A Queasy Feeling from Lanthomos’ Latest

Tony Richardson reviews the much discussed Oscar contender Poor Things directed by Yorgos Lanthomos (2024). He also reflects on some of the contenders for the Oscars.

 

Poor Things is provoking a huge variety of reviews because it contains really good acting performances, and is very watchable. The website of the left wing Jacobin Magazine praises it, and argues that the book by Alasdair Gray, on which it is based, is a socialist work. The problem is that I can only take the film at face value.

I felt impressed at first, then on reflection really queasy. Basically the story is a kind of Frankenstein story in which the components used by the scientist Godwin Baxter to create Bella, played by Emma Stone, are known.

He has used the body of a woman who committed suicide and the brain of her unborn, but live, baby.

The movie poster for Poor Things

His laboratory is a huge mansion that has all kinds of reconstructed animals walking around – chickens with dogs’ heads, dogs with geese necks and so on. This is reminiscent of a 1930s film by Tod Browning called Freaks, which was banned for thirty years, about a circus in which the so-called freaks turned their protagonists into a chicken creature. Bella is being trained by Godwin to grow up, and she is taught new words each day and other activities. But she is kept indoors all the time.

A male assistant is used to monitor her progress. He ends up falling for her and pledges to marry her. Here is where it all gets worrisome: Emma Stone plays Bella as a developing baby – jerky moves, temper tantrums and delighted reactions. It is powerful, but she is clearly a child with an adult body. When she is taken away by agreement by lawyer Duncan (Mark Ruffalo), the film is all about her sexual activity, and one cannot but think it is a form of paedophilia, because she has a child’s brain.

Here one is suspicious of the thought that she is some men’s ideal woman – i.e. nonstop sex with no commitment. She is a sort of Stepford Wife, but she is not a robot. The rest of the film is about sexual possessiveness by men. They want to stop her reading and developing intellectually.

She is basically victorious over them and there is even a Todd Browning-like ending included which is reserved for one possessive man!

It does include a scene from Alexandria of poverty that moves her; the uselessness of money is alluded to, but she ends up living luxuriously. She becomes a surgeon, replacing Godwin, but there is another young child woman being developed. I was not happy about that and this film has the most Oscar nominations.

Which brings me to the Oscars.

They are a big money-making event by corporate film studios. The films nominated or winning get big boosts.

I am still going to comment because a lot of people will be tempted to go to the cinema.
This year is back to being heavily white in all spheres.

For me, the most interesting awards are the Best Actress nominations. Apart from Emma Stone, there is Carey Mulligan, better than I have ever seen her in Maestro, although I was not so keen on the movie about tortured genius Leonard Bernstein.

Carey Mulligan in the film Maestro.
Carey Mulligan in the film Maestro

For me, the standout is Lily Gladstone. She dominates every scene in which she appears in Killers of the Flower Moon. No indigenous American has ever won an Oscar. What an indictment of the film industry in regard to parts given or films made!

Sandra Huller is really good in Anatomy of a Fall, which is a gripping courtroom drama with the added advantage of mountain scenery around Grenoble.

With regard to the films nominated, there are the big budget ones that I will not comment on except to say Killers of the Flower Moon is a seriously important movie about indigenous rights.

My favourite for entertainment is The Holdovers by Alexander Payne. The performance by Paul Giamatti is stunning. He plays a classics professor at a New England boarding school. At first he seems just a really grumpy person. Then you realise there is a class issue behind it. He refuses to pass a donor’s useless son and is castigated for it by the head who is concerned about getting donations. The film is set in 1971 with the background of the Vietnam War. He astutely comments that the ordinary people will go into the army and these rich students will avoid the draft and go to Harvard. The only person to have fought and died from the school is the cook’s son, who is black and could not afford to go to college. The acting is really good all round. It is extremely funny and well worth seeing.


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