The actor, 34, leads the Greek director’s new sci-fi fantasy – based on Alasdair Gray’s novel of the same name – as Bella Baxter, a young woman brought back to life by the brilliant and unorthodox scientist Dr Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe).
His resurrection technique? Implanting Bella’s unborn child’s brain into her head. This means that when Stone’s character first comes back to life, she is an infant in the body of an adult. Through the film, audiences watch her growing up and discovering new things, with sex being one of them.
Following its world premiere at Venice Film Festival on Friday (1 September), critics quickly hailed it as “one of the best films of the year”.
Vulture’s Rachel Handler highlighted Stone’s intimacy scenes in the film, writing: “Bella’s desire — for men, for dramatic dancing, for pastel de nata, and eventually, for intellectual stimulation and agency — drives the film.
“She reveals herself to be one of cinema’s horniest legends, f***ing her way across the European seaboard. Stone’s performance matches that fearlessness; she goes for broke here, cumming loudly, her body and face hitting every note of the human sexual experience — thrill, disappointment, disgust, horror, intrigue.”
Stone often appears completely nude in the film, and Variety reported that some viewers at Venice “bolted for the exit during some of the racier scenes”. The movie features graphic and sometimes violent sex involving Stone’s character, especially during sequences where she tries to assert herself by becoming a sex worker in Paris.
In a four-star review for The Independent, Geoffrey Macnab wrote: “There is a lot of ‘furious jumping’ going on in Yorgos Lanthimos’s Poor Things… This is the phrase its heroine Bella Baxter (Emma Stone) uses to describe sex. Once she’s first stuffed a cucumber inside what she calls her ‘hairy business’, a new world of adventure and tragedy opens up for her.”
He added: “Stone gives surely the boldest performance of her career so far, in a role that puts upon her heavy physical and psychological demands.”
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Speaking at a press conference about the film, Lanthimos said: “First of all, sex is an intrinsic part of the novel itself, [and Bella’s] freedom about everything including sexuality.
“Secondly, it was very important for me to not make a film that would be prudish, because that would be like completely betraying the main character. We had to be confident Emma had to have no shame about her body, nudity, engaging in those scenes and she understood that right away.”
This isn’t the first project the two have collaborated on, in fact, they’ve now “made four films together”, Lanthimos said. Stone starred in the director’s 2018 The Favourite, 2022 Bleat and is set to star in his forthcoming movie, And.
He credits their ability to “communicate without having to explain or talk too much about things”.
“As soon as I started saying something about sex, she would say: ‘Yes, of course, it’s Bella. We will do what we need to do,’” Lanthimos recalled.
Of hiring on-set intimacy coordinator Elle McAlpine, the director said: “She made everything much easier for everyone.
“At the beginning, this profession felt a little threatening to most filmmakers, but I think it’s like everything: if you’re with a good person, it’s great and you realise you actually need them.”
The film currently holds a perfect critical rating of 100 per cent on the review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes.
Poor Things is expected to release in US cinemas on 8 December, followed by a 12 January 2024 release in the UK.