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Photo Credit: Searchlight Pictures

“Poor Things” was supposed to make you uncomfortable. (Op-Ed)

Content Warning: Major spoilers for Poor Things.

Yorgos Lanthimos created a true oddity of a movie. Poor Things is a nod to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; Willem Defoe takes on the role of Godwin Baxter, a disfigured surgeon whose obsession with science leads him to create strange creatures, including Emma Stone’s Bella Baxter. Bella’s life is strictly controlled, and she is unable to even speak at first. Yet, her aptitude for learning and her curiosity grow every day. The body of a pregnant woman was recovered from a suicide attempt, and rather than save her, God (as he is affectionately referred to by Bella), took her infant’s brain and placed it into her skull, creating Bella. She is both mother and daughter, a child in the body of a beautiful woman.

As Bella’s brain develops, she is constantly sexualized and objectified by men. She is viewed as an experiment, or a sexual object, with no in-between. It is rather disturbing to know that so many men, especially Mark Ruffalo’s Duncan Wedderburn, are so eager to sleep with her. Wedderburn takes the (questionably) willing Bella on an adventure, rife with sex and passion. Yet, as Bella continues to learn and think for herself, she realizes that he is rather pathetic. Bella only does what she wants to do, but the ethicality of her ability to consent is rather murky as the audience knows that she has the mind of a child.

Lanthimos explores the idea of a fresh mind growing to realize the cruelties of the world along with her pleasure and sexual freedom. Yet, I couldn’t wrap my mind around what appears to be a sanitized version of pseudo-pedophilia. While Bella is strong-willed, independent, and brave, I couldn’t help but feel that she was constantly taken advantage of. That is the intent of the film — to make you feel wildly uncomfortable.

The beauty of Poor Things is watching Bella create her own permanent autonomy, reject the men who used her for her body, and create her own life in a position of power. Bella gets her revenge, as Wedderburn goes clinically insane, her creator passes away and apologizes for lying to her, and Bella’s abusive former husband is given the brain of a goat. While you rejoice in her victory, you can’t help but feel awful for all the trauma she has endured. “Poor thing,” you may even say.


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