It's been a cliché for a long time that we're always changing as we age, but are the more important changes physical or psychological? Sure, physically, our bodies start weak, grow stronger and then spend decades discovering new aches and maladies, but psychologically is where things get really interesting.
If you feel like following me along with the metaphor, it's like we start our lives as Frankenstein's Monster, somewhat blank except for our singular obsession with our own desires: for food, attention...everything. Eventually we're taught how to speak, walk, exist and moderate our desires so every choice we make isn't in hedonistic pursuit of pleasure.
Then we become Doctor Frankenstein: we take autonomy and agency for ourselves, attempt to control our own destinies and then build the life we spend most of our years living, while trying to remake the world in an image we prefer and still leaving room for the occasional bacchanalia.
Finally, as we age, we become the Monster again, not just in losing some of that autonomy we so painstakingly built, but when we realize that many of the choices we made in our youth have shaped the walls of the castle we find ourselves irrevocably trapped inside.
In visionary filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos' newest provocation, "Poor Things," that metaphor is laid bare along with dozens of other heady, existential ideas that only the most daring of artists really try and approach with any sense of vision. Talented artists can pose questions that make us think about our creation and place in the universe, but it's the one in a million mad scientists that present answers.
Here's the thing: "Poor Things" is weird. Super weird. If "weird" is pejorative to you, then you're not going to like the movie.
Bella (played by the fearless and incandescent Emma Stone) is an experiment. Dr. Godwin (known as "God," because no metaphors shall be subtle today) Baxter finds the fresh corpse of a dead and pregnant socialite who had just jumped from a bridge. He puts the baby's brain inside Bella and we're off to the races. She ages a year or so every day, so we're not dealing with Emma Stone running around acting like a baby for two hours. Instead, we have a coming-of-age fable about bodily autonomy, sex positivity, toxic masculinity, self-actualization and those moments where we shift between being the Doctor and the Monster.
Here's the thing: "Poor Things" is weird. Super weird. If "weird" is pejorative to you, then you're not going to like the movie. If you've seen Lanthimos' other films, such as "Dogtooth," "The Favourite," "The Lobster" or "Killing of a Sacred Deer," then you should know exactly what you're getting yourself into. Sometimes within a single scene, "Poor Things" is horny, heartbreaking, disturbing and uproarious without ever feeling tonally schizophrenic.
As audience members, we get to experience the arc of Bella's education as a human being. We see her discover the joy of sex (or as she calls it, "furious jumping"), we see her feel empathy for the first time and watch as a look of utter disappointment rolls across her face as she discovers men and their inherent desire to possess women and limit their own agency and autonomy. God kept Bella "safe" in his beautiful mansion where she couldn't see the outside world, and once she has a taste of the blistering intensity of humanity, there will be no more boxes in which to contain her.
"Poor Things" is a rage-fueled cry at a world that always seeks to control women and put constraints on their power, while also being a deeply satirical deconstruction of the conservative hypocrisy of espousing freedom while limiting it to people they agree with morally and politically. From the stunning cinematography and production design to the flawlessly calibrated performances, "Poor Things" isn't just an important movie, it's a wildly entertaining one.
All metaphors aside, whenever a movie can change how you view yourself or make you reinterpret your own existence, then you know you've found something special. "Poor Things" won't appeal to everyone because it's unashamedly sexual, darkly violent and makes us revel in the fragility of our own limited bodies longer than is comfortable. But it's beautiful, and whether you're the Doctor or the Monster, it reminds us that we're alive.