Godwin Baxter In ‘Poor Things,’ Explained: Is Godwin Human?

The battle between creationism and science has been long-standing. Some believe God created humans, while others argue that humans created God—a theme explored by countless writers and philosophers. Yet, conclusions on this matter often rely solely on speculation. As someone with an aversion to creationism, I find myself contemplating that the creation of God might be part of an inevitable cycle. To delve deeper into this notion, it seems that in our fragile civilization, the tendency to create a god and immortalize it comes as a distraction from hopelessness and the fear of death.

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I also believe that, originally, the fear of death was supposed to humble us. It was supposed to teach us humility and remind us that death spares no one. But then we created the idea of an afterlife, rebirth, and whatnot, nullifying the significance of death in the process. As we gradually realized our ability to shape our own destiny and this world, the men in power established institutions. To maintain control over these institutions, they formulated rules that eventually solidified into societal norms. While some of us now have the privilege to challenge these norms, it’s essential to acknowledge the sacrifices made by those who came before us.

This one-sided discourse about my thoughts on the flaws of creationism would only highlight my hypocrisy, and that is where Godwin Baxter comes in. If indeed humans created God, then they also killed that very God in pursuit of something greater at the end of this inevitable cycle. Godwin’s portrayal is in itself subject to debate about whether he’s a man or a god, especially from Bella’s perspective. Godwin walks a distorted line between Godhood and a man whose humanity was challenged because of technology. Perhaps Baxter’s life and death in Poor Things serves as a gentle reminder of everything that our human nature strives to understand about the universe but may never be able to, until maybe the next stage of human evolution.

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Poor Things is about a lot of things. It’s the kind of film that enthusiasts, like myself, find ourselves returning to repeatedly, each time finding new depths within its narrative. While the movie is based on the book of the same name, the story draws a few inspirations from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as well, especially when it comes to Baxter’s portrayal. We could strip this film down to the bare essentials, and other than its spot-on commentary on patriarchy, Poor Things is also about relationships. Not the romantic kind, let me add. To me, this film feels like a depiction of Godwin’s relationship with his own humanity. 

Spoilers Ahead

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Who Is Godwin Baxter?

Godwin Baxter is a renowned scientist and researcher. While technically a surgeon and a professor in the Victorian London of a steampunk universe, Godwin is a once-in-a-generation kind of man. He’s eccentric. He’s untethered by the norms and morality of the society he lives in. But that can be explained by the fact that he’s only partly human. Well, that depends on what we mean by human. He’s the result of what happens when a deluded man tries to play god and creates God in the process. But that’s just one way to look at it, because the truth is that Godwin is a victim of abuse. He’s a victim of his father’s strange perversion towards the uninhibited exploration of science. 

Godwin’s face bears scars from surgery all over his face. His bodily functions depend on external apparatus because of his father’s unethical ectomies on him. However, he does not blame his father at all. Godwin believes his father to be a man of unconventional methods, which helped unravel the mysteries of this science, but for Godwin, it means that he set out on his parent’s path as well. He is rather desensitized to his father’s experiments on him, finding absolutely nothing perverse about the atrocities he had been subjected to as a child. 

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As an established scientist in this steampunk universe, Godwin indulges in the study and experimentation of xenotransplantation. Till now, he has experimented on numerous creatures, such as a duck with the face of a goat and a dog with the face of a pig. However, the pinnacle of his research is Bella Baxter. 


Godwin Baxter, A Monster, A God, Or A Human: 

Godwin Baxter’s humanity has always been the subject of his own interrogation. In the “polite” society of England, the people who follow norms, even some of his students, see him as a monster. Interestingly, it is in these circumstances that Godwin Baxter embodies both Victor Frankenstein as well as Frankenstein’s monster. Perhaps the idea of Victor Frankenstein, the creator, is the legacy in his blood passed to him from his father. Moreover, Godwin is uninhibited. Unusually innovative, yes, but uninhibited in his search for knowledge and in his understanding of utilitarianism. So the question that arises from Godwin’s case is, did Baxter Senior create a monster? I suppose Godwin is a monster not because of his grotesque appearance but because the society that thrives on sabotage and self-doubt has not allowed him to feel otherwise. 

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In this anachronistically futuristic Victorian world, human civilization has reached a point where a man has attained the power that allows him to dehumanize his own son in the name of science. But regardless, Godwin follows in the footsteps of his father in biomedical surgery. The people whose lives Godwin’s research has saved probably already see him as a god. The idea of the God that men have created often acts upon the convenience of men. It is frequently depicted as flawed and even cruel, reflecting the desires and imperfections in human nature. Perhaps Godwin’s character somewhere draws parallels with the flaws of the Abrahamic God. Godwin does not see himself as a supernatural figure, but to Bella, a child who doesn’t even know what a parent is, Godwin is the creator and the source of all the answers to her questions. But, unlike the fictional God that makes men in Victorian England oppress other people, Godwin is not held back by these stereotypes. In a metaphorical sense, Godwin can be interpreted as a godlike figure within the context of the narrative. Judging from his actions, he aligns with traditional conceptions of deity, such as creating life (Bella Baxter), giving knowledge and guidance, and possessing significant authority over those around him.

In another instance, the story of Godwin and Bella in Godwin’s manor also reminds me of the Book of Genesis. Godwin is similar to the Abrahamic God who birthed this universe. In a manner similar to Adam and Eve’s story, Godwin creates Bella Baxter; he treats her like his own daughter, feeds her, and teaches her in his garden of Eden until she feels the need to defy the one rule he has set for her. 

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Godwin dies of cancer, which happened due to years of meddling with his body and playing God. Thrust into this life by a deranged father, Godwin had accepted his destiny and deliberately denied his humanity. He believes he has no place for human emotions and that he is merely a conduit for scientific research who walks the planet in the name of science. However, Godwin feels this way because this man has never known what love is. Perhaps the most human thing about this God-like figure is that somewhere he thinks that he is a monster incapable of love. Godwin is capable of exhibiting human emotions, which makes me want to compare his emotions to the idea of sentience in AI. How does one differentiate between the consciousness of a human and that of a machine that thinks and feels like a human? The only person who acknowledges his emotions as a human is his student, Max. After Bella leaves, Max notices Godwin’s unusual behavior and even mocks him for being in denial. 


Why Does Godwin Let Bella Leave?

Godwin has never experienced love in his life. He dedicated his life to science, and everything he did as a scientist was merely an experiment. He even created Bella as an experiment. To justify the experiment, he tells himself that it was for the greater good. However, he likely empathizes with Victoria Blessington, a pregnant woman who took her own life. After he found her body in the Thames, he had her unborn child’s brain transplanted into Victoria’s head, thus creating Bella. 

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After spending his days with Bella, he ends up developing paternal feelings for her. For the first time in his life, he realizes that he cares for someone in this way, but he’s also conflicted about her. He has had decades of conditioning, which compels him to view Bella as an experiment. When Bella starts developing curiosity about the outside world, he wants to control her, believing that he’s protecting his most perfect creation. But understanding his love for her, he cannot be the one to decide her life for her. Hence, he makes his first selfless decision: to let Bella go. 


What Is Godwin’s Relationship With Max?

One might call Godwin a walking contradiction. As a man of science, he challenges his beliefs about the world when he stumbles upon a better understanding. This trait makes him a far more rational man than most others. It is unknown if Godwin has had any other associates who share his passion for research, but he has a distinct relationship with Max. 

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Max is a student at the university where Godwin lectures. While other students find him abominable, Max sees him for what he has achieved. Max’s scientific inclinations and temperament are what made Godwin seek him in the first place. Starting out under Godwin to observe Bella’s cognitive development, he starts to establish his own autonomy under the professor. Max challenges Godwin regularly after one point, which is a new experience for this old man. It is at this point that someone is adamant about bringing out God’s humanity. In fact, after Bella leaves, Max and Godwin develop an unusual friendship. They tend to challenge each other’s beliefs through sarcastic comments, but the way I see it, they bring humility and help each other adapt and become better people. 


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Shrey Ashley Philip
Shrey Ashley Philip
A teacher, photographer, linguist, and songwriter, Shrey started out as a Biotechnology graduate, but shifted to studying Japanese. Now he talks about movies, advocates for ADHD awareness, and embraces Albert Camus.

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