MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
It’s been over two centuries since Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein but the basic premise continues to evoke contemplation. If we were able to bring a dead person back to life – with another person’s brain – how would that new person learn about the human condition? Is it right for us to play God? What would happen when the new creation is freed from the control of its creator?
Poor Things (based on a 1992 novel by the late Scottish writer Alasdair Gray and adapted by Tony McNamara) is director Yorgos Lanthimos’ version of Frankenstein, set in a Victorian England relatively adjacent to Mary Shelley’s timeline but also a steampunk world with dirigibles, strange horseless carriages, and bizarre medical experiments conducted by Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe). His latest literal brainchild is Bella Baxter (Stone), a fully grown woman brought back to life after suicide, and revived with a childlike brain that will quickly develop with the capacity to learn what it means to be fully human.
When we first meet Bella she is at a toddler stage, speaking in monosyllables and playing with her food. She calls her creator/father “God” (with his acceptance). When Bella discovers sexual self-stimulation Dr. Baxter becomes aware of the need to control her urges and plans marriage to his assistant Max (Ramy Youssef) (who is falling in love with her anyway). Desiring freedom instead, she is persuaded by Duncan Wedderburn (Ruffalo) to run away with him. Duncan is a real cad, exploiting her curiosity about sex but underestimating her inquisitiveness about life in general. As Bella expands her worldview, she is also aided and empowered by caring and sympathetic persons including an educated older German woman (Hanna Schygulla), a cynic (Jerrod Carmichael), a madam (Kathryn Hunter) and a prostitute (Susy Bemba).
There are many surprises and wonders in Poor Things with the biggest marvel of all Emma Stone’s performance as Bella. She can inhabit broad physical comedy as well as clever wordplay in her journey of discovery.
Poor Things is uniquely its own creation: an outrageous mashup of a comedy of manners, coming-of-age tale, sex comedy and morality tale. Every aspect of this film is of high quality, including the beautiful and fantastic set design, distinctive costumes with puffy sleeves, a quirky musical score, and a talented cast.
While it is quite clear to me that the goal of Poor Things is to entertain its audience rather than offend (most of the sex scenes are humorous), this is bound to create a bit of a stir with many of my readers. Please pay attention to the pitchforks. Frankenstein wishes that he had.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Three halos: There are some positive messages about female empowerment at the core of this gleefully immoral fantasy.
Five pitchforks: A verifiable plethora of sex scenes (including bondage and masturbation); brief frontal nudity; a suicide; prostitution; a graphic depiction of death; profanity in language; depraved experimentation; graphic and bloody surgical scenes.
Do you have comments about this movie or movie review? E-mail your comments. (Your name and UM affiliation must be supplied in order for your comments to be posted.)
Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
COMMENTS! Do you have comments about this movie or movie review?
E-mail comments. (Comments will be posted to our web site.)
The East Ohio Conference Office:
located in North Canton, OH,
near Akron-Canton Airport.
8800 Cleveland Ave. NW
North Canton, OH 44720
Monday through Friday
8:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
© East Ohio Conference. All Rights Reserved.