Poor Things’ Ending Joke Is Even Darker Than You Think


This article contains Poor Things spoilers.

It is probably the happiest Bella Baxter has ever been, and it’s certainly the most euphoric we’ve seen a Yorgos Lanthimos movie get. Hidden away in a shabby laboratory, scalpel in hand and trusted partner (if not great lover) by her side, Bella is doing what she realizes she always wanted to do: play God by way of vivisection.

Somehow Bella’s epiphany is both macabrely funny and unexpectedly sweet. In the penultimate sequence of Lanthimos’ Poor Things, the Emma Stone heroine has found the purpose and fulfillment she always strived for during her brief but extraordinarily eventful life. Earlier that very day, in fact, the man who was married to the body that now houses Bella’s mind sought to mutilate her genitals. In his warped patriarchal view, removing Bella’s clitoris would exert some kind of barbaric control over her body. Instead he now sleeps the sleep of the chloroformed, having “sipped deeply” of the freedom he wished to bestow on Bella. Now it is his body that rests beneath her knife.

This is how Lanthimos sets up the final brutal punchline: a smile from Bella; a nod by her assistant Dr. McCandles (Ramy Youssef); and a rapid zoom in on a bleating billy goat. You know where this is going.

In its very final beat, Poor Things confirms the gag, revealing the troublesome husband who wished to control Bella’s mind has instead had his own eradicated. “We should get some water for the General,” Bella coos from a lawn chair behind her London patio, looking down at the alleged great man who’s at last been reduced to a barnyard pet. Sure enough, the next generation of the House of Baxter, Felicity (Margaret Qualley), takes up a pitcher and douses General Blessington (Christopher Abbott) down.

It is a great final joke on multiple levels, not least of all because throughout Bella’s life as a reanimated corpse (and even prior to that), men attempted to control her without consent. The “God” she emulates, Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe), stole her body after Bella’s previous identity threw herself from a Victorian bridge; the kind but meek McCandles sought to marry her and hide Bella away from the outside world; lothario attorney Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo) showed her the world, and the ways of it, but only as a prized doll he thought he could mold into his favorite bedroom toy; and then there’s finally the General, the cruel man who drove Bella’s previous self to a watery grave.

Now Bella is the master of her own destiny and her own household. She literally sits from the same seat occupied by the late Godwin, and she’s found the peace of mind that comes with security in your own identity. She is even having gin in the afternoon while watching her kid sister play with the family pet!

It’s a delicious vengeance but one which betrays Bella’s last lesson in the human condition: our need to control each other to the point of destruction.

“Aren’t humans ridiculous?” Poor Things screenwriter Tony McNamara mused when we sat down to discuss the film several months ago, including the movie’s blunt grappling with sexuality and Frankenstein. “‘Poor Things’ is the title and that’s what it’s about. In the way we try to control each other and our ideas, and people’s bodies and people’s views.”

For McNamara, who spent years developing the screenplay with Lanthimos and Stone (all three previously worked together on The Favourite), there is something inherently pathetic but funny about that. It’s almost as if the movie asks audiences to pity these weird, hopeless creatures occupying the film.

“It was a kind of great vehicle to talk about base desires and her discovery of cruelty,” McNamara said, “Her discovery of sexuality, her discovery of intellect and morality. You usually don’t get that kind of canvas on [one character].”

We witness Bella experience a dawning awareness of poverty, class, misogyny, and indeed the type of patriarchal control which defined her existence even back in those happy days when God(win) let her play in his lab by cutting up dead bodies. Still, in the end, Bella is human, and as a human she cannot resist indulging Godwin’s need to play God without the abbreviation.

“I think there’s an element of us, which is what the movie [shows], where even she can’t help trying to control people,” McNamara said. “Even she can’t help trying to be [the master]. There’s something in humans that have this thing.”

Hence the bitter irony of the otherwise delightful ending. Look closely during the happy hour denouement. Every character in Bella’s immediate found family—McCandles, Felicity, Toinette (Suzy Bemba), and even mean old Mrs. Prim (Vicki Pepperdine)—are filmed the same way by Lanthimos and Robbie Ryan’s eccentric cinematography. Their faces are captured in tight close-up while the world around them is distorted. With an extremely shallow depth of field, the landscape behind those faces bends away, creating an almost perverse halo as they have found paradise under Bella’s control.

But are they really that happy or just reflections of Bella’s newfound thirtysomething sense of contentedness? It’s difficult to say, but the only character whose headshot is not given the funhouse treatment is the General, a vacant-eyed farm critter captured in unfussy close-ups and wide shots. The bluntness of the juxtaposition punctuates the visual gag with a merciless exclamation point.

This is not to say the General didn’t deserve his fate. The monster of a man became the only true monster to emerge from Godwin’s lab, and even then it was a marked improvement over the manipulative, violent, and mercurial beast who attempted to lock Bella away. But now he is her literal plaything, left outside to much grass right next to the dog-chicken. It’s a wicked reversal, but it reminds for one final time that poor, wretched things such as we—or even Bella—cannot resist turning the knife and resorting to pure pettiness. Don’t judge too harshly though. After all, she’s only human.

Poor Things is now in theaters in the U.S. and UK.

The post Poor Things’ Ending Joke Is Even Darker Than You Think appeared first on Den of Geek.

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