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REVIEW: ‘Poor Things’ goes full monty to hit social constructs on sex

By Jerald Uy Published Nov 25, 2023 10:19 am

If a falling Emma Stone who eventually breaks her neck is the image imprinted on your head, then that might change when you watch Poor Things, currently running at the QCinema International Film Festival. Here, the Gwen Stacy actress from Amazing Spider-Man films does a frantic jumping instead, mostly atop the actor who played the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).

Imagine a Vivamax movie that delves into “mad scientist” fiction plus a commentary on how every woman should own every aspect of her body. While most of the platform’s content is meant to titillate, Poor Things is not a sensual film—it does not employ the male gaze—but uses sex sequences to disgust or disarm viewers to a fault, confronting their prejudices against women being sex-positive. 

With a tabula rasa mind, protagonist Bella Baxter (Stone) gradually learns pleasures in her adult body, experiments with it, accepts the social constructs on it, questions them, and rebels against them. Her origins are outlandish and the credit goes to the source material’s author, Alasdair Gray. In 1992, the Scottish novelist released Poor Things: Episodes from the Early Life of Archibald McCandless M.D., Scottish Public Health Officer, a mouthful title indeed, no pun intended.

Bella Baxter embarks on a hedonistic odyssey in Poor Things.

It also hits social constructs on sex, which could offend people with a different moral code. The film chronicles a young mind in a grown-up body who argues that sex should be between married people, can be profited, and can be limited to opposite genders. Still, Bella knows something off with constant pleasuring amid people dying on one of the islands during their odyssey, cut off from their privileged world.  

Stone carries the film so well it will be an unforgivable sin if her name does not pop in the awards season. Only a few actresses of her generation can effortlessly shift from dark comedy to melancholia.

Willem Dafoe is Bella Baxter’s adoptive father Dr. Goldwin Baxter in Poor Things.

The production design is a beautiful throwback to set pieces of classic Victorian films mashed with imagined technologies of that time. The film also cleverly uses black and white grading to illustrate how infants do not see colors for a time, reflecting Bella’s innocent mind.  

The attention to detail in the costume, props, and makeup was impressive. The gothic makeup and prosthetics, especially on Willem Dafoe’s heavily scarred character Dr. Goldwin Baxter, tell stories of their own, while contributing to the larger, weird world of Poor Things.

As this is not the first collaboration between director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite) and Stone, you can see in the well-helmed film that the two already know how to complement each other’s strengths.

Now with a screenplay by Tony McNamara, who also wrote Stone’s characters in The Favourite and Cruella, all three are mad scientists in their own right, bringing to life a deliciously nasty piece of cinema with Poor Things.

Catch Poor Things at the 11th QCinema International Film Festival. For the schedule, visit