Welcome to our Colossus Movie Guide for Poor Things. This guide contains our detailed library of content covering key aspects of the movie’s plot, ending, meaning, and more. We encourage your comments to help us create the best possible guide. Thank you!
What is Poor Things about?
Poor Things is, like most Yorgos films, strange. But also mostly straightforward. Bella’s child-like perspective of the world allows the film to question established norms, gender roles, and power dynamics. It’s like if an alien arrived on Earth and kept asking “Why do you do that? And why do you do that? And what about that?” The journey Bella goes on is one of empowerment. She faces various forms of control (mostly in the form of men) but manages to stay true to herself and define herself. There’s also a subtheme of redemption. None of us will be reborn like Bella, but we can choose to embark on a fresh start. To question our own norms, behaviors, beliefs, etc, and grow into someone new, different, and better.
Movie Guide table of contents
- Bella Baxter/Victoria – Emma Stone
- Dr. Godwin Baxter – Willem Dafoe
- Max McCandles – Ramy Youssef
- Felicity – Margaret Qualey
- Duncan Wedderbum – Mark Ruffalo
- Harry Astley – Jerrod Carmichael
- Martha Von Kurtzroc – Hanna Schygulla
- Madame Swiney – Kathryn Hunter
- Toinette – Suzy Bemba
- General Alfie Blessington – Christopher Abbott
- Mrs. Prim – Vicki Pepperdine
- Based on – The novel Poor Things by Alasdair Gray
- Written by – Tony McNamara
- Directed by – Yorgos Lanthimos
The ending of Poor Things explained
The end of Poor Things begins following Bella’s climactic showdown with General Blessington, her brain’s father/body’s husband. This is their final dialogue.
Bella: I’ve found our time together interesting. But have ascertained why I jumped from a bridge. I wish to go to see my near-dead God.
Alfie: Adorable idea. Unfortunately, my darling, my life is dedicated to the taking of territory. You are mine. And that is the long and short of it.
B: I’m not territory.
A: The root of the problem is between your legs. I will have it off. And it will not distract and divert you, anymore. See, a man spends his life wrangling his sexual compulsion. It’s a curse. And yet, in some ways, his life’s work. A woman’s life’s work is children. I intend to rid you of that infernal package between your legs and plant a seed in you straight after.
B: Let me explain what has happened. Victoria, your wife, threw herself from a bridge and died. Godwin Baxter found her, brought her to his surgery, he then removed the baby, removed the brain from the baby, transplanted it into my head and reanimated me.
B: I’ll bring you the file—it’s actually quite fascinating. However, I will keep my new life, and my lovely old clitoris, thank you. If you would call a carriage, for me.
A: They talk and talk and yet at some point there is nothing left but to pull a gun. [Sighs]. ‘tis the way with women. [Bella approaches]. Are you giving it?
B: I’d rather you shot me in the f***ing heart.
A: I will oblige, if I have to. Drink the drink, darling. Chloroform and gin.
B: In some ways it would be a relief to be rid of my questing self.
A: Sip deeply and that freedom is yours.
Bella throws the drink in Alfie’s face, then they struggle for the weapon. It fires right into Alfie’s foot. Max arrives and he and Bella perform surgery on Max. First, they remove the bullet, saving his life. Second, they transplant a goat’s brain into Alfie’s body.
In the next scene, Bella and Max cuddle with God. She explains, “It was just the story of someone else. Not Bella Baxter.” God’s last words are “It’s all very interesting, what is happening.” He passes away.
We conclude with the household in the wake of God’s death. Felicity and the housemaid, Mrs. Prim, play catch with a football. Felicity shows signs of progress by actually being able to catch. Max brings Bella and Toinette a drink. We hear she’s about to take the medical exam. The general is now a goat. Soaring music plays as everyone enjoys the moment. The last shot is of a content Bella, reading.
As strange in style as Poor Things is, the themes of the movie are made pretty clear throughout. Bella’s on a journey of actualization that is distinctly feminine in what is a male-dominated world. Every man in her life has tried to exert some sort of control over her. God wanted to keep her from the world. Max, Duncan, and Alfie all wanted to claim Bella as their own. And Harry Astley wanted to destroy her innocent, positive view of the world. Yet she continuously and successfully defies each of these men. Going from a dependent in their care to a peer (even a superior).
This conflict with men comes to a head with the showdown between Bella and Alfie, when Alfie declares her his territory. Max had been timid. Duncan had been full of bluster but not a serious opponent. Alfie, though, embodies the worst of men. Controlling. Violent. Entitled. Cruel. Self-deifying. He’s a true boss fight. And Bella is, at that point, experienced enough, learned enough, to handle herself, besting him and winning not only her freedom but her sovereignty of self.
The final scene establishes a kind of mini-utopia. This gets at the film’s second primary theme—the tension in humanity between darkness and light. Bella’s time in the world was full of inequality, exploitation, and drama. But at the end, in that backyard, there’s an equality and seeming transcendence of labels. Did Bella and Max marry? Maybe. Are Bella and Toinette still physically involved? Maybe. Mrs. Prim had been the housemaid but she’s no longer serving, simply enjoying being part of the household. The general has become a comical oddity. This is a microcosm of what a progressive society might look like. Peaceful, egalitarian, non-territorial. A stark difference from what we saw in Alexandria with the rich at the top of a tower and the poor in the ruins below.
Lastly, Bella becoming a doctor is a culmination of her desire to help others. In her philosophical conflict with Harry Astley (on the boat), Bella had said if she knows the problems of the world then she can improve it. Harry responded with “Hope is smashable. Realism is not.” But Bella never loses her sense of hope. And though she might not be able to save everyone across the globe, she can, by becoming a doctor, make a difference. It’s her way of offering something to the world (beyond money).
If you want to go the extra mile, you can try and make an argument that Godwin’s death is symbolic. Throughout Poor Things, Bella refers to Godwin as God. And he did literally give her life by playing god (not to mention all the animals he spliced together). But religion isn’t a huge part of the movie. So it would seem a bit narrow to only focus on Godwin as symbolic for something as specific as, say, the God of Christianity (given the English setting).
When we look at what he meant to Bella, he was her father-figure. But also the one who had defined her world. His death coincides with Bella fully coming into her own. This gets at something most of experience. The transition from the innocence of childhood to being the ones in charge. Not only of our lives but actually shaping society. It starts when we’re teenagers but is full-force once we’re in our thirties, as the generations before us age and pass. We take up the torch from our parents, our teachers. We move past them. Into whatever’s next.
So the death of “God” feels less about religion and more about the idea of control or having a safety net. No one is there to tell you what to do or how to do it. The power is in your hands. For better or worse.
The themes and meaning of Poor Things
Questioning the way things are
Bella’s situation means she’s experiencing the world for the first time but as an adult. Meaning she can combine child-like curiosity with a grown-up’s perception and processing to ask some very complex questions about the world. Despite its Victorian-era setting, the questions are for our modern society. Specifically, about gender, class, existentialism, puritanical views on sex, and the continued belief that women are territory for men to conquer. On the one hand, the historical context lends the movie a distance, as if we’ve progressed past some of these concerns. On the other hand, we haven’t.
Poor Things becomes both a reminder and a blueprint. A reminder to not become as cynical as Harry Astley. Or as resigned as Mrs. Prim. You can remain optimistic, inquisitive, and determined. And Bella is the blueprint for that. You can’t be her. But you can channel and draw strength from her idealism. Which is the hallmark of an enduring character.
Taking the good with the bad
Bella starts very sheltered. Then Duncan takes her away on what starts out as a very enchanting trip. That quickly grows complicated as Duncan becomes more needy, possessive, and incapable of keeping up with Bella intellectually and emotionally. We see a bit of her innocence worn away. It completely shatters when Harry takes her to Alexandria and shows her the people of the slums. They’re starving, naked, in need of help. But no one helps.
Initially, Bella’s overwhelmed. She returns to the ship in a state of total distress. It’s a lowpoint. Her first reaction is to try and help by giving money. But that’s also an innocent gesture that’s quickly taken advantage of by two of the crew who lie that they’ll pass on the box of cash to the poor. She cries and questions why the world could be like this and how she can just be enjoying herself while others suffer.
The next day, however, she thanks Harry. Saying that she has to understand these things if she’s ever going to change them. This notion of experiencing lows gathers steam in the next scenes. First, she and Duncan find themselves poor on the streets of Paris. Instead of being a blubbering mess like Duncan, Bella rises to the challenge. Though her solution is one that most people find unsavory—a brothel. It’s, at times, frustrating and sad and challenging. But Madame Swiney tells her: We must experience everything. Not just the good, but degradation, horror, sadness. This makes us whole, Bella. Makes us people of substance. Not flighty, untouched children. Then we can know the world. And when we know the world, the world is ours.
Bella was a flighty, inexperienced child. But its her experiences with both the good and the bad that deepen not just her understanding of the world but of herself. She knows herself better by seeing Harry’s reaction to the slums versus her own. Or her reaction to poverty versus Duncan’s. When it comes to Alfie, Bella could have given in. Or jumped from a bridge like Victoria. She chooses to fight. And she has the confidence to do so because of everything she had experienced up to that point.
That’s not to say we can all so easily process tragedy and adversity. Bella is, afterall, a movie character. But she serves as an ideal. As often as you can, make the best of setbacks, learn from the mishaps, and forge forward, stronger.
Why is the movie called Poor Things?
The novel addresses the title somewhat directly. But also not. That’s because the novel is a throwback to gothic literature. Meaning it uses a frame narrative to present itself as a “found document”. By that, the author, Alasdair Gray, pretends that he simply is the editor who is putting together these papers that were legitimately found by someone else. Meaning that what we’re reading is a “true” story. This was immensely popular with gothic novels from the 1800s. Dracula is probably the most famous example.
So Poor Things opens with Alasdair explaining the origins of the documents we’re going to read. It’s all rather believable. And somewhat boring as he gets into the process of publishing the very text you’re reading.
He lent me this book, saying he thought it a lost masterpiece which ought to be printed. I agreed with him, and said I would arrange it if he gave me complete control of the editing. He agreed, a little reluctantly, when I promised to make no changes to Archibald McCandless’s actual text. Indeed, the main part of this book is as near to a facsimile of the McCandless original as possible, with the Strang etchings and other illustrative devices reproduced photographically. However, I have replaced the length chapter headings with snappier titles of my own…I have also insisted on renaming the whole book POOR THINGS. Things are often mentioned in the story and every single characters (apart from Mrs. Dinwiddie and two of the General’s parasites) is called poor or call themselves that sometime or other.
So even though that’s expressed as the origin of the title, it’s Alasdair Gray in character. Meaning the actual reason for the title can be much deeper.
And that comes through in the first use of the phrase in the book. It’s after Alfie Blessington reveals himself at Bella’s wedding with Max (Archibald in the book). Bella’s having a conversation with God about Alfie.
“I never thought our marriage would be such fun. Is that poor old man really my dad? We must try to cheer him up. Did I really marry that long thin stick with a mask on top? Ee, I am well away from him. Did all these men mean to kidnap me? For a moment they looked as if they would. I am glad you were with us, God. Candle would have died fighting for me but what use is a dead Candle to a kidnapped Bell?
One blast of your lungs would have knocked flat the whole clamjamfrie, God, and they knew it. So at last it looks as if the mystery of the Origin of Bell Baxter’s Species is going to be solved. What did that medico whisper to you, God?”
“A lie. He will probably repeat it aloud and you will hear me contradict him.”
“Why are you looking so miserable, God? Why are you not as excited as I am?”
“BEcause you are going to learn that I too have told lies.”
“You? A liar?”
“If you have lied to me how can there be any truth? Who can be any good?” said Bella, looking frightened.
“Truth and goodness do not depend on me, Bell. I am too weak. I am as poor a thing as General Blessington. Prepare to despise both of us.”
So the emphasis seems to be on the weakness of the men in Bella’s life. They’re the poor things. Which tracks in terms of what we see in the movie. God’s sheltering. Max’s eagerness to please. Duncan’s cloying. Harry’s negativity. The men in the brothel are mostly sad and desperate. Alfie’s wickedness. Bella has to have patience in her dealings with all of them. Though Max does come around.
Of course, it’s hard not to think of the literal poor we see in Alexandria and Bella’s ultimate goal of contributing something to the world in order to help those in need.
While all of that tracks, I think it mostly comes back to the conversations Harry and Bella have on the boat. Bella says “It is the goal of all to improve, advance, progress, grow. I know this in me and I’m sure I am indicative of all.” To which Harry says, “But this improvement through philosophy is people trying to run away from the fact that we all are cruel beasts. Born that way. Die that way.” Later, Bella talks to him about Duncan and how angry he makes her but says she doesn’t want to be cruel. Then, after Alexandria, she rejects his notion that we are a “f***ed species.” Boiling him down to “a broken little boy who cannot bear the pain of the world.”
So I think the title ultimately gets at this notion that we are all our poor things facing the overwhelming struggle to live well. The experience can break us. But some continue to seize whatever hope is within reach. Either way, the title evokes a sense of empathy for humanity as a whole.
And then the movie does open with Victoria leaping from the bridge, while pregnant. We go from the shot of her falling to the title Poor Things. So there’s an application to not just Victoria and her unnamed baby. But the dual-persona they become after God implants the baby’s brain into Victoria’s body.
Important motifs in Poor Things
The cruelty of God’s father
God has multiple stories about his dad conducting experiments on him. He struggles with this because it’s clearly not something a parent who loves their child would do to their child. Except God wants to believe his father loved him. But it seems like nothing more than simple cruelty. His struggle with this ties back to the larger thematic discussions around human nature and our capacity to cope.
The different camera lenses
The cinematographer, Robbie Ryan, has done a few interviews about the use of different lenses. There’s a 4mm that they used “any time a scene needed a bit more expression…usually, when the scene gets a bit heightened, that lens came out.” And the Petzval. IndieWire explained “Ryan could use the Petzval in deliberately portrait-like moments of Bella struggling with, understanding, or deciding something, so that it shifts all the detail in the frame onto her while creating a lovely bokeh behind.” And then zoom and wide-angle lenses.
From Variety “Lanthimos wanted to find a vignetted wide lens to ‘create a portal feel so that you’re looking into another world,’ Ryan says. To create that vignette, he used a 16-millimeter lens called a four-millimeter Optex on a 35-millimeter format… ‘I think it adds to the humor and the broadness of the film in a way because it’s such a statement lens.’”
They actually combined various parts from vintage and contemporary cameras into what Ryan called a “Frankenstein camera”. So each time you see the lens change, it’s to evoke something specific.
The change from black and white to color
A little obvious. But when Bella’s initially so sheltered by God, her world is essentially devoid of color. It isn’t until she goes out into the world with Duncan, and loses her virginity, that film erupts into color. It’s one of the many ways Yorgos messes with the formal aspects of the filmmaking to embody the visceral and tactile aspects of the story.
Questions & answers about Poor Things
What was the opening scene?
When Poor Things begins, we just see some light fabric. with various pictures stitched in. It’s such an extreme zoom that it’s hard to tell what we’re looking at. But it’s probably a quilt for an infant. Specifically, Victoria’s and Alfie’s baby. It serves as symbolic for the soon to arrive child that Victoria really doesn’t want.
Why did Victoria jump from the bridge?
We don’t really know much about her. Alfie said they both had a similar sense of humor (which was very cruel). And the staff don’t seem particularly happy to see Bella because they think she’s Victoria. So it’s possible she was a cruel person, a bad person. And that she so badly didn’t want to be a mother that she’d rather leap from a bridge. It’s also possible that she was, like Bella would have been, claimed by Alfie, imprisoned by him, and was trying to spare both herself and the child from a future with such an evil person.
Why did God burp bubbles?
God mentions several times that his father was a scientist who experimented on him. God’s also an experimenter himself. So it’s either a byproduct of something from his childhood or some “improvement” to digestion that he himself imagined.
Was Felicity not as smart as Bella?
They do say it’s taking her longer to develop than Bella. Which makes the case that there’s something special about Bella. But we do see, at the end, that Felicity’s motor skills have advanced to the point of catching a ball. So it seems like maybe she’ll continue to progress. But even if she doesn’t, she’s part of the family and they’ll take care of her.
Now it’s your turn
Have more unanswered questions about Poor Things? Are there themes or motifs we missed? Is there more to explain about the ending? Please post your questions and thoughts in the comments section! We’ll do our best to address every one of them. If we like what you have to say, you could become part of our movie guide!