avatarSarah Callen


‘Poor Things’ is Stunning and Weird

And I loved it!

Emma Stone and Ramy Youssef in Poor Things | Credit: Searchlight Pictures

Poor Things follows Bella Baxter (Emma Stone) as she discovers more about herself and the world around her while embarking on a grand adventure.

This film is just stunning. The visuals are gorgeous — from the sets to the costumes, everything is a feast for the senses. Though this world is so incredibly weird, I wanted to spend more time in it because there’s just so much to look at!

The score is unusual and off-putting. It leans into dissonance and does a great job of creating a state of unease. Everything, from the cinematography to the score, helps keep you off-balance. This is not the world that we know, and all of the technical components of this film remind you of that fact.

In some ways, Poor Things reminds me of Alice in Wonderland. Bella, like Alice, finds herself going on more of an adventure than she originally bargained for and discovers so much about life and herself in the process. Her experiences are so unusual and she finds herself in situations she never imagined before. Bella goes “down the rabbit hole” as she leaves the home that she had spent her life in, venturing to Lisbon and, eventually, Paris.

Emma Stone gives an astounding performance as Bella, and it’s fascinating to watch the character evolve as the film progresses. She discovers so much as time goes on. At first, her brain isn’t very developed, and she’s still learning how to speak and struggles with some of her gross motor functions. Along the way, Bella discovers her own sexual urges and needs and new ways to interact with the world around her. Bella also discovers books, philosophy, ethics, and more throughout her adventures.

While she had once been okay with the house that she had been living in, she is no longer satisfied being stuck within its walls. She seeks freedom and escape. We see her rebel and choose paths that she knows will be a mistake. She learns about the different types of people that exist in the world and the different systems that help govern the world.

Throughout Poor Things, Bella has to make choices using the best information she has available to her. She also has to walk away from previous choices when they no longer serve her. It’s fascinating to watch her learn who she is and learn to assert her agency in a world that doesn’t want her to do that.

And, of course, Emma Stone handles each of these changes beautifully.

Next, I want to discuss some of the themes of Poor Things that stood out to me, which means that I will be discussing some of the broader points of the film. So, if you haven’t yet seen this film, tread lightly.

Poor Things movie poster | Credit: Searchlight Pictures

Poor Things does this interesting dance between freedom and restriction that Bella must navigate. While watching, I felt like I was watching the story expand and contract as she went through all of these various creative locations and life stages.

At first, Bella is confined to Dr. Godwin Baxter’s (Willem Dafoe) home under his dutiful care. Max McCandles (Ramy Youssef) is also a scientist and is there to help study her progress as her brain evolves. Bella is a science experiment, and these two scientists are observing her.

When she realizes that she is trapped, Bella seeks mild forms of escapism. She goes up to the roof or goes out for a picnic with these two men but realizes that her freedom is still restricted. So she decides to rebel by going with Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo) on a trip to Lisbon.

In Lisbon, Bella begins to explore her sexuality more fully and seeks freedom in that. But then the walls begin to close in again. What was once a fun fling begins to grow into something else. Duncan wants to control her and seeks to put her back into a box. He takes her on a ship, where she is unable to leave him.

So, she seeks freedom in new relationships. She befriends two other passengers, Harry Astley (Jerrod Carmichael) and Martha Von Kurtzroc (Hanna Schygulla), who share ideas and philosophy with her. Bella begins to read more widely, which is a way for her to free herself from the limitations that Duncan has placed on her, if only in her mind. Duncan is, of course, threatened by that, causing him to want to restrict her more, but only ends up self-destructing.

When Harry takes Bella to see some of the depravity of humanity, she is moved by compassion. She sees the needs of others and tries to act. So, she tries to seek her own freedom by freeing others. Bella tries to use charity to assert her own agency. This, of course, is displeasing to Duncan (she gives away all of his money) and leads to them being unable to pay for the voyage.

Emma Stone in Poor Things | Credit: Searchlight Pictures

After they are kicked off the ship, they are stranded in Paris, where Bella is forced to make money and provide for herself. So, she turns to prostitution and experiences the limitations and freedoms of that type of lifestyle. While she is still trapped there to some degree, she also has the opportunity to learn a new culture and language, explore new ideas and philosophies, and discover who she wants to be.

During this season, she takes the different parts of herself that she’s picked up along her adventures and begins to combine them. So, when she returns to London, to her original place of being trapped, she is an entirely different person with more agency than she had when her adventure began. And she is able to make new choices.

Amazingly enough, the two men who were controlling her at the beginning of the film have also changed. They see the beauty of who she has become and no longer treat her as an experiment. These men continue to allow her freedom and no longer seek to restrain her.

So, when Bella is once again put under the thumb of a powerful man, Alfie Blessington (Christopher Abbott), she responds differently than she once did. She asserts herself and knows that she deserves better. Bella acts and ends up creating the life that she wants. One that combines all of these different facets of herself into one cohesive unit.

I love this circuitous journey that she goes on as she cycles through different environments that seek to stifle her. Each moment of challenge forces her to grow, and we see these elements coming together beautifully in the end.

Emma Stone in Poor Things | Credit: Searchlight Pictures

Poor Things is so strange and creative. This film is incredibly unsettling at times but is also a ton of fun. Bella is such an interesting character and one that you just want to root for. This is a beautiful coming-of-age story that is also an opportunity to think about the things that have made us who we are. There’s also some commentary on the way that our society seeks to control women and the different ways that we seek to break out of that.

This is such a creative film, and it’s one that I can’t wait to watch again!

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