Golden Lion in Venice, Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest and anticipated work, “Poor Creatures”, is the most delicious and ambitious ‘coming of age’ tale in recent memory. Emma Stone is free, body and soul, as she inhabits this youthful and impetuous character that will earn her an awards season full of brilliance.
The Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Lobster”, “The Sacrifice of a Sacred Deer”) is associated, in this “Poor Things”once again the Tony McNamarascreenwriter for “The favorite” and the television series “The Great”, because why mess with a winning formula? Its source material is the novel of the same name by Alasdair Gray (released in 1992), which reconfigures the story of the founding book of science fiction “Frankenstein”, replacing the monster with the enchanting Bella Baxter (Emma Stone).
And let anyone who thought that with roles like those incarnated in “La La Land” It is “The favorite” Emma Stone had demonstrated the limits of her capabilities as an actress. Just like Bella Baxter, Stone expands in this new skin and fervently surrenders to an interpretation free of shame or any constraints. This is the role of her life (until now, of course), in a feature film where biting and symbolic work de Lanthimos finds an ambition never seen before.
The extraordinary adventures of Bella Baxter are nothing short of memorable, as we follow the story of a young girl from Victorian England who is brought back to life, after her suicide, by the exceptional scientist Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe). Baxter is yours ‘God‘, in all possible meanings of the term, guiding his small world, reduced to the walls of his mansion. But when Bella meets Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo), a lawyer bon vivantends up rejecting his protected environment and his seclusion in a radical way.
GRAND SCENERIES AND POLITICAL ALLEGORY ELEVATE POOR CREATURES
The film is guided by a mise-en-scène unmissable, with a scenario building (this was Shona Heath’s first feature to head production design, alongside James Pricebut we would never guess) and excellent visual composition (the wide angle gives additional depth and strangeness to Bella’s little big world) worthy of our closest attention.
We are guided by a permanent aura of no-time and no-space. Yes, we know we are in Victorian times and we have several geographic points as a reference, but the history and criticism of the good customs of the era portrayed provide a clear timelessness. The wishes of its protagonists reflect the human condition, the evolution of each one of us, the genesis of personal growth and, of course, the imprisonment of social roles that limit us. All of this portrayed with the most jocular and delicious elevated humor, to which Lanthimos we were already used to it.
FROM VICTORIAN LONDON TO A VIBRANT, INVITING, AND TIMELESS LISBON
The reason for this is clear feeling of suspension: “Poor Creatures” was filmed in a studio context, with loud noises sets to be built in Hungary for this purpose. Within these megalomaniacs film sets, Bella explores the world. Travel from Victorian London (a dark London evocative of the aesthetics of German expressionism) for Lisbon (a fantasy, imagined Lisbon, but where Carminho manages to move us with a brief appearance), where his sexual discovery, still in his youth and where his world finally gains vibrant colors (black and white dominated in the past). Later, and always with a fascinating baroque and steam punkBella travels with Duncan to Parisin the stupendous and plastic steamship and, there, in the ‘city of love’we begin to see her reach her intellectual and sexual maturity.
Without shame, our protagonist is in contact with her femininity and becomes an inspiring figure (although we are never told infallibility, perfection or inability to pervert in any way). Bella is a full figurehuman before being a woman. Emma Stone knows how to occupy and give density to such gray areas that are inevitably inseparable from our human experience and the experience of watching the film.
As social and political allegoryextremely provocative, “Poor Things” analyzes gender roles very transparently. According to Yorgos Lanthimosthe filming team was above all female and Emma Stone had a very strong role in the production and motivated much of what we see on screen.
Bella explores what it is to live, to suffer, embrace the contradiction of the world, and everything that is good, bad and cruel. You also learn, after a certain point, what self-censorship, guilt, harmful naivety and shame are. However, the particular conditions of its creation allow it to relativize and never let yourself fall into existential despair. This is his strength and his ‘super power’, his ferocity that goes against good norms. This is your Bildungsroman, in a plot that offers us, without limitations, the growth of a character from childhood to maturity. Stone surrenders to the absurd and such an arduous proposal.
FROM MARRY SHELLY TO BELLA BAXTER WITH YORGOS LANTHIMOS
“Poor Creatures” It is, first and foremost, a fun, if not often hilarious, film. It is a story that, beyond stunning visual character, is based on a narrative development with relative simplicity. In fact, his analogies and metaphors are more superficial than those found in some of Lanthimos’s previous works. Feeling, after all, is one of the most essential mobilizing forces that propel Bella at an early stage.
As usual, Lanthimos delights in the comparison and complementarity between animals and humans (as he did in “The Lobster” or “Canine”, among other works). Explore, here, without shyness, the most fundamental instincts of human beings, those that guide our desires. However, he never rejects the intellect as equally essential for the satisfaction of humanity. Bella is a distinct being, a being intelligent and infinitely curiousfrom a human and scientific point of view, and even a symbol of homage to the original authorship of the book “Frankenstein”.
Mary Shelley (1797-1851) published, under a pseudonym, of course, in the year 1818, this pioneering book for the genres of horror, gothic and essentially Science fiction. “Frankenstein” it was written, in large part, as a ‘medicine’ to purge her depression, resulting from the successive miscarriages and early death of her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797). Wollstonecraft was one of the greatest thinkers and founders of feminism and died of septicemia a week after Mary Shelley was born.
O legacy of Shelley and Wollstonecraft is consciously present in Bella’s story, which is equipped with the same force of disruption brought by the women who contributed to its existence. This way, “Poor Creatures” is as contemporary as it is Victorianand such a coexistence of worlds only makes the feature film richer.
Contributing to the richness of the film we also have the pertinent choice of Willem Dafoe to play the absurd and delicious Dr. Godwin Baxter (the Victor Frankenstein of this new version), a character full of dissonant elements and who, through the charismatic projected figure, ensures that his most reprehensible actions never invalidate our capacity for deep connection.
A WORTHY CAST AND A FULL ‘COMING OF AGE’
The talented comedians Jerrod Carmichael (“The Carmichael Show”) and Ramy Youssef (“Ramy”) play small roles that aim to represent the broadest spectrum of the human condition, from skepticism to empathy. Christopher Abbott (“Girls”) brings to life a somewhat one-dimensional tyrannical character, but with an important role to play in the narrative progression, Margaret Qualley (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”) benefits from a very brief but spirited participation and, finally, Mark Ruffalo He completely leaves his comfort zone in what is perhaps the most tempestuous role of his career. Seeing him as Duncan Wedderburn continues to provoke consternation, but is it simply an acceptance of his being trapped in bland, harmless roles?
As bildungsroman or ‘coming of age’ novel, story of personal growth, “Poor Creatures” is undoubtedly triumphant. It presents us with a full character and various stages of his personal evolution. If it sometimes seems rushed, it is only because in less than 2h30 it is impossible to capture the entire spectrum of a human life unfolding. Yorgos Lanthimos tries and succeeds in creating a uninhibited vision of what the human experience (and the female experience) could be, we would not find ourselves stinged by societal commitments.
One thing is certain when leaving the movie theater: we will leave with a renewed desire to commit small acts of rebellion. Non-conformity is the poison of “Poor Things” and we embrace its proposal.
“Pobres Criaturas” opened the 2023 edition of the Lisbon Film Festival and will reach national cinemas on January 25, 2024, with distribution on NOS Audiovisuais. It is a co-production between the United Kingdom, Ireland and the United States of America.
TRAILER | POOR CREATURES, WITH EMMA STONE, IS THE DELICIOUS NEW FILM BY YORGOS LANTHIMOS
Poor Creatures, in analysis
Movie title: Poor Creatures
Movie description: The incredible story of Bella Baxter (Emma Stone), a young Victorian woman who is restored to life by Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe), a scientist as eccentric as he is brilliant. Under Baxter’s protection, Bella feels eager to learn, but also thirsty for experiences she’s never had. It’s then that she runs away with Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo), a cunning and libertine lawyer, on a turbulent adventure across the world.
Date published: November 23, 2023
Country: UK, IE, US
Author: Tony McNamara
Director(s): Yorgos Lanthimos
Actor(s): Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe
Genre: Science Fiction, Romance, Comedy,
Phenomenally extravagant, free, curious and open about sexuality, “Poor Creatures” is an exciting film, elevated by Emma Stone’s excellent central performance.
- The marriage between an aesthetic evocative of German expressionism and the steampunk movement;
- The successful use of out-of-this-world settings to narrate the adventures of Bella Baxter;
- The performances of Emma Stone and Willem Dafoe in the most powerful roles in the narrative.
- Will my mind be formatted and adjusted to the whims of the castings in Hollywood, or did Duncan deserve more than Mark Ruffalo?
- So many accumulated events, at dizzying speed, lead to some superficiality in the very serious themes that touch on the argument.