Moving Pictures
Dec 21, 2023, 06:26AM

New Toys for Old Pervs

Poor Things is a canted, thorny film.

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We’re awash in awful movies about awful people, with beautiful sets, costumes, and cinematography. Hollywood (and its London, Australian etc. cousins) think that if they make some steampunk period piece with baroque sets, that looks like it’s from a Dickens’ novel, we’ll accept it as appropriate Christmas fare. And the worst of these—so far, may be Poor Things. It’s a toss-up as to whether the poor things are the people who waste their time and ticket money on this, or the cast and crew.

I was tempted to say that this screenplay reads like some halfwit film studies major decided to do a mashup of Frankenstein and My Fair Lady for his senior project, with a little gender studies thrown in to sauce it up. But the screenwriters aren’t newcomers, mainly for movies of which I’ve never seen or heard. Alasdair Gray died four years before the movie was even made, apparently not from bad karma but old age (85). And Tony McNamara has worked on at least one very good movie, Cruella, which also starred Emma Stone as a damaged and monstrous girl who has to figure out where she came from. Perhaps they just found themselves, like Stone’s character, Bella Baxter, in need of money—at one point Bella works in a Paris brothel, with a tattooed lesbian troll who’s the madam, and can’t resist biting Bella’s ear lobes.

Bella’s a third-generation Frankenstein, the creation of a hideous and amoral medical school anatomist, Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe). Dr. Baxter is himself the butchered product of the experiments of his surgeon father and he now likes to splice together animals into chimerical pets (e.g. dogs with goose necks and heads) who populate his home as a menagerie. Coming into an almost dead—and young and beautiful—suicide victim who’s about to give birth to a still viable baby girl, he takes the brains of the infant and places them in the body of her mother, discarding the mother’s brain and the infant’s body. It’s unclear if the original motive included a desire to make a beautiful woman who could be controlled and manipulated, with an adult body but a child’s mind—Godwin has his creation call him “God.” When first meeting Bella, Dr. Baxter’s medical student Max McCandless (Ramy Youssef) says she’s the “most stunning retard I have ever seen.”

Then begins the Pygmalion arc of the film. We see Bella learn to walk, toilet-trained and talk. Her development is much more rapid than a normal infant not transplanted into an adult body; she’s in puberty within a year or two. At some point while having lunch Bella discovers self-pleasure, first with a peach and then a cucumber. Eventually she demands to be allowed outside, which leads to her meeting a wealthy gambler, Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo), who like all men in this film can’t resist an underage girl made licit by her adult body, and sweeps her off to a Mediterranean cruise. Disaster follows, at least for Wedderburn. For people who hate Ruffalo’s constant political pronouncements it may be fun to see his character reduced to blubbering and pulling out his hair as the morally tabula rasa Bella allows other men (and then women) to pleasure her.

The pretty sets and costumes, a distraught Ruffalo, and for those interested, the repeated exposure of every piece of Emma Stone’s naked body short of her showing her sphincter and labia, are the main attractions of this film. As usual, Stone’s acting is great, and we completely believe her as she shows us the inner life of this child monster. For those who were hoping to see Stone perform fellatio or other oral sex acts or spread herself open to show her physical inner bits, parting cheeks and vulva, you’ll have to wait for the next movie.


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