“Poor creatures”: a film about women’s emancipation from a man’s point of view

“Poor creatures”: a film about women’s emancipation from a man’s point of view


Film by the director of “Greek whimsical wave” Yorgos Lanthimos “Poor creatures” in the worldwide box office from January to the beginning of February, it managed to collect 68.3 million dollars. It has already exceeded the budget by two times – 35 million were spent on the creation of the film. In Ukraine, in the first two weeks of release, the film gathered 19,000 viewers, despite the fact that the film was not dubbed in Ukrainian.

“Poor Creatures” recreates Victorian England on the screen – the era of puritanism, the establishment of conservatism and industrial progress. And at the same time, a surreal story about a young girl who dies and is resurrected with the mind of a baby. Heroine Emma Stone wants to know the world through food, travel and sex. Lots of sex.

At the “Oscar” ceremony, the film claims to receive 11 awards, in particular, as the best film and the best direction.

However, the film received mixed reviews from critics. The most polar – is it a feminist story, or on the contrary, the objectification of women? Trying to find an answer to this question the British edition of The Guardian, collecting the opinions of various experts in one text. Not neglecting the spoilers for the viewer.

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A film cannot be considered feminist just because a woman is given the opportunity to choose. From such a thesis Samira Ahmed, host of the cultural radio project and trustee of the British Center for Women’s Justice begins her review The Guardian.

Emma Stone played a wonderful role, for which, by the way, she claims an Oscar statuette. But her character Bella has the intelligence of a baby, and in this connection, Samira Ahmed worries about consenting to sex with a person with developmental disabilities.

Bella Baxter played by American actress Emma Stone. Screenshot from the movie.

From the beginning, Stone’s character grows up with a whimsical version of Dr. Frankenstein – Bogwin Baxter (who invented the nickname God) played by Willem Defoe. He does not limit the girl in anything, allows her to beat the dishes and go to the office of her experiments. Everything starts with getting to know the house, the objects in it, and later it goes to the study of the needs of one’s own body.

Her “journey of self-discovery” with Mark Ruffalo’s character quickly leads to an insatiable desire to have sex with as many men as possible. According to the journalist, this confirms the myth spread by pornographers in the 1970s. Then they attacked the women’s liberation movement, claiming that sexual freedom is, in effect, never saying no.

Prostitution has always been romanticized by men in fiction, but it remains overwhelmingly male exploitation of poor women’s bodies. The men – always much older, sometimes with visual deformities (which raises the question of the demeaning treatment of people with disabilities) – use Bella’s body without any attempt at foreplay. She is bound and gagged in a scene played for laughs“.

The moment when Bella enters the brothel for the first time to earn money.

Charlotte Higgins, the Guardian’s chief cultural columnist, also agrees that the film does not pretend to be feminist. However, it also does not promote pedophilia.

With the help of colors, visual techniques and dialogues, we immediately outline the limit of reality, and more precisely, how far the film deviates from it. The main character lives in a world where she can satisfy all her interests without any problems or consequences for herself, ignoring (or, rather, not realizing) patriarchal and religious rules.

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The heroine is not limited by the rules of behavior and etiquette.

At the same time, the authors of the publication use the term “male gaze”. It appeared relatively recently in art. In 1972, it was used for the first time by the English art critic John Berger in the work “Ways of Vision”, where the representation of women is analyzed – as passive objects that can be seen and considered.

Since then, the image of a woman has been called the “male gaze” in cinema only because of the embodiment of a man’s needs. And “Poor Creatures” from the original source – the book of the same name by Alasdair Gray – to the final result in the directorial vision of Lanthimos, falls under this definition. This opinion was supported by the writer in the article of The Guardian Viv Groskop.

She noted that Bella Baxter has absolutely no sense of restraint or decency, she doesn’t shy away from speaking her mind, satisfying herself and providing sexual services to various men. But no one mentions her health: is she menstruating or can she get pregnant?

In the film, Bella asks her first friend, an elderly woman named Martha, if she pleases herself in order to feel happy.

In a situation where transplants, hybrid animals and gastric bubbles are depicted in painstaking and fantastical detail, the discomforts of the real body of a sexually active female child are too boring to explain. The message of the film is obviously one of personal discovery and freedom from shame. But how is it that in 2024 we are supposed to believe that for a woman to enjoy sex is a shocking and amazing phenomenon? And is it liberation to be implanted with the brain of your own child and then go to work in a brothel?

On the other hand, the film did not aim to turn into a feminist manifesto, but deliberately moved to the topic of sex. Journalist Chepo Mokena convinced that “Poor Creatures” could not survive accusations of male gaze, but Yorgos Lanthimos made a choice in favor of a story about sexuality, instead of gluing a film “about everything for everyone” in pieces.

I’ve seen the critics of “Poor Creatures” reduce womanhood to a series of crazy, wild sex scenes. But sexuality is a major part of what makes us adults, and it’s not exactly the social norm for women to explore sex just for pleasure.

Bogwin Baxter’s House (Willem Dafoe on the right).

According to the Guardian columnist Zoe Williams, the tape tried to depict female sexuality without clear rules and expectations formed by society. Even a role played in a brothel becomes the most honest answer to the question: “What does sex work look like without internal stigma?”. The film jumps from one gender boundary to another without leaning on anyone’s side.

Mark Ruffalo as attorney Duncan Wedderburn.

Still, the visual component plays an important role in the film. Here, too, the film is waiting for its Oscar awards for the best costumes, editing and cinematography. As I noticed Jess Cartner-Morleythe Guardian’s fashion editor, in the brothel scenes, Bella and the other girls wear underwear in pale blue, lemon yellow, rose pink, and are not shown to be overly sexualized, even when they are half-naked.

“No black stockings, no red lace – no filter for the male gaze. This speaks to the joyful, free, girl-oriented attitude towards sex in the film. When Bella discovers sex, she does not turn into a moody coquette. Instead, she remains the same kinky, fun, mischievous, just with lots of passionate sex“.

The film is awaiting its Oscar awards for best costumes, editing and cinematography

Film critic David Thomson for The Guardian also shared his admiration for the visual style of the film and the shooting methods that could expand and contract the space around the characters, forming the necessary reality.

At the beginning, the world is black and white, but as soon as Bella goes beyond it, the colors seem to explode. They go from acidic and very bright to cold with the development of the girl. Towards the end, there is a balance between cold and heat.

I haven’t felt this compulsion since Citizen Kane, where the black-and-white image pulsed with megalomania and its shame. The poor creatures were breathing, and that’s exactly how Bella’s excitement and her knowledge of life feels“.

A happy ending for Bella Baxter.

All the same, Bella Baxter disposes of her own body as she pleases in the film. As she “grows up”, she loses her childishness, accepts the rules of the world (but, of course, not all). The end of the story does not tell us if she married Bogwin Baxter’s assistant Max. But we see that she has made it her goal to go to medical school and is happy about it.

It was men who created this film, but the film critic Leslie Felperin for The Guardian explained that Emma Stone turned the story into something original, created in her own way.

Bella’s point of view is central to the film. This feature of the focus, the way this whole amazing world is refracted through the consciousness of one single woman, makes this film extraordinary and almost flawless“.

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