Oscars 2024: Mark Ruffalo is Wicked, Camp and Wildly Funny in Poor Things

The actor has been nominated for the Supporting Actor category for his role in ‘Poor Things’ at the Oscars 2024.
Oscars 2024: Mark Ruffalo is Wicked, Camp and Wildly Funny in Poor Things
Oscars 2024: Mark Ruffalo is Wicked, Camp and Wildly Funny in Poor Things

There is something particularly delicious about seeing Mark Ruffalo play a sort-of-evil, corset-wearing lawyer, Duncan Wedderburn, who is helpless against a woman’s libido, and her desire to read philosophy. It could be that it is cathartic to see Ruffalo — who generously oozes a good-guy-energy — provide an intriguing contrast to his real-life persona with the character he is playing. It could also be that the inherent warmth, which is a part of the profile of both the characters Ruffalo has played in the past, and his interview persona, make up for an intoxicating mix which makes our questionable moustachioed Duncan more digestible. “Mark possesses some kind of vulnerability that comes through no matter what,” said director Yorgos Lanthimos in an interview. 

Poor Things, Lanthimos’s surreal, eye-popping film, based on a Scottish book of the same name, is about a woman called Bella Baxter (Emma Stone) who is resurrected with the brain of an unborn foetus. It doesn’t take a long time for Bella to learn self-pleasuring, after which she abandons Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe), the surgeon who implanted the foetus brain in her, and Max McCandles (Ramy Youssef), her betrothed. Ruffalo’s Duncan Wedderburn is a lawyer she ends up meeting when she wants to terminate her nuptial contract with McCandles. Together, they pursue “furious jumping” — Bella’s term for sex — and also go on a trip. The film has been characterised both as a feminist foray into a woman’s sexual agency, as well as something that gives gross importance to troubling male fantasies. In Ruffalo’s Duncan, we see, to an extent, both the charges vindicated. 

Duncan is wicked.  His infatuation, in key part, is informed by how he thinks he can control her because her functioning capability is not that of an adult woman, and he smuggles Bella onto a cruise ship when she becomes insatiably curious about her sexual needs. “You are limited to three phrases: “How marvellous”, “delighted” and “how did we make the pastry so crisp”, yes?” he tells her. But, even as he tries to stunt her growth — she is developing intelligence at a full tilt, and betrays him by reading philosophy — he is powerless against her curiosity, and the abandon with which she pursues it. Ruffalo plays the role of this megalomaniac with the sinister quality of a camp villain. Duncan is a shallow, scheming adult man-child, but in the hands of Ruffalo he is also baroque…and fun.

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