December 29, 2023 – This amazing-looking film features some great acting performances, a unique story and dazzling visuals.
Emma Stone (“La La Land”) turns in a fantastic performance as Bella Baxter, a child in a woman's body. She is the result of a bizarre experiment, and her journey of self discovery is endlessly fascinating. Bella is the creation of a Frankenstein-like scientist, Godwin (who goes by the name of God) Baxter (played by Willem Dafoe of “The Lighthouse”).
Godwin obtained the body of a suicide victim and reanimated the body, performing surgery to give it a new lease on life and naming her Bella. Neither she nor Godwin know anything about her previous life, or why she died. Bella has the mind of a child, and is being raised by a scientist. Her view of the world is very strange.
Godwin sees Bella as an experiment, but he doesn't have time to observe her properly, so he hires a doctor, Max (Ramy Youssef of the “Ramy” TV series) to observe her development. Godwin wants Bella to stay in his large mansion in order to properly control the conditions in which she develops, but Bella can't be contained in this way. She wants to see the world.
Max falls in love with Bella, and Godwin identifies with her (since he was also experimented on by his own father) so they can't really deny Bella what she wants. She is eventually allowed to travel abroad with Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo of “Dark Waters”) an unscrupulous man who takes advantage of Bella sexually. But Duncan also finds out that Bella is not like other women of her time. She is not submissive, and she is beyond his control. She drives him crazy.
Bella embarks on her own adventures in Paris, and eventually returns home to visit Godwin and Max, where she encounters yet more adventures, including an exploration of her former life, and she learns of her own genesis. She discovers who she is and what she wants to do with her life. Regardless of who she used to be, she is now her own woman. She started from nothing and built herself up to what she is now.
All of this takes place in a kind of steampunk alternate reality, set over 100 years ago. Cities have crazy overhead gondola transportation systems, steam-driven carriages, lots of dirigibles in the sky, and the sky itself looks like it might look on some other planet, with stars and clouds together in daylight.
A number of theaters probably won't choose to show this movie because it features graphic sex scenes, adult language and full frontal nudity of both men and women. Sex is a big part of this movie. The way women and men view sex in both France and Victorian England is explored at length in this movie.
Director Yorgos Lanthimos is no stranger to off the wall, surrealistic stories, having directed “The Lobster.” The story, written by Tony McNamara and Alasdair Gray, is strikingly original, which is very uncommon these days. The performances of Stone, Dafoe and Ruffalo are outstanding. This is a very strange and funny story which has quite a lot to say about the human condition and conventional morality. It rates an A.
A side note: I was a bit disappointed in one plot development in the movie, when a brain is transplanted into the body of one of the characters. It seemed perfectly obvious to me whose brain should have ended up in that body, but the screenwriters made a different choice. Oh well, nobody's perfect.
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