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Keeping up with Kendall: 'Poor Things' Movie Review

“Poor Things” is an over two-hour long, star-studded film that was released Dec. 8, 2023. It was the vibrantly whimsical lovechild of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” and L. Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz,” as it contains themes from both pieces. On the surface, it was a wonderfully done movie, considering the multifaceted cinematography, the eerie orchestral scores and the perfect casting. But what makes “Poor Things” a masterpiece is its unique but thorough execution of themes such as nature vs. society and the journey from girlhood to womanhood through the lens of autonomy.

The casting was exceptional and I don’t believe there were better actors for any of the roles. However, two actors in particular stood out to me in this film: Emma Stone and Willem Dafoe. Stone’s portrayal of the woman-child Bella Baxter was phenomenal. I don’t know how I expected a revitalized woman with her own unborn baby’s brain to act, but Stone’s performance was exactly what it needed to be. Her facial expressions, the way she rigidly walked and the evolution of her speech are just a few highlights. Stone has proven once again her versatility as an actor. 

Dafoe did a perfect job at portraying his character, Dr. Godwin Baxter. Dafoe does well in roles where he plays a blunt, stern man who also has a good heart, so he was exactly the actor this character needed. Dafoe was so naturally able to portray Godwin Baxter’s indifferent, completely rational scientific side while also portraying his tenderness for Bella and his research assistant, Max, without losing the wise air of his character. 

The costuming of this film was also utilized perfectly to tell the story. Color is used throughout the entirety of “Poor Things” to convey the general mood of the scenes, the characters’ personalities and life and death. 

This is especially true for the coloration of the costumes. In the beginning, when Bella is young and does not have much of a life yet, she wears only white. Once she leaves her home in London, her clothes have vibrant colors, striking patterns and eye-catching materials. This symbolizes the beginning of her living life and gaining some sense of autonomy. Most of the men in the movie wear more muted, dull colors because they tend to be boring to Bella. Most of the women in the movie wear colors, but none as eccentric as Bella’s. 

Bella also wears garments that would have been worn by both men and women at the time this movie takes place, which is assumed to be the late 1800s. This is because she does not abide by society’s rules whatsoever. Everything about Bella’s costuming is remarkable in length, silhouette, color, pattern and material because Bella is fundamentally different from all other human beings. 

 This film was shot remarkably well and was beautiful to look at. Just like the costumes, the cinematography also utilized color to tell the story. The beginning of “Poor Things” is entirely in black and white, which I believe was an allusion to the earliest film adaptations of “Frankenstein,” which were all in black and white. I also think this decision was meant to allude to “The Wizard of Oz,” a movie that starts in black and white but is colorized when Dorothy goes on a whimsical adventure that helps her to grow up. 

There is one exception at the beginning, where we see Victoria (Bella before she died) commit suicide, completely in color. Once Bella leaves her home in London, everything from that point on is in vibrant, warm color. Because of this, I believe that color is meant to symbolize life and vitality in this film.

 Each of these elements supports the execution of one of the main themes in “Poor Things”: nature vs. society. This is one of the main themes in “Frankenstein” as well, though it is portrayed differently in “Poor Things.” One way this movie emphasizes this is through sexuality and nudity. This unashamed, frequent use of nudity and sex was not used for sexual allure, but to emphasize the natural state of the human body and the unbiased lens through which nature and science look at it. 

Furthermore, humans are wired to seek pleasure, whether it is through sex, a lot of great food or dancing however we want in public (all things Bella indulges in). Yet, society deters us from enjoying those things and makes them taboo; to be civilized is to deny one’s nature. Bella delightfully lives her life by constantly acting on her nature and never denying herself what she wants, even when people try to tell her she shouldn’t. 

One scene in particular stood out to me as representing this theme. Bella is on a ship with her travel companion, Duncan, and steps out onto the deck for the first time. She walks out to see a sailor with a seagull in his hands. The sailor curses at the seagull for defecating on him before snapping its neck and killing it. This reveals the socialized human’s urge to control and punish the natural world when it does not act “polite.” Bella represents the natural world and the freedom that comes with living it, and like her friend Harry says on the ship, “Polite society will kill you.”

Another central theme in “Poor Things” is the journey from girlhood to womanhood and the way womanhood is defined by a lack of autonomy. This theme sort of overlaps with the theme of nature vs. society, but because Bella is a woman, there are many more restrictions to how much she is allowed to act on her human nature. This entire film is marked by men trying to control Bella, specifically Duncan. He hates her independent sexuality, her adventuring by herself, her speaking her mind at dinner with his friends and denies her another tart when she asks for more than one at lunch. Then, when Bella “breaks up” with him, he is outraged and accuses her of being some hysterical demon who bewitched him. Accusations of evil, hysteria and witchcraft have notoriously been used against women who seek autonomy. 

Near the end of the film, Bella’s husband from her past life, Alfie, attempts to mutilate her genitals. He insists that her sexuality has always been her problem and that men are entitled to sexual pleasure while women should only have sex to give birth. 

This film also discovers this theme by reviewing the stigma toward sex work, which is often attributed to the autonomy it has historically given women. The autonomy granted to women who make their own money and have sex on their own terms has always been heavily stigmatized because of sexism. This movie also reveals how a woman loses value to the men around her when she participates in sex work or even casual sex because of this.

However, I think this film did fall victim to a male director attempting to intensely explore womanhood but diminishing it to sexuality. To an extent, I think this was purposeful. Also, in Yorgos Lanthimos’s defense, he does like to make his movies uncomfortable to watch and uses awkward sex scenes to do this. 

Nonetheless, I am tired of men trying to make realistic stories about womanhood through the male gaze. I do think the frequent use of nudity was to portray the human body in its natural state, but it got a bit excessive. Also, if the focus was on nudity and sexuality as a natural desire, why were all the women’s bodies shaved? Of course, it is the individual actor’s decision, but the natural body is hairy, and most women were not shaving during this time. This was really the only problem I had with the film, and I still maintain that it was an overall masterpiece.

“Poor Things” was the revitalization of classic gothic literature with feminist undertones. This film is by far one of the most beautiful yet disturbing films I’ve ever watched, and I can see it becoming a classic in the future. 

Kendall Bergeron is a junior studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Kendall know by emailing her at

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