A more significant change is that the tone is far more fantastical than it is in the novel. Gray balanced the strangeness of his gothic yarn with deeply researched descriptions of the injustices of 19th-Century society, and that’s what gave the book much of its ironic humour and satirical power. Lanthimos, on the other hand, has transplanted Poor Things to a steam-punk wonderland of garish colours, masked-ball costumes, squawking music, and obviously artificial, picture-book backgrounds: imagine a Terry Gilliam film multiplied by a Wes Anderson film and you’ll have some idea of the lavish freakishness in store. In the process, the narrative loses some of its emotion and a lot of its politics. Traces of Gray’s views on feminism and socialism are still visible, but it can be hard to spot them amid the endless sex scenes and the retina-scorching production design.
If you’re not a fan of the novel, Lanthimos’s wildly idiosyncratic approach won’t bother you, but you may still find Poor Things off-puttingly over-the-top and self-indulgent. Cut off from reality and rambling in structure, the 141 minutes don’t exactly race by. Speaking of self-indulgence, Ruffalo’s attempt at a Terry-Thomas-style English accent is so catastrophic as to be almost unbearable. Overall, though, it’s easy to forgive any film which is as gleefully excessive as this one. Lanthimos may get carried away, but the results are daringly outrageous and often hilarious. He goes too far in his experiments, just as Godwin does. But, as several of the characters argue, if you want to see the best and worst of life, too far is where you have to go.
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