to how awful his character is as it is one of Ruffalo’s finest performances.

Willem Dafoe is incredible as Dr. Godwin “God” Baxter as this scientist and surgeon who has a deformed face and hands while also is unable to fart as he is this odd yet caring figure who is trying to understand humanity while caring for Bella as if she’s his daughter as it is a very tender and somber performance from Dafoe. Finally, there’s Emma Stone in a magnificent performance as Bella Baxter as this woman who had been resurrected after committing suicide but with the brain of a baby as she would learn about things while there is also a sense of physicality that Stone brings to her performance. Stone also exudes this sense of wonderment and ferocity in her role as there’s a lot of energy and emotions into her role but also the willingness to be vulgar in a humorous way as it is a performance for the ages.

Poor Things is an outstanding film from Yorgos Lanthimos that features a towering leading performance from Emma Stone. Along with its ensemble cast, Tony McNamara’s riveting script, ravishing visuals, gorgeous cinematography, wondrous sound design, and Jerskin Fendrix’s offbeat score. It is a film that explores a woman’s journey to find herself but also her exploration of sex and identity as it is told in a grand and stylistic manner. In the end, Poor Things is a magnificent film from Yorgos Lanthimos.

Yorgos Lanthimos Films: (My Best Friend (2001 film)) – (Kinetta) – Dogtooth - (Alps) – The Lobster - (The Killing of a Sacred Deer) – The Favourite - (Kind of Kindness)

© thevoid99 2023

1 comment:

Brittani Burnham said...

Great review! We opted to see The Iron Claw first, and I'll hopefully be seeing this within the next few days. I can't wait.