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You’ve Never Seen Anything Like Poor Things

The freakiest sci-fi movie of 2023 has finally hit streaming.

Bella Baxter (Emma Stone) walks along the deck of a ship in 'Poor Things'
Searchlight Pictures
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People have been riffing on the basic story of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein for centuries. The novel's influence can, in fact, be traced throughout the history of cinema. Indeed, whether it be straightforward adaptations like James Whale's Frankenstein or less direct reimaginings like Edward Scissorhands, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and even Ex Machina, there have been countless films made that explore the same themes of reckless creation that are present in Shelley's original text.

Few movies play with the general premise of Frankenstein quite as cheerfully and anarchically, though, as Poor Things. Directed by The Lobster filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos, the Emma Stone-led movie is equal parts a steampunk sci-fi drama and a zany, Victorian-era sex comedy. It was one of the best movies of 2023, and now it's available to stream on Hulu. If you have yet to see it, then you should run, not walk, to your TV to press play.

Based on a 1992 novel by Scottish writer Alasdair Gray, Poor Things follows Bella Baxter (Stone), a young woman who — after committing suicide — is brought back to life when a mad scientist named Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe) restarts her heart and replaces her dead adult brain with that of her unborn child's. As shocking as this may sound, things only great stranger and stranger from there. As Bella's intellect and motor skills grow more mature and complex at an accelerated pace, she quickly finds herself desperate to break free of the confines of Baxter's home.

She finds the means to do so in Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo), a misogynistic lawyer who convinces Bella to run away with him on a hedonistic trip of discovery and, gradually, intellectual and sexual liberation. As was quickly noted following its first screenings at certain international film festivals last year, Bella's journey is punctuated by some of the most explicit and absurd sex scenes featured in any mainstream movie in recent memory. However, while it's an undeniably graphic film, Poor Things never makes a wrong turn into gratuitous territory. Every decision in it seems rooted in the unabashed perspective of its protagonist, which allows the film to radiate with a tongue-in-cheek freedom that is both alluring and invigorating.

That effect is also due, in no small part, to Emma Stone's awe-inspiring central turn as Bella Baxter. The actress gives the most transformative performance of her career as Poor Things' inquisitive lead — bringing her to life (pun very much intended) with just as much sharp wit, gangly energy, and brazen confidence as the character deserves. The bravura nature of her performance is, meanwhile, matched and elevated by those given by Mark Ruffalo and Willem Dafoe as two of the most important figures in Bella's life, both of whom are cartoonish and captivating in their own, distinct ways.

Poor Things is a playfully tongue-in-cheek film full of wildly original characters.

Searchlight Pictures

Behind the camera, Lanthimos and cinematographer Robbie Ryan render Poor Things' odd, steampunk-esque world in alternately vibrant technicolor and rich black-and-white. Nothing in the film looks real, but that only makes the bizarre nature of its story all the more potent. From the stormy seas and starry skies that surround Bella and Duncan during a tumultuous boat trip, which were brought to life using Volume-esque LED screens, to the unrealistically candy-colored skies of its Lisbon-set scenes, there's a sheen of artificiality that covers all of Poor Things. Rather than pushing you out of the movie's weird reality, though, that aspect of it just draws you further in.

It is, like so many other daring sci-fi films that have come before it, a beautifully immersive movie that manages to hold your attention across its entire 142-minute runtime. The film sees both Lanthimos and Stone reach new technical highs, and Poor Things is worth seeking out just to experience the rare sensation of witnessing two artists' skills actually grow enough to line up with their considerable ambitions.

Poor Things is now streaming on Hulu.

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