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Poor Things explained

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Reader Interactions


  1. Thanks for the analysis. A very interesting film, well acted and thought out. The focus on sex and prostitution from a male author and director might attract some criticism. The steam punk styling was an effective way to create a separate reality and suspend disbelief

    • It has definitely attracted some criticism lol. The steampunk choice was really cool.

  2. I’m trying to find the knock knock joke, Cheese to meet you!

  3. I came away from the film with what I thought an obvious question that I haven’t seen addressed anywhere, though I’ve scoured the web for a sign of it. Why didn’t Bella (with Max’s help) try to move Godwin’s brain into Alfie’s body, when the opportunity presented itself so neatly? To me, that seemed to be the direction things were going, until we saw the goat. All other aspects of the film seemed quite clear (and delightful) to me.

    • Hey! I watched the film tonight and at first I thought it was going in the same direction as you thought in that scene.
      But when I saw the General as a goat, it was the perfect choice they could have done.

      As you know, when Bella confronts God after coming back from France, she isn’t happy about what God has done by the experiment, which is Bella herself. But she thanks him for the “option of life” he gave her. Because Bella was an unborn baby, she haven’t lived before. So God actually gave her her first life.

      But God lived a life already unlike Bella, and I doubt a man like him who is pragmatic and born and raised with science would like to continue to that cycle of life in someone else’s body again, screwing the first law of nature, we all born and die (you know, I don’t think they are after immortality with their researches). And also we know Bella’s point of view about this exact topic, so that route would make the story really switch off for the sake of keep God living, which has no point.

      Also this would turn into a circle, God saving Bella’s brain and Bella saving God’s brain, they live happily ever after… I don’t think they are after that. I wouldn’t too.

      This is what I thought! Hope it’s helpful x

    • What a wonderful idea. It never occurred to me. It seemed that turning Alfie into a goat was punishment. But keeping God alive would have been fantastic.

    • Because if she had simply put God’s brain into his body, he would no longer be himself- there was no way to preserve his memories. “God” explains this to her in the film. She is not the baby, or Victoria- she is Bella.

  4. I’m a little confused about the timeline of everything. Obviously it’s meant to seem like Bella has lived a lifetime being raised by Godwin because developmentally she has. But I’m curious about how much time Bella did spend with Godwin, like how much time passed between the brain transplant and when we see Bella at the start of the film.

    • Her body was, of course, fully developed from the start, but her brain wasn’t developed enough to control it yet. I imagine in the beginning all she did was lay on her back and wave her arms and coo and cry. But the brain development arc was clearly accelerated compared to a “normal” baby’s (it’s mentioned a couple of times) and by the time we come in she’s already staggering around and babbling. Which is when an assistant to track her further development would come in extremely handy. So, I think start of the film was maybe about 4-6 months after she was “awakened”? Have nothing to back that up. Just a gut feeling.

    • I could see Godwin finding the body. And the movie picking up 1-4 weeks after the surgery? Max mentions that she learns 15 new words per day. And she had some kind of vocabulary at the beginning.

      And I initially misread your question as how much time passes in the movie. So I’m going to include what I wrote for that, just because lol.

      I think it’s actually relatively short. I brought up the script and it starts in London 1882. Another year is never given. So we can probably assume everything happens within a year, at most. At minimum, it might be a few months? Max does mention that Bella’s hair grows an inch every two days. Early on, it’s about at her wait. And at the end, it’s near her knees. If we’re generous and say “it grew two feet” then that would be 48-ish days.

  5. I enjoyed reading this. Though I thought your take that religion wasn’t important in the film was odd, as personally I thought i spotted several religious tie ins. Thematically the story creates its own ‘holy trinity’ of knowledge, sex and power. Bella herself is christlike as she is both mother and daughter. And I thought there was something Adam and eve-like about her choosing the apple to masturbate with, tying the link between sexual liberation and knowledge – and the apple representing sins of the world vs innocence.

    • 100% agree. I actually saw Bella as a Christ figure. The men like that try to keep her like various religions. The husband like the Old Testament vs new. The film was littered with religious references. Even the yellow raincoat at the end makes her look like Christ.

    • The apple symbolism is actually pretty good and hilarious. I should clarify that I think there are definitely religious aspects to it, but that the main point of the movie isn’t necessarily commentary on religion or directed toward religion.

      • Bella as Eve created by the God who is trying to keep her in the holly garden- the house.

  6. Why Does Dr. Godwin let Bella go away with Duncan so easily when he has told Max that she can never leave and he has papers drawn up to enforce this?

    • Part of it seemed to be because he took a corpse and knew that if Bella was out and about that someone might recognize her. Duncan wanted to take Bella away. Less chance of being recognized. Whereas Max would have been staying in the city. And plus, at that point, Bella was becoming harder and harder to control.

    • Free will.

  7. I’m a little concerned about the lack of conversation re Godwins bubbles.
    there not only seems to be no clear reason why he’s doing this, nor why anyone who is sitting near him and witnesses this is not at all shocked or perplexed by this. Since it is a complete non-sequitur to the context of what we are watching, what on heaven or Earth does it mean??
    And why isnt there more curiosity out here in the peanut gallery?
    I think Poor Things borrowed a lot from Eraserhead .

    • They did address why God belched those weird bubbles. It was hard to catch the actual terminology he used, but he briefly described how his father removed what produced his gastric juices to get to the bottom of what they are/why we have them, and came to the conclusion that it turns out they are necessary for digestion. So either Gods dad or God himself invented the weird tube system that results in the bubble in order for God to continue being able to eat.

  8. This movie seemed like an experiment. It was pretty sex obsessed like Tarantino’s movies are violence obsessed. It was also a harsh criticism against science like “can science’s pure logic and cynicism create any happiness in this world or it just produces poor things like those mutated chicken-pig creatures? ”

    It also criticised society’s opression on women and lower classes (which still exist in the movie’s future-timeline). These are crucial issues to think about in our timeline, but can art really solve these problems? I liked those dreamlike colourful outdoor scenes contrasted to the black ‘n white indoor ones, even though this contrast was more about time or reality vs memory. It was quite original (haven’t seen anything alike), but didn’t find any solution apart from criticism.

  9. The costumes in many ways seem to represented the complexity of the character Bella.

    • That’s a great point! Her fashion became more of her own.

  10. Thanks for the discussion on what “Poor Things” referred to. I was of the opinion that the “Poor Things” were everyone but Bella. Except for Bella, all of the characters (and us) are raised in a society that sets norms and expectations (consciously and unconsciously), and those restrict our growth in some direction or directions. Bella, during her “early years”, is kept from all that by Godwin’s keeping her from those things and he tries very hard to let her learn and decide things on her own.

    • I think that’s a valid interpretation!

  11. What a fantastic site this is (just found it)! It hits the kind of points I miss in the average review. Will definitely be back! Still digesting this movie. No questions or queries yet. But I did see something in the original pist that I can add to: “ 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…” I think you’re right. But it is also (the sun has to shine and you have to look carefully to see it) the fabric of the white gown she is wearing when staggering around in very early scenes. Which, of course, is very apropos.

    • Thanks, Karen! That means a lot!

      Oh man. When Poor Things hits streaming, I’ll do a fabric check. Good catch!

  12. I don’t understand how religion is not a HUGE part of this? Am I the only one who sees the parallels as Bella as a Christ figure? Her husband like Old Testament religion, Godwin knew. The johns from when she is a whore parishioners confessing sin, the men who try to keep her various religions, driven mad when she doesn’t bend to their will.

    At the end she is surrounded by socialism, and renewed innocence, free will, etc.

    God dies in London, famously the place of buses clad with “god is dead.”

  13. Maybe far fetched, but the emancipatory theme of the movie made me wonder: is the name Bella derived from Isabella (Belle) van Zuylen? Way back in the 1700’s she followed her own path, was one of the first Dutch women to attend university, she famously said “I have no talent for subordination”. She asked an older, famous don-juan-type for a dance and initiated the relation. Just wondering…

  14. why did the pimp women bite bella? what’s the point of that?

  15. Chris, I think that you have a valid idea that in the opening scene that light fabric with various pictures stitched in can represent a quilt for an unborn infant. But you can see the same fabric is on the walls of Bella’s bedroom. When I saw it, my first thought was that it reminded me of a padded cell in a psychiatric isolation unit. To abolish the use of mechanical restraint to control the patients, such padded cells started to be used in 1839. They remained until the 1960s when they were replaced with pharmacological sedation. This padded fabric in the film represents Bella’s restraint and isolation from the outer world.

  16. Hi Chris,

    Is the gender of the transplanted baby mentioned for real in any part of the story – book, movie or play? _(It is important for me to know, as I will explain later.)

    1. In the movie, God always refers to it as an infant or a baby.

    2. In a draft manuscript of Gray’s unpublished screenplay of Poor Things, held at the National Library of Scotland, Bella only intuits the gender:

    “I had a baby once. God is that true? If it is true what has become of her? For I am somehow sure she is a girl. This is a thought too big for Bell to think. I must gown into it by slow degrees.”

    • What I wanted to get to is: could the transplanted baby be a boy? (I am not claiming it was but can anyone find a hard proof that the author said it was a girl? Thanks

  17. Honestly I am glad for its existence….
    and the film struck me so much that I am here writing and that is not normal for me…

    BUT…it is hard to escape all of the shots of nudity of probably the most young acclaimed actress working today (Academy award winner).

    Try to imagine any other profession where a 50 year old man (director’s age?) gets to tell their muse let’s have you strip 40 times, have men sometimes defile you, and show near every sex position….”Okay, how’s that sound?”

    Could an old man do that at a law firm, a corporate suite, a university, a hospital work environment…..but it seems okay on a movie set? This is an extremely hard sell coming from a man’s eye.

    Reminds me a bit of the movie Handmaiden and more like an old guy standing behind the lens and enjoying the process. Which is odd because a director has ultimate control (of everything) and isn’t that what the movie is all about…(or we do we miss that layer) ?

    This is so embedded into our society it can be tough to even see. I mean the premise is a young Victorian (like) doctor is attracted to a woman who can’t speak and spits up food and offers literally at that point zero in a reciprocal relationship. But yeah he is attracted to her looks (sex) and that is suppose to be enough??
    Mind you, that guy eventually becomes the hero version of a male…neutered and forever clapping-on as he demonstrates he has zero life needs.

    There is a lot to like and I am glad it exist in the world but it does have problematic features (and maybe a lot).

    This film had a long run time (Hugh Grant) and most the problems I see are when it does not work because of a lack of more subtle care in getting its in valid point across. I mean she use to stab corpses eyes out but now is in a shambles because there are poor beneath her hotel ( and seems to genuinely want her lover to throw the old woman off the deck of the ship). I do not think that is director intent, but it the problem maybe be just deftness in story telling.

    The element of analysis. that seems to be missing from the article above is it appears to be the stages of human development. She is a baby, and at some point she is a teen wondering and learning about the world, then she is like a university student who thinks more globally, then she like many post university students must learn the reality of having to pay your own way in life.

    This seems to be an arc of the developmental stages of humans (maybe more female directed, maybe with a director’s spin).

    But that means perhaps too much of a pollyanna ending (also female oriented, as you could see maybe some females not so pained about idea kicking back drinking Chardonnay and just being a good person).

    Because if it is going to play human arcs, the human arce often is the old get more conservative and often very cruel (the beatnik kids of the 60’s becoming the welfare reform adults of the 80’s. The young people of the wild dressing Madonna loving 80’s wanting to build a wall in the 2020’s.

    If it is about arcs…then the end may hit false notes.

    More than likely not intended by the director, maybe the man with goat brain is a hint of what is to come of Bella…the old man full circle return to cruelty.

    If we are doing developmental stages, why miss the end cycle??

    It is not a perfect film but it is a really really good film.

    But that is also what they said about Brith of a Nation. They said, “WOWW this is really good…..” but look at the content ?

    • Pardon typos. I wrote on new phone and it’s glitchy.

      • In interviews, Producer Emma Stone has said that she’s a bit insulted by being questioned (often!) about her being directed by a man to do so much nudity and so many sexual scenes, because she had worked for three years on this project alongside the director, Yorgos Lanthimos. None of it was a surprise–or, presumably, objectionable–to her.

        • Just because a person buys in doesn’t make it correct.

          This is Hollywood….can you list any other thing she could say ???

          A actor being interviewed about a film is asked about any director and you will find the pattern of response in Hollywood is “yeah they are great…!”

          I work in Hollywood…there is no other answer than the one she gave….Her response has been pre thought out by both her agent and her PR person prior to being asked…or she would have new people working for her…. You don’t know but even the part where she says “I am tried of…” has been pre-thought out.

          I don’t mean to be tough…but people bought into concept of slaves, the Holocaust, internments…..buying into something is not a qualifier to its validity….or ask yourself how many drone strikes has the USA completed in Yemen with your tax dollars over the last 4 years ?

  18. I want to push you a bit on this statement: “But religion isn’t a huge part of the movie.”

    I wouldn’t call it a “big” part, but it is definitely a part of the film.

    General Blessington arrives during Max and Bella’s wedding, which is also the first time we see a large white cross in the film. When Bella announces she’s going with the General, she is framed perfectly in front of the white cross, large and imposing in the background.

    His name is General BLESSINGton. And his offer to free her of her curiosity is to drink from a cup, reminiscent of communion. All the while, the exterior of the Blessington compound contains dark cross windows across the top of the building.

    The compound evokes a prison of the Victorian era where religion, in this instance Christianity, was used as a cudgel to keep women protected. As Blessington puts it, “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.” This is what the moral code of the church teaches, and it is the prison that Victoria tries to escape.

    Meanwhile, Godwin, her creator, is a scientist who teaches her reason and experimentation. Ultimately, Godwin lets her know that her faith shouldn’t be in either Blessington or Godwin, in religion or science, but in herself.

  19. Oh Chris Chris Chris. Poor things are men. They are not everyone, silly. The women in the movie knew what they were about. Not so the men. I think you jumped to that conclusion because…well, you are a poor thing.

    • Deb, I read your statement and just see you unconsciously pointing at yourself ‘poor thing’

      Chris did mention it was pointing at men and added only maybe at all of us, why did you take such offense on the comment and be so ‘cruel?’

      Hence my reply above.

  20. Clever. Agreed. However, voyeuristic enough to negate any feminist view.

  21. I saw the term ‘Poor Things’ as the way men see women – their need to not just control, but teach and guide them, the ‘poor things’… I saw it as mocking the men’s mistaken impression that Bella (women) needs to be shown how to navigate the world when in fact it is the women in the film that help steer Bella through a life controlled by men. Meaning the ‘poor things’ would do just fine if men didn’t go out of their way to control the ‘poor things’.

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