Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty/Searchlight Pictures
Poor Things is a work about distortion, assemblage, and invention, and thus it’s apt that the film deforms and amalgamates to beget something thrillingly unique. Showing at this year’s New York Film Festival (ahead of its Dec. 8 theatrical debut), Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest is also a creation myth that heralds a new phase in the acclaimed director’s career, given that it’s his first feature to treat its characters not merely with bemusement and derision but, additionally, with respect and love.
A phantasmagoric and Bacchanalian odyssey of the mind, body and spirit, Poor Things—adapted from Alasdair Gray’s 1992 novel of the same name—is, in certain respects, easily identifiable as a Lanthimos effort. For one, it stars his The Favourite leading lady Emma Stone. Moreover, it concerns, at least at first, an unusual family unit residing in a more or less hermetically sealed environment. And it boasts the director’s warped directorial signatures, highlighted by his fondness for fisheye-lensed cinematography (here courtesy of The Favourite’s Robbie Ryan) that turns interior and exterior spaces unnaturally wide, rounded and dreamlike. That Lanthimos complements that flourish with recurring iris shots, low, upturned-angle images, sleek pans and pressing zooms further contributes to the action’s aberrant grandeur.
Flip-flopping between stark Murnau-grade monochrome and lush Sirk-ian technicolor, Lanthimos and Ryan’s visuals twist shapes, figures and perspectives, and their settings are likewise fantastically abnormal. Poor Things takes place in a steampunk past marked by opulently decorated mansions, spiraling staircases, and hyperbolic attire, and Lanthimos’ camera winds and twirls about these structures and people with unhinged curly-cue nimbleness. The result is a film that, from an aesthetic standpoint, resembles a florid and mad hybrid of all manner of disparate sources, from Time Bandits, Black Narcissus and Babe: Pig in the City to Amélie, Eraserhead, Nosferatu, and Alice in Wonderland.