No matter how much money Tony McNamara made from "Poor Things," his kid should have a portion of it.
There are plenty of quotable lines in the Oscar-nominated screenwriter's hilarious and often filthy adaptation of Alastair Gray's novel about Bella Baxter, a dead woman reanimated with the brain of an unborn child. But nothing beats the day Bella got up mid-meal and said, "I must go punch that baby," when she heard a baby cry.
McNamara told the reporter, "It's my favorite line," but he denied writing it.
The little Bella, on whom they were working, was "a bit nice," he remarked. "I was thinking, 'It's strange because kids aren't like that.'" The story McNamara told his director, Yorgos Lanthimos, involved a family outing where McNamara's three-year-old kid got angry with the restaurant's youngest patron. Instinct is all a child needs. As far as they're concerned, it isn't enjoyable. This is going to finish it,'" the screenwriter remembered thinking. The child then responded logically: "Let's punch that baby."
"Yorgos admitted, 'Okay, we require that energy.'" It was included in the final product.
They combine rutting with contemplations on living in a society that aspires to confine women in a raucous picaresque that owes a lot to Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" and Terry Gilliam's worldbuilding. While "Barbie" by Greta Gerwig is also an existential quest, the billion-dollar movie has nothing on the guts and ambition of "Poor Things," which is like a horny cousin. The film, which took home the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, is now making its way around the world in anticipation of award season.
Bella, portrayed by Emma Stone, who never quite hits her stride, is the product of an experiment in Victorian steampunk London by the renegade scientist Dr. Godwin Baxter, played by Willem Dafoe. Godwin discovered Bella's lifeless body in the Thames River and replaced her brain with a baby's. A new life is born after an electrical shock, and although Bella's brain and body aren't in sync, her intellect sprints out of infancy to make up for it. Her yearning for independence is palpable from the get-go, and she seizes the chance for adventure presented by the arrival of the naive Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo), captivated by her allure.
No one was interested in financing the project, despite Lanthimos's long-standing desire to adapt Gray's work. Ten Oscar nominations and his 2018 film "The Favourite" later, "Poor Things" didn't seem so out of the question.
The adaption by McNamara is a significant update. His screenplay allows Bella to narrate her story, unlike the book's format (a succession of letters written by male protagonists in her life).
McNamara states, "We were always going to tell the movie as her movie. So that was a freedom." She said they had to make up part of the journey as it wasn't entirely there.
Stone spoke highly of Bella, praising her in every way. I adore the idea of a lady who starts over and finds love in every aspect of life, excellent and terrible. Seeing how curious and eager she is to learn about the world was encouraging.
Getting Bella to stand on her own two feet was difficult because of her infant brain, but Stone claimed she couldn't draw motivation from her child.
Tony and I, along with Yorgos, "realized early on" (she explained) "that it wasn't comparable (to a typical child's development). She's in an adult body already, so her bones aren't developing at the same rate as her muscles when she learns to walk. Almost as if it were a creation, it was more robotic, staccato, or bizarre.
Ramy Youssef portrays McCandless, who is both Bella's romantic interest and Godwin's assistant and is responsible for keeping tabs on her development.
Youssef of Stone remarked, "She's just on another level.". How she kept tabs on her character shows how emotionally attuned she is. Irrespective of the filming sequence, she expertly transitioned into various stages of her character's development.
After a brief sojourn in Portugal, Bella sets sail across the Mediterranean to Paris, Egypt, and Alexandria. Her psychosexual journey is unfolding in tandem with it.
A central theme in "Poor Things" is sex, which helps Bella comprehend her own body and the desires of others around her—beginning with an enthusiastic, although physically brutal introduction. When Bella's mind is still developing, she eventually becomes more assertive. Bella takes her sex-positive, third-wave feminism to a new level when she realizes she can make money doing what she loves and starts prostitution to pay for college. She makes a witty comment about how humans are already productive.
To the claim that sex scenes do not progress narratives, "Poor Things" provides a counterargument. As the author of "The Favourite" and "The Great," McNamara is in a prime position to provide his opinion.
He declared, "I'm never writing a sex scene." This was his straightforward attitude. Characters develop, and the plot advances in a scenario I'm writing. A sex scene is one in which sexual activity is necessary for the event to take place.
I don't get the idea that sexuality isn't human and shouldn't be shown. He continued that society and artists alike would be dishonest if they behaved in such a way.
"Our attitudes to it are the root of much trauma," McNamara went on to say. Films and TV haven't always helped with that, but these days, the industry is much more careful about handling all of that, which is excellent. You can shoot someone in a movie, and no one will bat an eye if it's rated PG, as Yorgos and Emma rightly point out. But our sexuality, a wonderful part of who we are, shouldn't be on display? "What?" is our reaction.
By being forthright about her desire for sexual intimacy, Bella puts her suitors in their place. Stone's acting nimbly dives headfirst into the concept, featuring explicit and frequently comical scenes between men — nearly everyone trying to exert control over Bella.
Exhibit A is Duncan Wedderburn. Playfully, Ruffalo called the character "my id" and remarked, "He's a classic rake."
The speaker's remarks are "so totally narcissistic... or just so flowery in its vulgarity," he continued. Even so, Duncan scolds Bella for being too forthright about sex in public, saying, "You'll confine yourself three phrases: 'How marvelous,' 'Delighted,' and 'How do they make the pastry so crisp?'" (And he gets slapped for it right away.) Ducan swiftly lets go of Bella once her desire and intellectual curiosity surpass his own.
Bella calls Godwin's father figure "God," he's more complicated and powerful than she realizes. Godwin considers Bella to be the child he would never have been able to have if his scientist father hadn't mutilated her.
"They're exquisitely crafted," remarked Dafoe. "I find it intriguing how he is situated regarding Bella's journey."
"His victimhood and misfortune don't occupy his thoughts. According to the actor, he strives to transform it into something lovely. They're both victims of wrongdoing; he's like the dark side of Bella's story.
"He feels ashamed that he lets his emotions get in the way because he's a man of science," Dafoe continued. "Not entirely paternal(ly), he falls in love with her."
In "Poor Things," Bella's attractiveness and, later on, her intelligence makes it impossible for anyone to resist falling for her. The film brilliantly exploits Bella's innocence by showing how her mind naively reflects societal norms and practices before she gains knowledge and begins questioning them critically.
The film's politics are made apparent through gender interactions, but according to McNamara, "Poor Things" is about more than just women fighting for their independence.
Yorgos had this expression, "We're making a movie about the monstrosity that is society," the screenwriter said.
We can't let people be free to explore their lives as they choose and discover their way. In his opinion, we need to have what it takes to handle that as a society.
The movie, though, would also like to have it both ways. If we accept a Freudian interpretation of events, Bella has an innate sense of identity (id) and rejects the socially imposed superego as she matures. She prefers to focus on developing her ego, her "questing self," hoping that her maturation will eventually lead to societal transformation. "I can make a difference if I understand the world," Bella says with conviction.
Although Bella isn't the first movie to use a monster to make us see our flaws, Stone's interpretation is fresh.
"Looking back at it two years later, I can honestly say it was the most joyful role I've ever played. I regret saying it was my hardest role to date at the time," the actress confessed.
Duncan Wedderburn, visibly irritated, yells at Bella near the film's conclusion, accusing her of having "a body that can't be sated and a mind that picks people apart."
The film portrays it differently, but it's meant as an insult. These traits are interdependent and deserve praise, as "Poor Things" concludes. With this double meaning, "If I know the world, I can improve it," you may be sure it was intentional.
On December 22, "Poor Things" will be widely released in the United States, while in the United Kingdom, it opens on January 12.
Edited by: Marina Ramzy Mourid
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