Tracker Pixel for Entry

She’s Alive: Stone and Lanthimos Bring ‘Poor Things’ to Life

Cinema | December 22nd, 2023

By Greg Carlson 

gregcarlson1@gmail.com

In a movie year that brought to life an iconic plastic fashion doll and a theoretical physicist who ushered in the Atomic Age, there was no shortage of memorable characters.

But for my money, the crown for the most remarkable cinematic creation of 2023 sits atop the head of reanimated adventurer Bella Baxter. Brought to life (after death) by Emma Stone in a comprehensively mesmerizing performance, Bella – who, the story explains, is simultaneously her own daughter and her own mother – takes viewers on an odyssey of the mind and the body.

Stone and director Yorgos Lanthimos make one hell of a team, collaborating with a set of top-notch castmates and craftspeople to work up one “diabolical fuckfest of a puzzle” based on the 1992 novel by Alasdair Gray. The screenplay by Tony McNamara honors the grandest themes of Mary Shelley’s infinitely influential “Frankenstein,” catapulting the 1818 touches of the Gothic and the Romantic to a kind of otherworldly, steampunk-influenced fantasia that reimagines the Victorian Era with retrofuturistic eye candy in every direction.

As the Victor Frankenstein-esque Godwin Baxter (God, for short, and a nod to Shelley’s papa), Willem Dafoe works all the wonders of rationality beneath a patchwork of facial scars inflicted by his own character’s father in the pursuit of knowledge.

Dafoe’s delightful mad scientist is really anything but mad. His frank practicality can stun and even shock assistant/student Max McCandles (Ramy Youssef), who arrives at Godwin’s home surgery to study Bella – if not to rapidly fall under her spell.

Godwin’s unvarnished honesty rubs off on his spectacular “experiment,” as Bella’s uninhibited directness pumps the film full of frequently anachronistic and always hysterical wordplay. In one scene, Max reads aloud a postcard from Bella: “Me good Lisbon sugar tart lick me all day.” He hopes it is all one sentence.

The comic grenades continue to detonate with the arrival of caddish attorney Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo), a horny and mischievous rakehell whose plan to fornicate with nary a pause (“Why do people not do this all the time?” wonders the equally insatiable Bella) is thwarted when Bella’s emotional intelligence quickly outstrips his.

If, as Bernard Dick argues, all horror is in some way predicated on metamorphosis, then the Frankenstein mythology belongs to that genre as much as it does to science fiction. The horror of “Poor Things,” however, lies not in Bella’s physical transformation but rather in her understanding of men and how they operate. A volume of that knowledge will be earned in the Paris brothel run by Madame Swiney (Kathryn Hunter).

As she labors to master language and understand common social behavior, the early Bella glows with an aura evoking both holy foolishness and the incongruous, plain-speak wisdom of Chance the gardener and Forrest Gump. But watching Bella’s rapid education, which accelerates from a huge appetite for “furious jumping” (her words for sexual intercourse) to an appreciation of significant philosophical questions, is one of the movie’s greatest joys and one of Stone’s greatest triumphs as a performer.

If substantive change inspired by an arc of experience defines a strong character, Bella Baxter shines as brightly as any diamond. She’s just as tough, too.

Recently in:

By Laura Simmonslaurasimmons2025@u.northwestern.edu Gerald Briggs, the Warren County Mississippi Fire/EMS chief, was at a festival in February 2020 when a local law enforcement officer asked him if he had heard about the explosion…

By Michael M. Millermichael.miller@ndsu.edu Dwight Herr interviewed his father, Julius E. Herr of Wishek, North Dakota, in June 1979. Dwight provided a transcription and donated the “Life Story of Julius E. Herr” to the Germans…

Saturday, March 1611 a.m.Downtown FargoWear something green and celebrate spring during Fargo-Moorhead’s premier parade. Thousands of spectators line the streets, so arrive early to snag a prime spot. This community celebration…

By Sabrina Hornungsabrina@hpr1.com When one googles “What traits are desirable in a new employee,” some of the first words that pop up “from sources around the web” include “communication,” “team player,”…

By Ed Raymondfargogadfly@gmail.comPoliticians could learn a lot by watching dung beetles work for a livingThe 400,000 species of beetles is the largest order of insects discovered on Planet Earth, so far. Insect researchers believe…

By Rick Gionrickgion@gmail.com Holiday wine shopping shouldn’t have to be complicated. But unfortunately it can cause unneeded anxiety due to an overabundance of choices. Don’t fret my friends, we once again have you covered…

By Rick Gionrickgion@gmail.com In this land of hotdish and ham, the knoephla soup of German-Russian heritage seems to reign supreme. In my opinion though, the French have the superior soup. With a cheesy top layer, toasted baguette…

The Aquarium, 226 Broadway North upstairs, Downtown FargoFriday, December 8, 7:30-11pmDoors 7:30 pm // Music 8 pm21+ // $10 advance // $12 DOSOver two decades, Christmas songs have appeared throughout Owen Ashworth’s recorded…

Now playing at the Fargo Theatre.By Greg Carlson gregcarlson1@gmail.comPalme d’Or recipient “Anatomy of a Fall” is now enjoying an award-season victory tour, recently picking up Golden Globe wins for both screenplay and…

In the 20th and 21st centuries, the pursuit of knowledge has directed humankind to new horizons – the ocean depths, the infinite reach of space, and the hidden secrets of cells and microbes…or to Artificial Intelligence, which…

By John Showalterjohn.d.showalter@gmail.comHigh Plains Reader had the opportunity to interview two mysterious new game show hosts named Milt and Bradley Barker about an upcoming event they will be putting on at Brewhalla. What…

By Annie Prafckeannieprafcke@gmail.com AUSTIN, Texas – As a Chinese-American, connecting to my culture through food is essential, and no dish brings me back to my mother’s kitchen quite like hotdish. Yes, you heard me right –…

By Sabrina Hornungsabrina@hpr1.comNew Jamestown Brewery Serves up Local FlavorThere’s something delicious brewing out here on the prairie and it just so happens to be the newest brewery west of the Red River and east of the…

By John Showalter  john.d.showalter@gmail.comThey sell fentanyl test strips and kits to harm-reduction organizations and…

JANUARY 19, 1967– MARCH 8, 2023 Brittney Leigh Goodman, 56, of Fargo, N.D., passed away unexpectedly at her home on March 8, 2023. Brittney was born January 19, 1967, to Ruth Wilson Pollock and Donald Ray Goodman, in Hardinsburg,…

By Faye Seidlerfayeseidler@gmail.com On the first day of the month I ask people to thank a journalist they know or someone who contributes to papers in some meaningful way. When I grew up, my best friend's father was a journalist…