State of the Arts

Poor Things understands that nothing scares men more than a sexually liberated woman

The Oscar nominated film, starring Emma Stone as a reanimated corpse indulging in sex and socialism, has been accused of misogyny due to its graphic nudity and polarising gender politics. But this is a film as much about male insecurity as it is female empowerment, argues Xan Brooks

Friday 08 March 2024 20:07 GMT
A tottering meat puppet who finds desire and agency: Emma Stone in Yorgos Lanthimos’s ‘Poor Things’
A tottering meat puppet who finds desire and agency: Emma Stone in Yorgos Lanthimos’s ‘Poor Things’ (Searchlight Pictures)

The monster’s the star in Yorgos Lanthimos’s Poor Things, a horror movie of sorts that thumbs its nose at convention and won’t stay in its lane. Adapted from a 1992 novel by Alasdair Gray, which was itself loosely adapted from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Lanthimos’s film is a feast for the senses: a revisionist creature feature that dares to put the reanimated corpse centre stage. Poor Things leads the audience on a merry dance. The plot cartwheels around Europe; the screen blooms from black and white to full colour. That the monster is a woman only makes the trip more exciting.

The Academy Award nominations annointed Oppenheimer, Barbie and Maestro as 2024’s Oscar favourites. But Emma Stone looks a good bet to gatecrash the party and land a gong for her full-blooded performance as the film’s heroine, Bella Baxter, a tottering meat puppet who nonetheless possesses more life and agency than the gentlemen who surround her.

Lanthimos sends Bella rattling from city to city on a self-improving voyage of discovery. In this way, she’s not dissimilar to Lucy Honeychurch, the fetching ingenue tourist in A Room with a View. The difference here, though, is that where Lucy visited the poppy fields of Fiesole and the Basilica of Santa Croce, Bella’s education includes close study of socialist literature, together with an industrious stint at a Parisian brothel. So, Poor Things isn’t just a revisionist horror movie. It’s a twisted and transgressive rites-of-passage drama, too.

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