Emma Stone as Bella Baxter in Poor Things.

Poor Things: Frankenstein Revisited

Posted by Speakeasy News > Wednesday 17 January 2024 > Shine Bright Lycée What's On

Poor Things, adapted into an award-winning film from the novel by Alasdair Gray, imagines a female Frankenstein's monster who is fundamentally human, and her creator, who much like Dr Frankenstein, is perhaps more monstrous himself.

Yorgos Lanthimos's previous films such as The Lobster and The Favourite were far from mainstream, even if The Favourite won Olivia Colman an Oscar. Poor Things fits perfectly into his eccentric world where social conventions are thrown to the winds. He fell in love with Scottish author Alasdair Gray's 1992 novel and its central character Bella Baxter.

It's no spoiler to say that Bella has been re-invented by Dr Godwin Baxter from the body of a woman who jumped into a river and the brain of the baby she was carrying — it's clear from early in the film when we encounter this extraordinary character who appears to be an adult but behaves like a baby, then matures through the film.

Godwin Baxter himself has been the subject of scientific experiments by his own father, who was, like him, a famous surgeon.

Willem Dafoe as Godwin Baxter.
Willem Dafoe as Godwin Baxter.

Bella sets off on a Grand Tour with an unscrupulous lawyer played like a silent-film villain by Mark Ruffalo. Bella herself is played remarkably by Lanthimos veteran Emma Stone, who was intrigued by possibilities of a character for whom the world is new, and who sees conventions and manners as the social constructs they are. She discusses the role in this short video.

Visually, the film, which alternates sequences in black-and-white and in colour, is a sumptous steampunk collision of Victorian and futuristic imagery.

Bella in Lisbon.

Apart from moving the setting from Glasgow to London, the film is pretty faithful to the central section of the novel. (Like the Victorian literature that inspired it, the novel couches the account of Bella's life in layers of documents purporting to prove, or disprove, that it is true.) Hopefully, it will generate a wider readership for a versatile author and artist, who died in 2019. You can check out some of his other books, with his own distinctive cover illustrations, here.

This poster would be a great document to analyse before and after pupils learn the basic concept of the book and film.

A poster of a miniature version of the character Bella Baxter replacing the head of the full-sized version.

You could consider linking a mention of the film with the study of Shine Bright LLCER File 2 Freaky Dreams on the Gothic.
As in Lanthimos's previous films, and the source material, there is a lot of sexual content (it's certificate 18 in the U.K.). 

Poor Things
On general release 17 January

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