Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Acknowledging the Past, Then Moving On

Poor Things (2023) - Lanthimos Poor Things Visually and thematically audacious, Yorgos Lanthimos's fantastical steam punk period piece, Poor Things, plays out like a female version of a Terry Gilliam film, but good. It also shares a lot in common with my other favorite this year, Bertrand Bonello's time traveling period sci-fi, The Beast, as both films set in Victorian era. But whereas Bonello's film is based on Henry James's novella, Beast of the Jungle of 1903 which is very much a product of its time- the preoccupation with fate, predetermination and compounded trauma that would repeat itself over generations, Poor Things, based on a 1990 Scottish satrical novel by Alasdair Gray, Poor Things: Episodes from the Early Life of Archibald McCandless M.D., Scottish Public Health Officer, is a parodic look at its Victorian age and refreshingly forward looking in its main character's self determination.

Bella Baxter (Emma Stone) is a revived pregnant suicide victim by mad genius doctor Godwin Baxter (Willem Defoe), who swaps her fetus's brain with the dead woman's. Therefore, Bella has an unencumbered infant's mind that slowly will need to learn the way of things in life. Godwin assigns his good natured pupil McCandles (Ramy Youssef) to look after Baxter and soon the young man is smitten by Bella's beauty and her total lack of social ettiquettes. Fearing her being taken advantage by the rotten world outside the confines of his castle, Godwin makes McCandles Bella's betrothed. As soon as she grows and learn sexual pleasures, she is prayed on by shyster playboy Duncun Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo) and leaves the country in a sensual whirlwind trip across Europe and North Africa. There Bella learns that physical pleasure is not all there is to be in the world, but pain, pain of others and injustices also exist.

The heightened sense of Victorian imagination, in the hands of Lanthimos, the turn of the century Europe - From Lisbon and Athens to Paris and Alexandria are colorful and whimsical in that bizaare early Czech animation (ie. Karel Zeman) way. Bella learns the world's injustices and unfairness first-hand and determines her destiny every step of the way herself while keeping her always sunny and curious disposition. It might be a naive notion to think that our super complicated 21st century society is just a construct that the past doesn't hold any influence over our lives, that human beings start as a blank page and free to self determine the future. But it's a nice thought.

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