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Film: Poor Things
Cast: Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe, Mark Ruffalo, Ramy Youssef
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Rating: * * * 1/2
Runtime: 141 min

This is an incredible tale about the fantastical evolution of Bella Baxter (Emma Stone), a young woman brought back to life by the brilliant and unorthodox scientist Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe). She is someone reborn and given the chance, she is ready for everything life has to throw her. This film has some of the strangest characters you will see, yet it is believable and totally involving thanks to Lanthimos` total control over his material and the actors providing legitimacy with their involving performances.

Based on a novel by Alasdair Gray, the plot is audacious, to say the least, but Lanthimos and his team manage to make their specific vision come alive both with the screenplay by Tony McNamara and the visionary artistic helming. Lanthimos’ narrative plays out like a beautiful vision – a dream of sorts. The exploration of sexuality in a nightmarish world of men and propriety is done with singular aplomb. The cinematography goes from black and white to full colour, with character close-ups, wild scenery and beautifully detailed make-up,  design, costumes and architecture.

We see Bella Baxter transform from a cute-looking zombie into a more human-like being. In time, she discovers what its like to have sex for the first time and that’s when the story takes wing. Bella Baxter is a woman with the mind of a child- literally. The product of an experiment by eccentric surgeon Godwin Baxter, Bella spends the early years of her second life locked in his mansion, surrounded by his other experiments. As time goes by, Bella begins to develop her intelligence and Godwin hires medical student Max McCandles to assist as an observer and to help with her ongoing mental growth. Bella soon begins to crave autonomy and wants to see the world. So when Godwin calls his slick debauched lawyer Duncan Wedderburn (Ruffalo) to deliver a legally binding document meant to cement Bella’s marriage to Max, Bella sees a window of opportunity and decides to run away with Duncan. Life outside the protected environs of the mansion proves to be strange and harsh and Duncan’s charm is only skin deep. Bella eventually, has to learn to navigate the world on her own limiting terms.

Each shot is framed with precision, embedded with witty dialogue and loony behaviour. The music is pitched to create disharmony whenever required. It’s a strange wonderland with visuals coming at you through fish-eye lenses, narrative replete with running gags that border on hysteria, crazy science, outrageous characters, and stunning set and costume design – most of it set in Victorian-era Scotland.

Cinematographer Robbie Ryan employs distorted perspectives to foster a sense of disorientation and wonder. His use of zooms and tracking shots intensify the dreamlike artifice of the narration.  

Shona Heath and James Price’s production design is akin with the absurd inventiveness of the narrative. Set Decoration is lavish and decadent, and stay within the prism of a richly varied and immersive experience.  

Emma Stone is one with her character. The sci-fi aspect of her rebirth allows her to showcase the growth of her character’s mental acuity with intuitive perfection. Willem Dafoe in a Frankensteinesque creator role is memorable while Mark Ruffalo as the debauched older lover, does beautifully, fitting into the satire of what he stands for. The leads embrace the absurdity of their roles and are the reason why everything falls into the realm of the plausible here.



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