London Film Festival 2023: ‘Poor Things’ Review
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Writer: Tony McNamara, based on the novel by Alasdair Gray.
Starring: Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe, Ramy Youssef, Margaret Qualley
Where To Watch: Coming to UK Cinemas 12th January
Our Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Yorgos Lanthimos unveils a whole new world in this luxurious, horny, and hedonistic telling of Alasdair’s Gray’s 1992 novel. Adapted by frequent collaborator Tony McNamara (who also penned Lanthimos’ previous outing The Favourite which saw Olivia Colman clinch an Academy Award), Poor Things is Lanthimos at his most lurid and maximalist. Poor Things is a pseudo-Frankenstein tale of troubled anatomist Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe) who crafts Bella Baxter (Emma Stone) in his lab, charting her mental development, and consistently being wary of the influence that the outside world could have on his experiment. As Bella’s curiosity blossoms, and with the unwarranted assistance of charming swindler Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo), soon she’s free from Godwin’s manor and out exploring the good, the bad, and the ugly that the world has to offer.
Like his protagonist, Bella, Lanthimos’ direction is unpredictable, loud, and bewilderingly present, yet comes together in a charming, hysterical, and perfect way. Over the years, the director has often alienated or polarised audiences with his sensibilities, however Poor Things proves to be the ideal playground for his inherent absurdity and dream-like curiosity, and the eyes of his heroine, Bella, are the exacting lens for which to appreciate the haunting beauty and wonderful terrors of our terrible little world. It feels impossible not to be as unwittingly curious as Bella is when watching Poor Things. Every frame is stuffed with eccentric, inventive, and dada-esque details that you hungrily devour alongside Bella. Set in a reality that isn’t quite this one, in an era that isn’t quite our history, Poor Things is bulging with vivid colour, wide and tight framing, vignettes, and that token fisheye that set each scene like a painting from the very vestiges of Lanthimos’ imagination, brought to life by DP Robbie Ryan. Electric seas, tangible cities, a shocking sky, the landscape of the film is as real as it is constructed, a wonderful likeness to the parable’s honest hero.
And what a hero she is. This is a coming-of-age story beyond the likes of anything laid down before. It’s a physical unveiling of the world before Bella’s inquisitive eyes, as she not only discovers the wonders and horrors of human beings, but learns of how her own body and her own soul functions within it. Emma Stone plays with her with remarkable awareness, exact in her tracking of Bella’s development, and engaging with a deep empathy that runs through the veins of this complex creature. Even when Bella’s unawareness flashes in moments of cruelty and impropriety we stay understanding of her, remarkably so. Stone goes beyond the physicality of her previous work, and imbues herself so readily with Bella that any remnants of the Emma Stone we know ceases to exist at all. Framed by outstanding supporting performances from Dafoe, Ruffalo, Ramy Yousef, and Jarrod Carmichael, Stone succumbs to the absurdity to create, with the wield of Lanthimos’ brush, a spectacle of true film art.