In the final scene of the mega-popular “Barbie” film, the title heroine, played by Margot Robbie, visits a gynaecologist’s surgery: Apparently, after all those sexless years with Ken, the time has finally come for her to get a vagina – and when the studio’s long-awaited sequel to the billion-dollar hit can finally be tackled after the end of the currently still raging Hollywood double strike, it would be an obvious plot element for “Barbie 2” to simply try out what can be done with such a vagina …
… and that brings us back to “Poor Things”, except that Emma Stone doesn’t play a (feminist) plastic doll in Yórgos Lánthimos’ new film, but a (feminist) version of Frankenstein’s bride: Set in a fairytale steampunk world, “Poor Things” is by far the most elaborate production to date in the career of the Greek filmmaker, whose breakthrough film “Dogtooth” once kick-started the Greek New Wave, which tickled the absurd out of the everyday. But at least when it comes to biting, dry humour, the director of “The Lobster” picks up exactly where he left off with his ten-time Oscar-nominated royal court grotesque “The Favourite”.
In the role of Bella Baxter, Emma Stone demonstrates a brilliant performance that changes in almost every scene – it’s just masterful! If you want to enjoy the rapid change of images and emotions, we recommend that you try playing slots in an online casino. Don’t forget to use bonus offers, such as Richard casino no deposit free spins.
London medical student Max McCandless (Ramy Youssef) is given an unusual research assignment by his horribly disfigured anatomy professor Dr Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe): a young woman named Bella Baxter (Emma Stone) lives in the professor’s home, who has the body of an adult but still behaves like a toddler who is only just learning to speak and walk. Max is supposed to keep a precise record of her progress: Currently it’s about 15 new words a day. It takes a while, but then the student discovers his teacher’s secret:
Bella has the body of a pregnant suicide who has had the brain of her own unborn baby inserted by Godwin! In order to keep his “experiment” under control even after the slow awakening of her sex drive, Godwin suggests that Bella and Max should get married after all. But before that happens, Bella, who is obviously in the throes of puberty, wants to see the world first (and have as much sex as possible). That’s just when she needs the daredevil ladies’ man Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo) – and so they head off to Lisbon together…
Hammer Horror with a touch of Wes Anderson
Because his own father carried out all sorts of medical experiments on him, Godwin Baxter, known only as God to his foster daughter, would probably need all the electrical energy in town to get it up these days. His dad also cut out the organs that are needed to produce gastric juice – just to check whether he really needs them. The surprising answer: yes. And so there is now a hard-to-define, steam-powered device in his dining room that the professor has to plug into before eating – and when he is finished, he always burps a large bubble out of his mouth after a loud grunt.
“Poor Things” is full of such amusingly bizarre to downright bizarre ideas. The initial black-and-white scenes are sometimes reminiscent of classic Hammer horror films – only broken up by the childlike naivety of Bella, who doesn’t mind at all when God snips at the bodies of his test subjects, as long as she gets a corpse of her own to poke around in the head with a scalpel. Like “The Favourite”, “Poor Things” has a highly morbid yet light-hearted sense of humour! And when the colour comes into the pictures, the various cities on Bella’s tour of Europe turn out to be emphatically artificial, almost theatrical backdrops that are most reminiscent of the production design of Wes Anderson’s films (“Grand Budapest Hotel”).
A woman with the brain of a toddler – men like Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo) seem to get off on that.
Should it then actually be called Frankenbarbie or Barbenstein? In any case, like Barbie, Bella explores the world out there in a state of total openness and at the same time total naivety – and, as befits a mucky child, simply takes what she wants without any sense of injustice or bad conscience. Of course, Yórgos Lánthimos walks a very fine line here – as is hardly usual for him: “Poor Things” is full of sex and nudity, but his protagonist’s adult body contains the brain of a (small) child. For this reason, at least in the first half of the film, she looks as if she has a mental disability (which the men seem to find particularly sexy).
But before you can get too upset about it, you’ll probably be rolling on the floor laughing anyway: yes, “Poor Things” is an intellectual and artistic film, but it’s also hilarious! Especially as it doesn’t stop at the level of Bella trivialising sexual acts with her toddler language – instead, things turn on all those who try to take advantage of her all by themselves: Bella takes what she wants – and when she’s had enough, the china goes flying! In the end, all the men just want to have her for themselves and would therefore prefer to lock her up – but the titular “poor things” are more likely to be them when they ultimately expose themselves to ridicule in their possessive infatuation.
Dr Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe) only has his experiments on his mind – and would really sacrifice anything for them.
The best part is clearly Mark Ruffalo (“Avengers 4”), who is likely to go head-to-head with “Barbie” Ken Ryan Gosling in the upcoming Oscar race in the Best Supporting Actor category – which is also exciting because both play very similar roles, except that Ruffalo doesn’t do any musical numbers. The MCU Hulk is convincing as a cocky lover – but an absolute stunner as both an amorous and offended liverwurst. And yet his performance, like that of Willem Dafoe (“Aquaman 2”), is overshadowed by that of Emma Stone (“La La Land”):
In the two hours and 20 minutes of “Poor Things”, Bella completes a mental development from a toddler learning her very first words and swaying as she walks, as if she were travelling in a hurricane on the high seas, to a well-read young woman who wants to introduce socialist methods in her Parisian brothel – and not in two or three clearly separable leaps, but constantly throughout the entire running time. This happens so subtly that you don’t even notice it from moment to moment – and then suddenly she has grown up… almost like in real life, but only almost.
Conclusion: Yorgos Lanthimos’ lustfully perverse steampunk update of Frankenstein is – as expected – a delight with its splendidly twisted sets and costumes as well as an all-encompassing performance by Emma Stone, who is unlikely to be denied her second Oscar. What we didn’t expect, however: First and foremost, “Poor Things” is a truly hilarious sex satire that takes everything that “Barbie” kicked off a few months ago to the extreme in a much, much more consistent (and funny) way: Mercilessly good, mercilessly feminist – and mercilessly entertaining to boot!
We saw “Poor Things” at the Venice Film Festival 2023, where it celebrated its world premiere as part of the official competition.