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Poor things is a terrible investigation of what it means to grow up as a woman

A journey through shame and scandal more relevant than ever before

Poor things is a terrible investigation of what it means to grow up as a woman  A journey through shame and scandal more relevant than ever before

Have you ever wondered if the things you do and feel as a woman, your difficulties or peculiarities in interacting with the world, with your body, with relationships, and so on, are truly your own - stemming from your character, inclinations, and upbringing - or if they come from something older and deeper, from a certain understanding of the female body and desire in the context of society, from a shame that is not yours but comes from someone else, making it even more challenging to overcome because you can't pinpoint its origin? Has anyone told you to hide your desires, or have you simply internalized that thought naturally? Do you remember the moment when you realized there should always be a part of you hidden, to be kept in the room and hushed to everyone, under the threat of public ridicule? Have your ambitions been downsized simply because you are (unfortunately, one might think, mistakenly) a woman in a patriarchal society?

Poor Creatures! and Questions about Being a Woman

Yorgos Lanthimos, among others, seeks to answer all these (complicated) questions, and he does so in Poor Things, an Oscar-nominated film that tells the story of a Victorian Frankenstein woman created by science-hungry men. Thanks to an unborn brain implanted in an adult body, she neither knows nor understands shame or modesty, and hence, she is freer and more bold - a real threat to the established order. The operation is highly conscious. In the homonymous book by Alasdair Gray, the theme of female education is just one among many. The Scottish author - who published it in 1992 but set it in the late 1800s - enjoyed discussing the ethics of science and the British Empire (it is set in Glasgow, while the film places the story in London), experimenting with tones of voice, perspectives, and graphic aspects, without really focusing on the profound implications of anything other than the literary game.

Bella Baxter is a Free Woman

Emma Stone's Bella Baxter, written by Tony McNamara, is the pulsating core of this film, which unfolds through her eyes in an aura of dream and nightmare but also enchantment and discovery. Besides flaunting extravagant costumes, the protagonist raises extremely delicate questions merely by existing. Why are men (who are essentially figurines, spring-loaded puppets reacting to her) so drawn to her? Does the fact that her mind is extremely childlike contribute to this attraction? What does this tell us about them and their desire for dominance? Furthermore, in her way of traversing the world, which is pure and naive but also animalistic, we see what could have happened if, from birth onwards, we hadn't felt limited in every whim and desire. Bella Baxter is an invented woman, literally, who left to her own devices decides to do good, but on her terms and respecting her body and desire, without caring much about what it means to get married or being a prostitute for a beautiful and rich Victorian English girl, simply because she doesn't know, she has never known, and she doesn't even care too much. She has other priorities.

And It Still Causes a Stir

What Barbie said and narrated in a plastic and playful way, Poor Things says and narrates with the intention to disturb and in the most grotesque manner possible. The soundtrack, distorted shots, emphasis on bodies, sex, and medical procedures are stylistic elements, for sure, but they also function to provoke a reaction, to disturb us. And it works. So much so that Emma Stone had to defend some sex scenes in the film that were labeled "controversial," stating: "Bella is completely free and without shame about her body, and sex is a huge part of her experience and her growth, as I think it is for most people in life. I wanted to honor Bella's perspective as she explores the world, to be true to her experience. She doesn't know how to be ashamed of these things or cover them up or avoid fully immersing herself in the experience when it comes to anything."

Yorgos Lanthimos' Terrible Question

What disturbs the audience so much (the film, released in Italy on January 25, in the UK and the US on December 12 and January 8, respectively) is certainly not Emma Stone's breasts. It almost seems that the perspective of a woman who doesn't care, instead, gives even more discomfort. In trying to provoke in us the same reaction that Victorian society might have had towards Bella, Yorgos Lanthimos asks us, relentless and terrible, where the limits of our open-mindedness lie and leaves us with a terrible doubt: are we really better than we were two centuries ago?