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Martin Movie - POOR THINGS

Martin Movie - POOR THINGS

March 04, 2024

Taking a short break from evaluating previous Best Picture winners to bring my annual piece about my top-rated film of the previous year as we approach the Oscars (March 10). Since I have been writing these (in my fourth year somehow), I have only lined up with the Academy once (last year). I expect to miss this year again as I tell you about my top-rated film from 2023 – Poor Things (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos).

Poor Things is a surreal updated take on a familiar story. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe) is a surgeon with very eccentric experiments, one of which is reanimating the lifeless Bella Baxter (Emma Stone) a la Frankenstein. We meet her early in her development as Baxter takes a lab assistant – Max McCandles (Ramy Youssef) – who eventually wishes to marry Bella. As part of drawing up the marriage contract, the attorney hired for this task (Mark Ruffalo) becomes infatuated with Bella and invites her to see the world with him. Bella matter of factly requests permission to take this journey before marrying Max. Things get complicated as Bella’s development accelerates in several areas (intellectual curiosity, learning the capacity for human deceitfulness, and most notably in her sexual growth). Eventually, her maturation comes to be the very thing that leads her to a proper choice.

This film is not for everyone. It is unique, strange, beautifully shot, sexually explicit, and unapologetic. A female friend of mine who hated the film said “It felt like mansplaining. Like this male filmmaker was telling me what it means to be a feminist while having a sick fantasy about putting infant brains into hot women and then they discovery sexuality.” That is an absolutely fair criticism – though I must admit I did not view it that way. And, for the record, I have other female friends who would likewise put this film at the top of their lists for 2023. As I said before, it is not for everyone – though this feels like useful information for anyone on the fence about seeing it.

I loved the different take on the Frankenstein tale. I found Bella’s journey compelling and interesting without being pandering and obvious. She seems to experience brain development in a textbook way but has an adult body to satisfy her urges and curiosities alike. For me, it was no more interesting to see her sexual exploits as it was to watch her interpersonal growth. She gains independence while also gaining empathy and self-control. And then she decides what happens to her when all is said and done, despite the timeframe placing her in Victorian London – a time when independent women had certain societal expectations that did not include what she wanted to do at any point.

It is beautifully shot – first in black and white before giving way to rich colors and exquisitely designed set pieces. (Another fair criticism would be of the now hackneyed mechanic of films moving from black and white to color as a metaphor for the growth of a character. We get it.) However, it would not work at all if not for the note perfect performance from Stone. You see every bit of change in her – even as she experiences it. It is far from a subtle performance, but the changes themselves are slow and subtle.

Give this film a shot. If you find yourself disinterested after 30 minutes, it is probably time to pull the plug. However, if it grabs you as it did me, you will find thrilling visuals, delightful performances (Dafoe is his usual outstanding self), and a journey of discovery unlike anything you have seen before, plus an ending that you might see coming but will thoroughly enjoy nonetheless.

FUN FACT – Despite the audience only seeing Max make one incision on screen during the course of the film, Youssef took five classes on 1800s mortician techniques, noting he obtained a strong familiarity with internal organs from the experience.

Just Watch says that Poor Things is currently not streaming anywhere, however it debuts on Hulu on March 7.

As a reminder, here is the original post that details the scores and weighting system.