One delighted critic described this film as ‘a pervert’s playground full of subliminal smut’
Poor Things, starring Emma Stone and Willem Dafoe, has been a big hit with the critics. It has clocked up 11 nominations for this year's Oscars.
Weird Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos has adapted a weird novel by Scottish writer Alasdair Gray. To give you a taste of the film’s style, The Guardian’s critic, Wendy Ide, declared “it’s hard to imagine that there will be a funnier, filthier or more extravagantly peculiar film this year”. Even the sets are erotically charged, Ms Ide notes: “Look closely and you’ll notice that phallic imagery abounds, nestling between fallopian curlicues and vulvic buds. It’s a pervert’s playground full of subliminal smut. I can’t think of anywhere I would rather spend my time.”
I have no objection, in principle, to spending my time with films which are funny or peculiar. But filthiness tends to put me off, even if Ms Ide finds it side-splitting.
The setting for the film is vaguely Victorian. At its centre is Bella Baxter, a beautiful female counterpart of Dr Frankenstein’s male monster. A mad scientist (Dafoe) finds a young pregnant woman who has just committed suicide by leaping off a bridge. He reanimates the still-warm body by removing the foetus and inserting its brain into her mother’s skull.
Bella has the body of a woman, but the mind of a child. She has to learn everything from scratch. There are some toilet jokes, but the main thing that she learns about is sex, which she engages in with such gusto and lack of shame that she intimidates her clients in a Parisian brothel. Vogue reports the film features “copious amounts of sex and nudity”.
Well, if filthiness is not your thing, don’t waste your money watching it, you old prudes, I can hear the critics saying. But not all critics, mind you. One complained that the film is dishonest: “It purports to be a feminist document, but it defines a woman's autonomy as the ability to be exploited and not care.”
But here’s the thing. Filthiness comes with strings attached. In this case, the film trails a miasma of paedophilia.
The "excuse" for paedophilia is Freud's contention that children are sexual beings from birth. Which is what Poor Things illustrates in its bizarre premise of woman's body with a baby brain. Might the film be a vehicle for subtly normalising paedophilia? That may not be the director's intention, but it will certainly have that effect.
Furthermore, the version of Poor Things in the theatres at the moment omits a creepy scene which appeared in the uncut version screened at the Venice International Film Festival (where it picked up a Golden Lion). In it a man has sex with Bella in the presence of his two sons to give them a sex education lesson. This is not only creepy but illegal in Britain, where the Protection of Children Act 1978 bans depictions of “sexual activity in the presence of children”.
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There were, you will be very unsurprised to hear, howls of outrage about censorship.
The outrage ought to be directed at the producers, the directors, and the actors for pandering to paedophile tastes.
At a time when we hear so much about the need for free speech and expression, it seems that while pornography has never been more easily accessible – including, most worryingly, by children who go on to abuse other children -- the only things subject to censorship are conservative views.
Surely those involved in this cinematic travesty must have heard of the phenomenon of paedophiles using computer-generated images (CGI) to create images of children engaged in sexual activity – “virtual porn”? Getting an actress to use a little-girl voice and to display child-like behaviour while portraying adult activities and themes surely borders on this territory. And that is basically what Poor Things is. It must be giving paedophiles everywhere a kick -- although perhaps not the kind of kick they deserve.
The sexual revolution is all about breaking boundaries, but as G.K. Chesterton so wisely said: “The more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.”
In the Dark Ages before creativity became bogged in filthiness, there was an explosion in imaginative creativity. Will we ever again see the likes of Peter Rabbit, Peter Pan, Mrs Tiggywinkle, Mr Toad, Matilda and the Famous Five? Not to mention cinematic triumphs like The Wizard of Oz, It’s a Wonderful Life, Gone with the Wind and Brief Encounters?
But instead of childhood being seen as a wonderland of imagination, and real children as beings to be cherished and indeed respected, the sexual revolutionaries now appear to see these poor things as yet more fodder for the twisted tastes of perverts.
Now, it seems that if we can’t destroy children before birth, we seek to destroy their innocence after birth, or indeed to destroy society’s idea of innocent childhood.
In an age in which imagination is set on breaking bounds, no doubt Poor Things, like other transgressive offerings, will be showered with awards. With very few boundaries left to breach, perhaps the next effort of progressive directors will be a film about a little boy eager to “play games” with grown men?
Poor Things is weird but not so wonderful. Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe and Yorgos Lanthimos ought to feel deeply ashamed of participating in paedophilic titillation dressed up as entertainment.
Ann Farmer writes from the United Kingdom.
Image: Emma Stone in 'Poor Things'
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