Feminism in “Poor Creatures”

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In the month of celebrating feminist struggles, a film certainly worth seeing, but less to be entertained and more to be outraged by

Women were (and still are) frequently compared to children, a common way of denying their autonomy (a resource historically also used against indigenous people and enslaved people, to deny them the ability to make decisions and have full ownership of their lives). The narrative presented in the film poor creatures (directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, based on the book of the same name by Alasdair Grey, written in 1992) allows a discussion of patriarchy and forms of domination in general, by taking to the extreme the power that is exercised over women and children in society, treated there as minors.

From here on, the text will contain spoilers, so it is recommended to watch the film before finishing reading. I also clarify that we do not intend to judge the aesthetic quality of the Oscar-nominated film, but only to use the story told there to reflect on the inequalities that have weighed on women and girls for centuries.

The plot begins with a scientific experiment in which a child's brain is placed in the body of an adult woman (found shortly after death) who is reanimated. Thus, we have the usual socialization processes of a child only in an adult body. It is curious, and comical at times, for the audience to see an adult woman learning to eat, walk, talk, and also learning the rules of society. The story gives much emphasis to the discovery of sexuality and the protagonist's questions about power and male expectations, sometimes seeming to endorse the feminist motto “our bodies belong to us”, an irony, as the story begins with the bodies not even belonging of the child and the woman who together form the protagonist.

The plot goes very quickly from childhood tantrums in the face of the authority of the “father” to the formation of an adult woman, conscious and determined to take charge of her life, a process that would take at least around 20 years, but which, judging by the the character did not age, it took two to three years.

Although the protagonist's responses to men and her supposed questions about current morality and society may, at a glance, cause a certain feminist identification and sympathy, there is an evident simplification, and even distortion, of the idea of ​​women's emancipation. If the experiment in question is taken seriously, we have a brutal succession of crimes against women and children: a child whose brain was removed and implanted in her mother's body (who we will know was pregnant and had killed herself because she could not stand the domination marital status under which he lived) – and we can assume that he could have lived in his own body instead of being part of a macabre scientific experiment; and this child in the body of an adult woman is offered in marriage (in fact, an important flag of feminism in the world is to prevent child marriage, which expresses the extreme submission of girls) and is then allowed to travel with a man she barely knows, being highlighted in the narrates her intense sexual experience, without highlighting the extreme vulnerability in which she finds herself, from the point of view not only of sexuality, but also of material autonomy (the money offered by her creator-tutor being stolen by her lover, and she experiencing prostitution, which is extremely romanticized by the male gaze that dominates the work) and the right to come and go (she is arrested by her guardian, her lover and her ex-husband when he finds her again).

In this patriarchal saga, female and child suffering is non-existent or minimized, and the figure of the creator-tutor is idealized to the extreme (symptomatically it is called “Good”). Concessions are made to the fact that God grew up under an equally tyrannical father who used his body in scientific experiments, which he replicates by experimenting with other young or adult female bodies in which he implants children's brains (which the protagonist herself, already aware of what happened, he observes when he sees himself in front of another female body in a similar situation to his own, repeating the cycle), an expression of domination (through science) over female and children's bodies that smacks of pedophilia, if we postulate that the pedophile's desire is refers less to the child's body itself than to the complete submission and non-opposition to its desires for domination that (the brain of) a child offers.

Thus, the first layer of the film offers an easy celebration of a supposed feminist response to society, making us laugh at the lover's and husband's questions and frustrated claims of control over the woman, but when delving deeper into other layers, we have a portrait brutal patriarchal domination, legitimized in the protagonist's forgiveness of the creator-tutor “father”. If the fictional narrative would be impossible to happen in reality, its fragments are quite frequent and illuminate aspects of the many crimes against children and women sustained by patriarchy.

If the film's surface offers fun and entertainment, the deeper layers show how important the struggles in defense of women's and children's rights are. In the month of celebration of feminist struggles, it is certainly a film to watch, but less to enjoy and more to be outraged by.

*Nathalie Reis Itaboraí She has a PhD in Sociology from the Institute of Social and Political Studies at UERJ. She is the author of the book Changes in Brazilian families (1976-2012): a class and gender perspective (Garamond). [https://amzn.to/4caDzl9]


poor creatures (Poor things)
USA, UK and Northern Ireland, 2023, 141 minutes.
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos.
Cast: Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe, Christopher Abbott, Mark Ruffalo.

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