Deborah Ross

Poor Things is weird and wonderful – but not so weird I had to Google it afterwards

You won't be able to keep your eyes of Emma Stone

Tremendous: Emma Stone as Bella in Yorgos Lanthimos’s Poor Things. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2024 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.

I’ve heard a few people say that, based on the trailer, Yorgos Lanthimos’s latest film, Poor Things, looks too weird for their tastes. To be honest, the trailer made me think this ‘gender-bending Frankenstein’, as it’s being sold, looked too weird for my tastes. But let’s be brave. It is Lanthimos after all (The Lobster, The Favourite), and it is the wonderful Emma Stone, whom we are always here for, so let’s not be too afraid. It is weird, no doubt. But it is the sort of weird we can do. And not so weird that I had to Google it afterwards. It has a simple narrative – a journey of self-discovery – that’s not a headscratcher at all. (I saw Studio Ghibli’s The Boy and the Heron over Christmas and I’ve been scratching my head ever since.)

The film is based on the novel by the late, great Alasdair Gray – or plundered from it you could say, as Lanthimos dispenses with its Scottishness and its multiple unreliable narrators. Set now in a surreal Victorian London (rather than Glasgow), this is where we meet our mad scientist, Dr Godwin ‘God’ Baxter (Willem Dafoe), who has a grotesquely fissured face and lives amid a menagerie of the strange, hybrid animals that he’s Frankensteined. Here’s a tip: if you ever want a pet which has the front end of a pug and the back end of a chicken, he’s your man. He might also do you a pig-goose while you’re there. But his biggest experiment is Bella (Stone).

Bella has the body of a woman but the mind of a child, for reasons that will become apparent. She walks clumsily, like a toddler, spits out food, urinates where she’s standing. But she’s learning and progressing fast and soon discovers she’s a sexual being.

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