top of page
  • Writer's pictureeclectic Stefan

Poor Things:”We are all dark beasts”


a woman in a white dress with huge puffy sleeves and a lace veil over her face holding a floral bouquet

Poor Things is a masterly expression of director Yorgos Lanthimos’s cinematic vision full of wondrous destinations, dazzling visual displays and an impressive soundscape. It’s wonderful to be surprised by a movie when you arrive with a modicum of information about the film and then are flabbergasted by the content and presentation of a movie that blows you away.  That was my experience of Poor Things. It is astonishing.


I’m going to paint a picture of Poor Things in broad strokes because I don’t want to spoil the viewing experience for anyone approaching Poor Things for the first time. And it does warrant repeated viewing to fully appreciative the wealth of meaning and symbolism alongside the gorgeous costumes, stunning set design, striking soundtrack and fabulous acting. If you can’t tell by now, I was gobsmacked by Poor Things.


Bella


Poor Things follows Bella and her experiences as a voyager through stages in her life across oceans and through cities such as Lisbon and London. An antecedent for Bella’s voyages is John Bunyan’s 1678 book The Pilgrim’s Progress, about a voyager who gains knowledge through travel, although Bella doesn’t learn from mistakes like the pilgrim's journey, but through an unabashed openness to discovery. However, Poor Things is far more intricate than a travel story.


Bella begins her journey as a childlike woman—and there is a grisly reality behind her deranged childishness—who develops in stages from behaving like a petulant child to quickly become an aware woman consumed by sensory experiences, including food and sexual gratification, and expanding intellectual horizons.


She fits the philosophical notion of a tabla rasa—a blank slate.  Each life experience creates impressions upon her that shape her. Her blank condition allows her to consume experiences without shame or judgement about herself and her voracious consumption of the world and its people.


Her voraciousness will stun audiences only because we tend to operate within or revolt against polite society’s rules and expectations in public while expressing our true selves through deeds and words behind closed, abusive and debauched doors.


a fantastical surgical laboratory with a doctor performing surgery while other people observe him

Bella & God conducting re-animation surgery in God's surgery


Dr. Godwin Baxter is a curiosity in Bella’s lifestream. He is her father, mentor, protector and maker. Bella calls him God. Her name for him embodies all his roles. God’s joke about her name for him is both perceptive and controversial.  Sorry, no spoilers.  You’ll have to see the movie to hear his joke.


God’s emotional and physical scars, pain, cruelty and gentleness reflect his own experiences as a child and scientific curiosity as a surgeon. The irony of God’s name counteracts his position as a man of science. God will be seen as a monster in both physical appearance and scientific experimentations but there are far more monstrous humans in the film who are covered by a facade of civility and social graces but are hideous within their inner selves. We are all dark creatures in the shadows. When the man-monster speaks, we seek moral and ethical answers to questions about what God calls scientific investigations and his father’s own living experimentations upon God.


God’s creation, Bella, is a malleable feast. She, in turn, imprints herself onto others who become infatuated with her and move from potential exploiters of what they see as Bella’s sophisticated naivety to become enamoured by her and eventually utterly helpless in their adoration of her and her enthusiastic approach to life and living. Duncan Wedderburn is the prime example of an exploiter who is smitten by Bella.  He enables her to explore her wider world beyond the home created for her by God.


Bella Baxter & Duncan Wedderburn: exploitation & infatuation


God, as a creation of his cruel father, who conducted physiological explorations on his son’s body, who, in turn, creates new life, signposts the clear-cut religious duality of God the son and God the father.


Willem DaFoe as God is Willem DaFoe as you’ve never seen him. God, himself, lives up to his name and his literary and film precedent in the form of Dr. Frankenstein, whose famous pronouncement, “It’s alive”, when he reanimates his creature, is reflected in God’s creation of Bella.


He creates Bella in an act of godlike authority, although he does it out of both scientific curiosity and kindness.  Bella, however, is not a monster in any sense of the word. The dark creatures who inhabit God and Bella’s world are not the deformed and scarred humans or the chicken-dogs created by God in his early stages of experiments in the re-animation of life. Bella’s re-animation as a human being is one experiment that develops throughout the movie.


Poor Things' stunning visual design


We should contemplate and experience Yorgos Lanthimos’s unrestrained vision without pre-determined ideas about shame and societal norms. Even the audience’s reactions to scenes of sexual gratification will be constrained by our own rules and norms of how we expect a civilised person to behave.


Poor Things looks beyond physical scars and deformity that belie a deep understanding of the human condition while the scoundrels like Duncan Wedderburn are attractive to look at but damaged and scarred within themselves.


I’ve been an admirer of Yorgos Lanthimos’s early film, The Lobster, and his exploration of the animalistic nature of human beings. PoorThings elevates that exploration. It is the pinnacle of Yorgos Lanthimos’s film powers and creative imaginative. He is pushing boundaries in an uncompromising way.


Poor Things is not for everyone although anyone who has a film sensibility beyond telling a story with a beginning, middle and end must see it. You will either loathe or admire Yorgos Lanthimos’s intent and execution and possibly be offended at times but you won’t forget it. Poor Things’ origins are deeply imaginative and it leaves nothing to the imagination. Whether you love it or loathe it, you should see it. It is a remarkable film achievement. It is the pinnacle of Yorgos Lanthimos’s career to date.


NOTE Poor Things features graphic sexual encounters, explicit language, scenes of cruelty and vivid surgical procedures


official poster of Poor Things featuring large photo of main character Bella wearing a blue dress with puffy sleeves and ruffled material at the front of the dress with people standing on the ruffles andthe film's title across the top of the poster

Official Poster Poor Things



Cinema doesn’t become more exciting and stunning than Poor Things.

SPOILER WARNING: Do not watch the official trailer if you wish to approach watching Poor Things with a clear perspective and without assumptions.

I usually include trailers for films I feature in my film blog posts. I have chosen not to include the official trailer for Poor Things. If you want to watch the trailer, it’s on you.  I would have felt cheated if I had seen the nature and scope of Poor Things, including the appearance of Willem DaFoe, before seeing the complete movie.


Don’t complain afterwards if you choose to see the trailer and are disappointed because too much has been revealed in the trailer. My recommendation is to be surprised and amazed when watching Poor Things. Go into the cinema being like Bella, a blank slate, ready for the movie to create impressions on you as you view it.


You may still loathe the movie or find aspects of it unpleasant and an insult to your sensibilities but that’s the nature of movies that push boundaries of creative expression. On the other hand, you may be astounded. Either way, sometimes you need to see movies that astound, challenge and offend.



 


FILM EXTRAS: The cinematic world of Yorgos Lanthimos


Film poster for The Lobster featuring two people hugging an imaginary animal each





The Lobster (2015)

In a dystopian society, single people must enter into a romantic relationship within a strict time limit of 45 days or be transformed into an animal of their choice.











 


Three women sitting n a throne in old fashioned clothing.  The woman on the throne has a crown. A second woman sits on her knee. The third woman is sprawled on the floor  with her arms crossed with a small rabbit in the foreground.



The Favourite (2018)

In the early 18th century, England is at war with the French. Nevertheless, duck racing and pineapple eating are thriving. A frail Queen Anne occupies the throne, and her close friend, Lady Sarah, governs the country in her stead, while tending to Anne's ill health and mercurial temper. When a new servant, Abigail, arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah. Sarah takes Abigail under her wing, and Abigail sees a chance to return to her aristocratic roots.







 


an extreme close up of a woman with smeared lipstick across her mouth and lower jaw




Dogtooth (2009)

A controlling, manipulative father (Christos Stergioglou) locks his three adult offspring in a state of perpetual childhood by keeping them prisoner within the sprawling family compound. Increasingly curious about the outside world, the older daughter (Aggeliki Papoulia) hatches a plan to escape.









 


an illustration of a large bear standing on its rear legs and holding a dead deer in its front paws.



The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

Steven, a charismatic surgeon, is forced to make an unthinkable sacrifice after his life starts to fall apart, when the behaviour of a teenage boy he has taken under his wing turns sinister, violent and disturbing. The Killing of a Sacred Deer contains blood, punching, slapping, biting and spitting out chunks of flesh, bleeding from the eyes, shooting, and death.

Comentários


bottom of page