Oscars 2024: Poor Things is Emma Stone’s Career-Best Performance

The actress has been nominated in the Best Actress category for her role in ‘Poor Things’.
Oscars 2024: Poor Things is Emma Stone’s Career-Best Performance
Oscars 2024: Poor Things is Emma Stone’s Career-Best Performance

It is a privilege to see Emma Stone espouse a character whose foetus-brain and deadpan candour undoes exploitative men and their encrypted sexism with the ease of removing a glove. In director Yorgos Lanthimos’s  Poor Things, a wacky, tweaked Frankenstein with feminist overtones — Bella Baxter (Stone) is an adult woman resurrected with the brain of her unborn child by surgeon Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe). Godwin, nicknamed God, is a slightly twisted but paternalistic figure who is adamant about keeping Bella under house arrest, but ultimately proves to be feeble against her spiritedness.  Bella’s paths cross with the lecherous Duncan (Mark Ruffalo) with whom she embarks on a sexual adventure across Europe. She develops intelligence at a more than adequate rate, and engages in both philosophical pursuits (what does altruism mean?), as well as her libidinal requirements (she loves “furious jumping” and “tongue-play”). 

From her child-like communication capacity to florid and intelligent articulation about the state of the world, Stone’s approach to Bella shifts from brazenly angular to sophisticatedly controlled. In this steampunk-inspired version of the Victorian era, which is refreshingly less pessimistic about the machine-age and unapologetically revels in the blasphemy of radical scientific endeavours, the stakes of Bella’s characterisation matches the sexist machinery she is up against. Stone is eccentrically and distinctively beautiful as Bella, whose special-ness is propped up both by Holly Waddington’s costume designs that are retro-futuristic, as well as the courage with which that beauty is worn as an incontestable fact. 

What is also intoxicating is how Stone wields Bella — always taking up space, whether it is when she is still at the mental age of a toddler and reconciling with the use of her limbs; whether she is at the dining table and self-pleasuring with a cucumber with not an ounce of disregard for her bodily needs; whether it is the avant garde dance at a fancy restaurant where her body is locked within a singular relationship to the background music; or even when she wants to punch a child whose crying has been disrupting their dinner table conversation. Many have accused Poor Things of peddling problematic male fantasies and using a female protagonist as a way to further them, but they would find their staunchest contention in Stone’s performance, who gives an earnest credence to Bella’s idealism and the sincerity with which she seeks to assuage her needs.

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