Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Poor Things


What’s supposed to be the end of a life becomes the beginning of a new one after a failed suicide attempt, albeit with some mental degradation involved that requires relearning the basics. Now known as Bella Baxter (Emma Stone), she becomes the experiment of renowned surgeon Godwin “God” Baxter (Willem Dafoe) who tries to treat her as a mere science project yet can’t distance himself enough emotionally to not serve as her new father figure. He enlists the help of his best medical student Max McCandles (Ramy Youssef) to chart her progress and is eventually designated as her fiancé after witnessing their fondness for one another. Due to the unique and delicate condition of his ward, God employs promiscuous lawyer Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo) to draft a special nuptial contract. Out of curiosity, he goes out of his way to get to know the subject of the document and is immediately smitten by her, taking advantage of her naivety and convincing her to run away with him to Portugal, which serves as her first stop in discovering the world and, in effect, rediscovering life itself.

With Stone sweeping awards left and right, we just have to wait a few weeks to find out whether she is on her way to her second Oscar, if she doesn’t get edged out by a diversity pick should last year’s shenanigans suddenly reoccur, that is. This says a lot about director Yorgos Lanthimos seemingly following the footsteps of Woody Allen with the tendency of their films to propel their actors toward awards season glory. Should this be the case, then Stone would end up vindicating herself against those who believe that she didn’t deserve her first Oscar for La La Land. Either way, her performance as Bella is easily the better of the two.

Had Dafoe campaigned harder, Poor Things would’ve been a repeat of Lanthimos’ The Favourite as far as acting accolades for one lead and two supporting actors are concerned. With critics favoring Ruffalo and Dafoe only clinching a SAG nomination so far, it makes you wonder who deserves it more. After watching the film, what’s clear is that Ruffalo ended up with a more flamboyant character that easily annoys you as misogyny personified. The feeling of annoyance he evokes from the moviegoer is proof that he did his job well. Dafoe, on the other hand, got a boring but more interesting role, portrayed with subtle bravado.

But pitting the actors against one another is a moot exercise. Suffice it to say that Lanthimos has a gift for motivating his actors to do their best and provide an ensemble performance worth watching. Acting aside, the production design is as quirky as it gets and really helps set the mood for a world that is familiar yet otherworldly. Somehow, that also offsets the rather controversial subplots and themes that those fascinating visuals try to hide from plain sight, like arguments of pedophilia and the like. Such odd designs that just pop out of the screen do aid in the suspension of disbelief. Arguably surrealist, even.

As Stone already mentioned in a speech, Poor Things is a romantic comedy, in a sense that Bella falls in love with life itself. We can agree to some extent, although my interpretation of the film is that of a midlife crisis with Bella serving as its very personification. Despite the strange delivery of the premise, the core theme here is the deconstruction of life and its supposed meaning as you approach a certain age. True enough, Bella ends up giving life another go, literally, but with a different perspective this time around. In a way, we all have to die in our late thirties just in time to be reborn in our forties, knowing better and with less fvcks to give.

The film might be difficult to watch for some considering the abundance of gratuitous sex scenes and the idea of having a toddler in an adult’s body and everything that could entail. If you get over those barriers, though, what you are in for is a good critique of the human condition, a colorful ode to life and how we are expected to go about making sense of it versus the way we want to do so, based on our own terms. It’s existentialist AF, but perhaps that is just the curse that our species have to put up with for inhabiting this wonderful world of ours. Life is what you make of it. Hopefully, we’ll all see everyone on the other side with a book in one hand and a glass of martini in the other, just like Bella ends up doing.

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