“Poor Things,” the latest creation from esteemed director Yorgos Lanthimos, is gaining acclaim as a contemporary feminist masterpiece. In this wonderfully peculiar film, Emma Stone takes on the role of Bella. She is a resurrected woman implanted with the developing brain of her unborn daughter by the eccentric Dr. Godwin Baxter. Adapted from Alasdair Gray’s 1992 novel, “Poor Things” follows Bella’s journey as she navigates the world’s wonders and tragedies. All the while she resists societal expectations, capitalist pressures, and the influence of assertive men.
Sexual Liberation In Poor Things
“Poor Things” prominently features feminist themes, notably exemplified by the period of sexual liberation. Bella, with innocence and curiosity, explores her body, expressing her sexual desires without constraints or shame. This stands in stark contrast to the conventions of polite society. The film’s portrayal of sex scenes, both in terms of their extent and frequency. It encapsulates the feminist ideology of women possessing complete agency and choice over their sexual activities and partners. It is free from external ridicule or judgment.
The Male Gaze
“Poor Things” doesn’t shy away from female nudity with Emma Stone’s bold performance. However, it notably evens the playing field by depicting full-frontal male nudity as well. This inclusivity challenges the traditional imbalance often seen in nude and sex scenes in modern cinema. Through a feminist lens, this portrayal can be interpreted as a deliberate response to the historical male gaze. Film theorist Laura Mulvey coined the concept to describe the objectification of women onscreen that has persisted for decades. The inclusion of male nudity disrupts this norm and promotes a more equitable representation in cinematic storytelling.
Male Character Desires In Poor Things
In “Poor Things,” the four or five primary male characters, despite their differences, embody distinct styles of patriarchal masculinity. Even the seemingly innocent Max, with his thoughtful gestures and puppy-dog eyes, falls into this category as he, like the other male characters, desires to possess Bella within the confines of patriarchal expectations. Max dutifully awaits Bella’s return, reversing a common gender norm in the male-female dynamic.
Duncan attempts to restrict Bella’s access to the outside world and her education about it, reflecting another facet of patriarchal control. Both Alfie and Dr. Godwin confine Bella within their households, each with different morals and motivations but ultimately achieving the same effect—exerting control within a patriarchal framework. The film explores various manifestations of patriarchal ideals through these characters, illustrating the complex dynamics at play in Bella’s interactions with each of them.
Patriarchal Systems Of Oppression
“Poor Things” not only delves into various expressions of personal and cultural feminism through Bella’s experiences but also introduces elements of intersectional feminist theory. Intersectional feminism addresses the interconnected societal and economic factors that impede female empowerment while reinforcing male dominance. This concept is rooted in recognizing and analyzing systemic forms of oppression based on factors such as race, class, gender, and sexuality.
While Bella embodies a specific category of feminism as a white woman with resources, “Poor Things” subtly alludes to other forms of oppression that contribute to her evolving intersectional and socialist feminist perspective by the film’s conclusion. The narrative underscores the complex interplay of various societal structures that shape Bella’s understanding of feminism, highlighting the importance of considering multiple dimensions of oppression within feminist discourse.
Agency In Choices
In “Poor Things,” female empowerment and agency stand as the driving forces behind feminist theory. It vividly demonstrates Bella’s unwavering determination to live life on her terms. What sets her pursuit apart is the persistent and rigorous obstacles that repeatedly attempt to thwart her desires. Bella’s resolute determination to govern her own life is portrayed as a continuous and direct challenge to the men who seek to use, confine, and possess her to fulfill their desires and expectations.
Bella emerges as an outlier, boldly and defiantly defying conformity, in contrast to the multiple controlling men in her orbit. The film portrays her as a symbol of resistance against patriarchal norms. It attempts to restrict and define her, emphasizing the fierce and unyielding nature of her pursuit of autonomy and self-determination.
Masculine Social Expectations & Insecurities
“Poor Things” skillfully and humorously delves into the core of masculine insecurities concealed beneath the protective expectations of the patriarchy. This is notably exemplified in the character of Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo). His deep discomfort with Bella’s defiance of societal norms leaves him helplessly infatuated.
What worsens the situation is Duncan’s inability to possess Bella. It leads him to personal ruin and shatters his rigid perception of the world. Duncan’s desperate and bitter attraction towards Bella is primarily fueled by her persistent rejection and ultimate inaccessibility, portraying him as a figure reminiscent of a child who has had his favorite toy taken away, reduced to tears in the end. The film satirically exposes the fragility of masculine egos when confronted with challenges to patriarchal norms.
Trappings Of “Polite Society”
Duncan unexpectedly assumes a significant role in “Poor Things” as a foil to the “rebellious” and “uncivilized” Bella from the perspective of societal conformity. Duncan is a product and beneficiary of patriarchal society, adeptly navigating within its norms and attracting women with his wealth and exaggerated sense of adventure as if it were a game he had mastered. Representing the apparent success within the capitalist hierarchy, he expects certain returns, including Bella’s compliance and willingness to please him.
Bella’s rejection of polite society challenges Duncan’s self-perception that he can use his financial prowess to win her heart. The film thus critiques the patriarchal and capitalist dynamics that underpin Duncan’s understanding of relationships, highlighting Bella’s refusal to conform to societal expectations and her determination to assert her agency.
Challenging Status Quo In Poor Things
The film goes beyond its foundational stance as a feminist masterpiece by incorporating radical forms of feminist theory. Poor Things extends into broader areas of socialism and Marxism. Bella Baxter’s quest for empowerment and freedom doesn’t confine itself to societal and cultural constructs alone; it extends beyond these boundaries. She questions the inherent nature of life, economy, and socialization, challenging why certain structures are the way they are and why they don’t cater to a wider range of people.
Bella’s approach involves questioning the world from the ground up. While this may initially seem like a manifestation of her naivete as a developing woman, “Poor Things” astutely aligns Bella’s desire to change the world with the core of feminist thought. It emphasizes that genuine change must emerge from beneath and outside the patriarchal system rather than within its established parameters. The film thus positions Bella as a catalyst for radical transformation, probing the foundations of societal structures and advocating for a more inclusive and equitable world.