Unlearning Sexism…Through a Baby: A Review of “Poor Things”


Georgia French ’27

Staff Writer


Anyone with an appreciation for the whimsical or surreal will immediately be reeled in by the fantastically confusing trailer for Yorgos Lanthimos’s Poor Things. The film confronts long standing and universally accepted social norms through the development of Emma Stone’s character, Bella Baxter, the creation of Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe). 

After discovering the body of a pregnant woman who had recently committed suicide, Baxter puts his unconventional medical practices to use by replacing the woman’s brain with that of her unborn baby. The result of Baxter’s Frankenstein experiment — the mind of a newborn baby navigating the illogical expectations placed upon an adult woman’s body.

Since Bella has the mental capacity of a newborn baby, she repeatedly faces reprimand by the other male characters for her “naïve” tendencies. While Bella is undoubtedly ignorant of the world around her, this ignorance ultimately serves to protect her from becoming desensitized to the double standards other women have become accustomed towards.

On a surface level, Bella is seen as foolish in the eyes of God and his research assistant, Max (Ramy Youssef). She wants to explore a world she doesn’t know the dangers of, she speaks bluntly and freely of her newly discovered sexuality, and she continues to expect the best of people who have time and time again revealed their worst. Overall, her “ignorance” which God and Max are quick to point out can be more accurately described as a nonadherence to trivial social expectations, as well as a lack of familiarity with the commonly disappointing actions of men.

In comparison to Bella’s envy-inducing unfamiliarity with prejudices, the woman who had previously housed Bella’s body, Victoria, had been struck with the unfortunate reality. She did what all too many women have done before her: acclimated to the hysterical and arrogant disposition of her territorial husband, since it was the model of countless husband-wife dynamics. 

The husband, Alfie Belssington (Christopher Abbott) tracks Bella down months after his wife’s disappearance. Believing the woman before him is still Victoria, he insists Bella return home. All too quickly, Bella understands why her mother was driven to suicide under Alfie’s ruling hand. Alfie immediately makes her inferior position in their marriage clear, resulting in Bella’s decision to leave. Her logical decision making among the irrational rules men impose on her points to the obvious irony of the “hysterical woman” stereotype.

Another key aspect to the film is Bella’s relationship with sex work. In a dire financial situation, coupled with dissatisfaction with her relationship with Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo), Bella stumbles upon a brothel that appears to be the answer to all her problems. The severe shame most women have been taught to associate with sex work holds no value to Bella. In her eyes, it is beautifully simple. As someone who needs money and would like to experience multiple sexual partners, she couldn’t have thought up a more perfect set-up. This puts the viewer in a fairly unique position, as it is impossible not to understand the rationale behind Bella’s choice. 

Yet, the initial freedom and fun Bella gains from sex work quickly becomes overshadowed by her growing disconnect to the role playing it requires. Instead of being her whole complex self at all hours of the day, Bella is instead categorized as a sexual or non-sexual being, dependent on whether she is clocked in. This categorization strongly hints at the widely known Madonna-whore complex, where women are viewed as one of two things; either “good” virgins or hyper sexualized versions of themselves. Luckily, Bella’s strong sense of self and ability to remove herself from unwanted situations leads her to take action when she discovers these discomforts. 

On another stroke of luck, Bella meets her supportive socialist girlfriend Toinette (Suzy Bemba) working in the brothel. Where past male partners in her life had been possessive or objectifying, it is clear Bella’s girlfriend sees her in her entirety. For the first time in her life, Bella experiences a romantic partner who simultaneously supports her medical career goals, while having a sexual aspect to their relationship. Bella no longer needs to compartmentalize herself. The complexity of their relationship is perfectly summed up in her girlfriend’s cheeky closing line about Bella’s intimate knowledge of anatomy. 

After a somewhat rollercoaster of a film, Poor Things concludes beautifully. Thanks to God’s influence on Bella’s medical skills, her abusive husband is given a goat brain, destined to live out the rest of his days on his hands and knees. While he bleats before them, Bella and her girlfriend sip cocktails.


Image Source: Anna Grez ‘27

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