Poor Things (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2023, Ireland/UK/USA)

Poor Things is the latest film from director Yorgos Lanthimos. Lanthimos, whose arthouse success Dogtooth broke out in 2009, has gone from relative obscurity to one of the highest-profile directors in recent memory. Despite this, his films remain highly idiosyncratic - Poor Things even more so than his last film, the critically-lauded The Favourite. Based on the novel by Alasdair Gray, the film follows Bella Baxter (Emma Stone), a woman resurrected in Victorian London in a Frankenstein-type procedure following her suicide. The surgeon Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe) has given her the mind of her infant child. With the introduction of a potential suitor and medical student Max (Ramy Youssef), Bella's intelligence develops, and she ends up roaming the world with a caddish lawyer - Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo).

At its core, Poor Things is a rather simple feminist metaphor. That's not to say it isn't entertaining to watch. For one, the futuristic set design of the Victorian period is one of the stars of the film. The filmmakers make no pretense of realism, instead adopting an almost steampunk aesthetic, with flying trams and vehicles. Had the film tried to maintain some sense of realism, it would have failed. This is also manifested in the performances. Mark Ruffalo's performance as Duncan Wedderburn is a total 180-degree turn for the actor, but it somehow works.

There are more aspects of the film to admire than to criticize, and this also applies to Stone's performance - she carries the film. Lanthimos has evolved into something of a modern-day Peter Greenaway with this scatological parable. There is also something Tim Burtonesque here, not to mention that the premise is not altogether dissimilar from Frank Henenlotter's essential Frankenhooker. While Poor Things is not a masterpiece, it certainly solidifies Lanthimos's position as one of the leading auteurs of his generation.



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