Movie review: ‘Poor Things’ and peeping Toms 2
Emma Stone stars in ‘Poor Things.’ Searchlight Pictures

Movie review: ‘Poor Things’ and peeping Toms

Emma Stone went all out in this movie, and it wouldn't be surprising if she secures her second Best Actress Oscar for bringing the character of Bella to life.
Ralph Revelar Sarza | Feb 17 2024

On Valentine’s Day, my partner and I eagerly made our way to finally catch a screening of "Poor Things," Yorgos Lanthimos' second collaboration with Emma Stone.

Loosely based on Alasdair Gray's 1992 novel, "Poor Things" follows the story of Bella Baxter, a young woman whose life takes a bizarre turn when a scientist resurrects her by replacing her brain with that of her unborn fetus.

Lanthimos' flawless 2009 masterpiece, "Dogtooth," remains my all-time favorite film. Its gripping narrative held me spellbound from beginning to end. Since then, I've harbored a deep admiration for the Greek director's distinctive style. He possesses a unique talent for breathing life into characters ensnared in claustrophobic worlds that seek to control them. That's precisely why I couldn't envision any other director bringing "Poor Things" to life in the same mesmerizing way Lanthimos did.

"Poor Things" presents a graphic, almost surreal portrayal akin to what might transpire if Weird Barbie were to have her own standalone feature. Its imagery makes even the most intense scenes of "Saltburn" seem almost Disney-esque by comparison.

You'll come across numerous articles likening "Poor Things" to Greta Gerwig’s "Barbie," and many of them might be accurate. From themes of feminism to societal norms, "Poor Things" delves into territories similar to those explored by the latter. However, the key disparity lies in their approaches. While the "Barbie" movie tends to lean heavily on preaching its messages, "Poor Things" takes a subtler route. It entrusts its audience with the task of reflection and interpretation as it navigates the journey to liberation of its protagonist.

Just like in his previous work, Lanthimos ensured that the technical aspects of filmmaking played a significant role in telling Bella's story. The initial part of the movie, where we are introduced to Bella, is in black and white, symbolizing her colorless world while confined with her "creator," Dr. Godwin Baxter, portrayed by Willem Dafoe, whom Bella fondly calls "God" — a fitting name since he technically gave life to her.

As Bella begins to develop intellectually and grows curious about the outside world, she flees with Duncan Wedderburn, a debauched lawyer impeccably portrayed by Mark Ruffalo. From the moment they embark on their journey, the entirety of the movie is in vibrant colors, signifying Bella's newfound freedom.

The cinematography, along with Lanthimos' camerawork, is out of this world. Lanthimos incorporates numerous fisheye shots, a signature of his, to convey to the audience the sensation of being mere observers in Bella's world. While some might view these shots as superfluous, they serve a purpose. Standard or basic cinematography wouldn't complement the film's eccentric and avant-garde elements as effectively.

Stone went all out in this movie, and it wouldn't be surprising if she secures her second Best Actress Oscar for bringing the character of Bella to life. The segment of the film focusing on Bella's journey to sexual liberation is more disturbing than the bloody scenes. It prompts viewers to reassess whether the film truly advocates for sex work and celebrates sexual freedom or if it merely perpetuates the male gaze.

Overall, I admire how the film portrays Bella's resilience. I appreciate her honesty in expressing her feelings and navigating interactions in a world where authenticity can be daunting. As a survivor of cruelty himself, Godwin crafted Bella to be unapologetically authentic and instinctive within a highly controlled environment.

"Poor Things" really captures the essence of people just going through the motions of life without truly living it. It serves as a reflection on how our actions are often shaped by social constructs imposed by those with greater influence. To me, the film acts as a gentle nudge to always question these norms as we journey towards discovering our true selves.

Ralph Revelar Sarza is a metadata development specialist at The Big Dipper Digital Content and Design, Inc., an ABS-CBN company. This review was originally published in the author's blog, “WALPHS.”