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Poor Things is the Oscars’ buzziest movie, but it’s also the most controversial.

Poor Things has become the breakout movie of this awards season, matching the buzz of predicted winning films like Oppenheimer, Barbie and Killers of the Flower Moon. 

At the upcoming Oscars, Poor Things scored 11 nominations, making it the second-most nominated film behind Oppenheimer.

This is despite the fact that the Yorgos Lanthimos film, starring Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo and William Dafoe, is frankly... quite bonkers.

It features a bizarre narrative that lacks the historical significance of Christopher Nolan and Martin Scorsese's films, or the blockbuster backing of Greta Gerwig's feminist manifesto.

Based on Alasdair Gray's novel of the same name, Poor Things is difficult to describe, but is perhaps best categorised as an erotic surrealist dark comedy.

Watch the trailer for Poor Things. Post continues after the video.


Video via SearchLight Pictures. 

And this movie is sexually explicit. In fact, it makes Saltburn's more divisive sex scenes look comparatively tame.

Stone is expected to win the Best Actress award at this coming Academy Awards, off the back of her Golden Globe win for her transcendent performance as the movie's enigmatic subject, Bella Baxter.

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But this is where things get weird. (Oh, and just a warning – spoilers ahead.)

Bella is a woman brought back to life by maverick scientist Godwin Baxter (Dafoe), with her unborn baby's brain being transplanted into her own skull.

This means that, at the beginning of the film, Bella is a grown woman with the mind of a baby.

Bella must learn to walk, talk and avoid soiling herself as Godwin's London townhouse essentially becomes Bella's nursery. While she grows at an accelerated pace, it's still clear that she's still a child in the way she communicates and takes in the world around her.

The innocent vibe of the film shifts when Bella discovers masturbation, which marks the start of her sexual awakening. What follows is an uncomfortable scene where Bella experiments with rubbing and inserting various fruits and vegetables on and into her vagina while seated for breakfast.

At this stage, the Bella's level of cognitive maturity is unclear, as she still struggles to form coherent sentences.

God's colleague Max McCandles (Ramy Youssef) then proposes to Bella, which is alarming considering her unverified mental age. The engagement feels more like a 'child bride' dynamic than a consenting union.

Things take an even more sinister turn when Mark Ruffalo's Duncan Wedderburn enters the film. 

Mark Ruffalo as bumbling dweeb Duncan. Image: SearchLight Pictures.

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Duncan performs a sex act on Bella while she hides in a closet, and whether or not her mental maturity has reached the age of consent is a question this movie doesn't try to answer.

Duncan then decides to abduct Bella, who mere scenes ago was learning how to read for the first time. 

This marks the second act of the film where Bella and Duncan explore Portugal while having sex in almost every second scene, an act which Bella's mind can only comprehend as "furious jumping".

The film's persistent sex scenes featuring a woman with a child's mental capacity are confronting, to say the least. And while critics have praised the film for being a truly unique sexual odyssey, masterfully captured by Lanthimos, not everyone can stomach its more problematic moments.

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BBC presenter and Centre for Women's Justice trustee, Samira Ahmed, described the movie as a "middle-aged straight man's fantasy about nymphomania" in a review for The Guardian.

Stone has defended the number of sex scenes in the film, which include the actress doing full frontal nude scenes.

"Bella is completely free and without shame about her body," Stone told Radio 4's Front Row.

"She doesn't know to be embarrassed by these things or to cover things up or not dive into the full experience when it comes to anything. So for the camera to sort of shy away from that, or to say like, okay, well, we'll just cut all of this out because our society functions in a particular way... it felt like a lack of being honest about who Bella is."

Bella's naive nature (at least, at the beginning of the film) has also been criticised for reinforcing the 'born sexy yesterday' film trope.

The trope is a sexual fantasy historically depicted in sci-fi films and TV shows created for men and by men that casts a conventionally beautiful and sexual woman with the disposition or mental capacity of a child.

This trope was most blatantly exhibited in the childlike innocence of Milla Jovovich's Leeloo in The Fifth Element.

Leeloo in The Fifth Element. Image: Buena Vista. 

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Obviously, this trope often comes with paedophilic undertones between the childlike (though of-age) woman and the adult man who typically guides and ultimately pursues her.

But it could be be argued that Poor Things only engages with the trope to slowly dismantle it.

As Bella grows, she learns about the world and herself, she owns her sexuality and sexual autonomy, finds her independence, and in turn, exorcises herself from every controlling man in her life.

The movie runs for more than two hours and is told in multiple parts, so while at first, Bella behaves in a childlike manner, she eventually matures – and this is where the film hits its stride.

However, aside from Bella's questionable sexual awakening, there's one scene that has pushed people too far – so much so, it has since been edited out of the version being distributed for wider release.

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The scene features Bella engaging in sex work in a Paris brothel, when a father arrives with his two young sons to educate them about sex. He then proceeds to have sex with Bella, forcing his children to watch on. 

To make it clear: this scene is still in the film, but has been slightly censored.

The scene has been shortened from what initially screened on the film's festival run due to the British Board of Film Classification flagging that movies released in the UK were not allowed to depict "sexual activity in the presence of children", based on the Protection of Children Act 1978.

The scene being edited has since sparked wider discourse around censorship.

The original scene reportedly featured the children and sex scene in the same shot, with the following edit ensuring the children and sexual act didn't appear on screen at the same time.

Poor Things director Lanthimos has been outspoken about how the persistent sex scenes were a "very intrinsic" part of the movie.

"It was very important for me to not make a film which was going to be prude, because that would be completely betraying the main character," the director said at the Venice Film Festival. 

"We had to be confident and again, like the character, have no shame."

Feature image: SearchLight Pictures.

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