Let's get things straight immediately, this is a very odd movie.
I will run out of synonyms for odd, so I'll fire up a thesaurus and we can get through this together.
Poor Things is a very odd movie.
Yorgos Lanthimos has created an unsettling world and filled it with incredible things. The story is set in a world halfway between the Victorian era and Steampunk. There are fantastic machines, strange humans and half-duck, half-pig hybrids.
The story tells of Bella Baxter, an adult woman with the brain of a newborn baby. Bella lives with her father, Godwin Baxter (God) who holds her captive in a beautiful, magical house. Bella and others are subject to wild experiments.
We follow as Bella matures mentally, and finds new physical sensations that her brain is not ready for. Watching an adult taste food for the first time is unnerving. Watching an adult learning to walk (again?) is a lot of fun.
Godwin finds a student to monitor Bella, and write down every step of her progress. Almost inevitably, a strong bond forms between Bella and the student Max Macandles. Soon they are engaged to be married, encouraged by Godwin.
As Bella reaches a sexual awakening, she meets Duncan Wedderburn, a rakish older man. Duncan whisks Bella away to a life of debauchery in Lisbon, and then on a cruise ship and onwards to Alexandria. In Lisbon they consummate their relationship with some 'furious jumping', a fantastic metaphor for frenetic sex.
Bella ends up making the couple poor, and then is forced into working in a Paris brothel. Against odds, she finally some control of her naivety and then the men that have used her.
It is a redemption arc that you expect, but the journey there is nothing that you would expect.
It is a VERY odd film.
Bella is played by the extraordinary Emma Stone. The range on display is impressive, from the physicality of the body vs brain, and the childlike naivety. Many will hone in on the sex scenes, but some of the comedic scenes were terrific as was the incongruous dance scene which lit up the screen.
Mark Ruffalo is also superb, tearing up the screen as madcap, sleazy Duncan. His character takes advantage of Bella but I couldn't help but laugh at some of the grotesque ways. I always think of Ruffalo as a quiet actor, but this is off the scale. Duncan is dialled up to 11 in every scene.
Bellas's father is played by a gruesome Willem Defoe in full terrifying Lighthouse mode. Like some Dr Frankenstein, his face is stitched together with scars from experimentation by his father. This gives us some insight into the journey he is taking Bella on.
The direction and cinematography is fantastic. Lanthimos uses monochrome early in the film, then gradually moves to hyperreal, oversaturated colours as Bella continues to awaken. Some shots are through a fisheye lens, giving an intrusive, surveillance feeling. The sets are wild, with hybrid animals and strange laboratories amongst others. The scenes on the steampunk cruise ship and the French brothel are beautifully made.
As with The Lobster and Killing of a Sacred Deer, dialogue is idiosyncratic and stilted. Sometimes this is due to Bella acting as a child. Other times this gives an other-worldly feel that made me 'on edge' through the film. This is trademark Lanthimos script and dialogue.
My wife suggested that Poor Things improves on earlier Lanthimos films by using the oddness to be more accessible. It is true that earlier films are unsettling and harder to penetrate, where as Poor Things allows the craziness to distract from the discomfort of the dialogue and behaviour of the characters. .
The story is wild and the performances from Emma Stone and Mark Ruffalo are outstanding. I absolutely loved this very odd film.