2023 seems to be the year for Frankenstein retellings and reimaginings. We had Birth/Rebirth, The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster, and we will even have another in early 2024 with Lisa Frankenstein. One stood above the crowd for me though and it wasn’t even horror or horror adjacent. That’s right, I’m talking about Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things. There will be spoilers discussed in this review so continue at your own risk.
Poor Things is “the incredible tale and fantastical evolution of Bella Baxter (Emma Stone), a young woman brought back to life by the brilliant and unorthodox scientist Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe). Under Baxter’s protection, Bella is eager to learn. Hungry for the worldliness she is lacking, Bella runs off with Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo), a slick and debauched lawyer, on a whirlwind adventure across the continents. Free from the prejudices of her times, Bella grows steadfast in her purpose to stand for equality and liberation.”
Going into Poor Things I had honestly no idea what to expect. I was familiar with Yorgos Lanthimos by reputation but had never seen any of his films. Talking with another critic before the movie started I was told that I should expect the film to be weird and probably horny. He wasn’t exactly wrong but I don’t think you could say that Poor Things was only weird and horny. The story is about a woman coming into her own despite the men in her life trying to shelter and infantilize her. Bella is her own person and the evolution she goes through is beautifully showcased. One of the more interesting visual queues of the film involves this, with the world around her becoming much less whimsical as she comes into her own and matures. Robbie Ryan’s cinematography and Jerskin Fendrix’s score create a world that sort of feels like Wes Anderson and Tim Burton had a movie baby and this was the result.
Another element that especially drew me into the film was its use of food in the storytelling. Several important moments in Bella’s evolution are shown through food. She (like Eve) awakens sexually via apple. Without going into too many details, I can assure you that you will never look at apples the same. Kippers were also cleverly used in the storytelling to show the audience how Bella’s brain matured. In her mental “youth” she claims that they are disgusting and refuses to eat them. By the end of the film, she tries them again and likes them. There are other uses of food but that in itself is for a whole other article (one of which I plan to write after revisiting the film).
I would be amiss to not acknowledge how amazing the cast is. Emma Stone is the best she’s ever been in this role. I don’t think I could see any other actress as Bella Baxter. She brings both strength and vulnerability to the performance in a way that feels special. Willem Dafoe chews the scenery as one might expect. However, the surprise performance though comes from Mark Ruffalo. Much like Bella’s character evolves, watching Wedderburn go from a suave womanizer to a crying man baby is not only well acted but incredibly satisfying. It would be shocking to me if all three weren’t nominated for Academy Awards for these roles.
It’s been a few weeks since I’ve seen Poor Things yet I keep coming back to how much I love it. It is easily my favorite movie of the year. (I am looking forward to finally reading the book.) Its theme of coming into your own in a manner that feels right for you seems so necessary right now. I also appreciate that it gives the Frankenstein mythos a better and more optimistic ending for the “monster”. I strongly recommend seeing it theatrically if you can and feel comfortable doing so. Poor Things is playing currently in select cities with its wide release coming this Friday, December 22nd.
My Rating: 5/5