Poor Things, a most peculiar movie

I’ve been deprived for so long. Our local movie theater has been showing the usual profit-making superhero movies and kids’ shows, so when I saw the announcement that they were showing something outside the norm — a norm I’ve become tired of — I had to go. I had a great time.

Cool. What a surprise! It’s a weirdly beautiful movie. The premise is that a hideously scarred Willem Dafoe fishes up a pregnant suicide (Emma Stone), and he transplants the fetus’s brain into the skull of the woman using fantasy 19th century Frankenstein technology. It’s then about this baby/child growing up in an adult body, and encountering a dream-world version of Europe. She has a super-power, though: as an innocent in an adult body, she discovers she has a button she can press to make herself very, very happy. There’s a lot of sex in the movie. But mainly it’s about discombobulating perspectives and a mind changing and becoming more aware over time against an exotic background. Stone took a lot of risks with this movie, but she pulled it off.

As I was leaving the theater, I was asked what I thought of it. My answer was “Peculiar!” That was high praise.

It was a relief to see a challenging movie in town. Morris residents better see it fast, though: it looks like next week we’re getting Madame Web, a confusing superhero movie tangentially spider-related, and Ordinary Angels, some uplifting dreck made by a Christian production company. I’ll be staying home next weekend.


  1. submoron says

    I doubt whether I’ll bother to see it. Having read the novel I’m sure to be disappointed. The same would go for Something Leather and 1982 Janine , the last employing weird games in the text that would probably look gimmicky on screen. Both of them discuss sexual matters’ in disturbing ways if you didn’t know.

  2. silvrhalide says

    I saw it right around Christmas and thought it was brilliant. It’s worth noting that the only two people who truly love Bella Baxter as she is, in the fullness of her sexual and life experiences, not to mention a matured and intelligent mind, are her fiancé and her creator. But she has illimitable suitors when she has the body of a young adult and the mind of a child and little or no sexual experience.

    @1 When I saw the movie, I was one of three people in the theater. I chatted with one of the other two attendees after the film; he had read the book and loved the film too. Might be worth your while to give it a shot.
    Also, Mark Ruffalo as Weddingburn is worth the price of admission alone. The art direction, which I can only describe as “Hieronymous Bosch and Salvador Dali do steampunk while tripping on opium and/or LSD” is an added bonus.
    The other thing to consider is that if no one goes to see art house moves and flocks to crap action and toxic rom-coms, then those will be the only movies that get made. They already take up too much of the movie landscape as it is.

  3. HidariMak says

    Marvel apparently hasn’t allowed any reviewers to see Madame Web yet, even though it releases 5 days from now. Definitely not a good sign.

  4. redwood says

    Watched it last week and loved it a lot. Many small moments of joy and humor throughout.

    I also read some negative reviews of the film and the viewers were usually turned off by the nudity and sex, often being apoplectic over the “grooming” of a “child” for sexual purposes, pretending that the baby’s brain that was transplanted never developed. They also seemed to like saying at what point they walked out of the theater.

    By living outside the US, I’ve come to realize how many of the adults in my birth country have stunted, undeveloped minds when it comes to sexual mores. I did my own version of walking out when I was 24 and have found a much more pleasant place to live in non-Xtian Japan. Of course, it’s not perfect, but at least they have grown-up ideas about sex.

  5. wobbly says

    Hm, doesn’t look like like it’s playing in my local theater, not shockingly. I’ll be sure to check it out when it hits streaming though.

  6. submoron says

    Silvrhalide @2. Thanks, I’ll reconsider it but I do like people to stick to the originals.Have you seen Gray’s own illustrations? He was an accomplished artist and I’m reminded that when the Gormenghast novels were published in the US Mervyn Peake’s own illustrations were dumped in favour of what the author and his circle called ‘Walt Bosch’ or ‘Hieronymus Disney’.
    Maybe I’m a bit too purist in these things.

  7. tedw says

    Saw it with my wife’s son, who majored in film in college. Everybody loved it, but definitely not for everyone. Interesting that it was in a small town in Minnesota, but in Augusta, GA we had to drive an hour to Columbia SC to see it. But it was in a really cool art house theater and the trip was fun. I have to wonder if the sexual content scared theater owners off from showing it in our Bible Belt town.

  8. wobbly says

    Regarding Madame Web; I honestly kind of feel bad that Sony’s seeming gameplan of pumping out middling live-action superhero flicks featuring any obscure Spider-Man related character that they can desperately try to convince audiences is somehow adjacent to the larger MCU has me already predisposed to give that particular film the side-eye, even before release.

  9. birgerjohansson says

    I am told the film Stigmata has Jesus possessing the body of a woman because he is angry with the way the church has twisted his message and wants his own version to be known.

    Disregarding the bodily autonomy of the woman he us possessing makes him a bad guy; meanwhile the film makers clearly wanted to present the catholic church as baddies. So we have evil fighting evil.

  10. birgerjohansson says

    A suitably weird film with good reviews would be Intact (spanish title Intacto ). Max von Sydow et al are using luck as a commodity that can be transferred.

    More suggestions: The Sticky Fingers Of Time, an unusual time travel movie.

    Tarkovsky is a reliable master of film. His version of Solaris is slow at the beginning, but if you have the patience for three-hour films it is brilliant.

  11. says

    I do not understand the fixation on superhero movies. I mean, Superman? Really?
    “Oh, look. The indestructible guy who can fly saved the day. Didn’t see that coming.”

  12. xohjoh2n says

    @12 fetalboy12:

    I do not understand the fixation on superhero movies. I mean, Superman? Really?
    “Oh, look. The indestructible guy who can fly saved the day. Didn’t see that coming.”

    Well it is a little surprising. The bad guys are always really smart, and as anyone who has been to highschool knows, smart beats strong every time, guaranteed.

  13. silvrhalide says

    @7 I hear you on respecting the source material–I ran out of things to throw at the TV in the first 10 minutes of SyFy’s Dune miniseries and gag every time someone tells me how much they liked the Lynch version of Dune (let’s not even talk about the Jodorowsky proposed “treatment” of Dune) but changes can be good–I didn’t feel that the LotR trilogy was irreparably marred by leaving out Glorfindel and Tom Bombadil.
    I haven’t read the original book but I’ve seen Gray’s illustrations in other places. Unfortunately, publishers choose illustrations based on what they think will sell, not what fans & readers actually want. (One of the authors that I follow has her book covers illustrated by someone who has no idea what is going on between the covers–the usual reaction from readers is “wtf is going on with the cover” usually followed by “christ, can’t you get anyone better than that”.) FWIW, Aubrey Beardsley’s work was considered too risqué for a lot of publishers too.

    @12, 14, 15 I’m waiting for the movie version of Grendel by Matt Wagner, preferably the Devil’s Legacy. [snerk] It will never be made, given that even the Netflix Grendel miniseries couldn’t find a home.

  14. andywuk says

    I learned long ago to regard movie adaptions of books (and remakes of “classic” movies) as things utterly unconnected to the source material.

    By mastering the trick of regarding a movie as a work in it’s own right I find them to be enjoyable even if they massively deviate from the source.

    So Lynch’s Dune was a refreshing departure from the Star Wars clones being churned out at the time, even if the Herbert “vision” had been dropped somewhere. The Coen brother’s “remake” of The Ladykillers was a scream without worrying that it lacked Alec Guinness and had changed continents. (“The Hobbit” mind was a tedious set of films of a platformer video game).

    It also helps to remember that a typical film script runs to 100 pages of double spaced text whereas a novel is several times that.

    And, as ever, the important thing is whether YOU enjoyed it.

  15. silvrhalide says

    @17 The Coen brothers are never NOT funny, regardless of which movie they are making, original or adapted. (It’s worth noting that O Brother, Where Art Thou credits Homer as a writer.) If we are going strictly by source material, then it fails on all counts, if only because there are no Greeks. (I got hooked on the Coens’ work with The Hudsucker Proxy.) As far as remakes go, any movie eventually becomes a period piece; remakes and adaptions can be a good way to keep the story and the ideas raised in it alive. That said, I was so deeply disappointed by the Lynch version of Dune, both as an adaption (you are dead on about the loss of the Herbert vision, there is none to be found in that movie) and as a stand alone movie. Wtf happened to all the female characters? (Lobotomies, apparently. Hello, Bechdel test.) Why is everyone in that movie so fucking WHITE? Dune the novel was a radical departure from the John Campbell style of white savior SF stories in that the women and nonwhite characters in them were fully fleshed characters with autonomy. The Lynch version failed as an adaption and also as a stand alone–it was all tedious retread space opera/space fantasy, costume and hairspray and no story.There was a lot of acting talent in that movie too but you’d never know it, because all the performances are DOA. It was Phantom Menace levels of acting before there was a Phantom Menace.

    I like popcorn movies too (I just think of Thor: Ragnarok as a comedy buddy movie instead of a superhero movie, with Thor as the himbo.) But they at least have to be good movies on their own merits. Lynch admitted that he hated the movie from the start, only did it for the money. It wasn’t so much as a director’s vision of a movie as it was “dude, I already got your money” while simultaneously relying on the fans’ willingness to see the movie and crapping all over the fans with the attitude of “SF fans will watch anything, I don’t have to try”. I find that attitude contemptible.

    100% on The Hobbit BTW. That thing was an unabashed grab for fan money. I can only mourn The Hobbit that might have been if Guillermo del Toro had actually directed, if MGM and New Line had ever gotten their shit sorted, as he was originally tapped to make The Hobbit as two movies, not three.

  16. doctorworm says

    I have not yet seen Poor Things, but I’ve seen two other films from the director, The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer. I was transfixed throughout both. Lanthimos is quietly one of the best directors working today.

    Even as a sucker for superhero movies, Madame Web holds no interest for me. I’m much more entertained by Dakota Johnson openly shit-talking her own movie at every opportunity.

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