Max Mccandles In ‘Poor Things’ Explained: Why Does Bella Marry Max?

Poor Things is the kind of film more people need to watch. The steampunk world portrayed in Poor Things looks like something out of a Wes Anderson movie. A perfect setting for Yargos Lanthimos’ poignant play of colors and the intricate ways in which they have so much to say about the characters and this cinematic world that Lanthimos has meticulously crafted. Out of the several themes and motifs, Poor Things serves as poetic justice for the wrongdoings of a patriarchal society in a much-needed cinematic rebellion. 

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The narrative humorously challenges societal norms and the oppressive structures that have haunted not only women but also other marginalized groups. To make things more interesting, these themes are explored through the eyes of Bella, a child in the body of a full-grown woman after she is created in a controlled ‘utopic’ environment that should necessarily satisfy all her curiosities, but what her creator does not fathom is her ever-growing human desire to explore and understand how the world works. Unfortunately, the child that Bella is is in the body of a woman in Victorian times. 

This conservative era has often been the subject of commentary on the social issues of women back then; however, Poor Things, in my humble opinion, is quite anachronistic. It is not the Victorian period that this movie has been suggesting. Perhaps that just might be why this film has such a chronologically inaccurate futuristic presentation of a period from the past. I’m sure a lot of entitled people might disagree with the claim that women’s issues haven’t really been minimized since back then. But then again, after an elaborate disagreement, they will proceed to comment ‘Fatherless Behavior’ on women’s Instagram posts for no reason whatsoever. 

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I feel that’s the very point the movie is trying to make. Surprisingly, it does not entirely antagonize men for making decisions for the lives of women. This is where Max McCandless comes in. He is the kind of man that the world needs more of. I’m not saying Max is a perfect man. Nobody is perfect in this day and age. Our quintessential heroine isn’t perfect either. But just like Bella, Max also represents more than just the binary constraints of what men and women are supposed to be. Max is a character who is himself learning more about the world. He has been brought up in a world where women are objects that men can own and fight over. It’s natural that he himself partakes in this conservative morality, but what is it that really makes a man a better man? What makes Max better than Duncan or even Alfie? That is what we’re going to discuss further in this article.

Spoilers Ahead 

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Who Is Max McCandless?

Hailing from an impoverished background, unlike his peers at the university, Max Candless has already been exposed to the injustices of his society. Max McCandless is a student at Godwin Baxter’s University. He is fascinated by Godwin’s work and adores the man. In a display of his own ability to look beyond the shallow nature of the people around him, Max defends Godwin when the other students compare him to a monster. Nobody taught Max to see the world in this way, but it’s something that he came up with because of his own understanding and empathy. I’m not sure if Max McCandless, an Irish man in a racist Britain being played by Ramy Youssef, an Egyptian American actor, has a role to play in the importance of the plot. However, the brief moment of discrimination that his elitist classmates exhibit towards Max might just be a taste of the multiple instances of discrimination that Max has faced in his life. As per my own understanding, people like Max, on the receiving end of unjust oppression, end up becoming resilient, and it is our resilience that makes us see the suffering of others. 

An instance of his understanding of suffering is how he treats Godwin Baxter. He understands that even though Godwin is breaking the ethics of scientific experimentation, God is himself a victim of his father’s abuse. In fact, it is through the eyes of Max McCandless that Godwin’s past trauma and his humanity are explored. Later on in the movie, he identifies Godwin’s suffering and longing for his daughter, mocking his denial and challenging him to embrace the feelings he is going through. 

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How Does Max Meet Bella?

Godwin has gone through Max’s works and finds them a bit above average, but again, Godwin’s standards have been marked by his own genius. I think Godwin sees potential in Max but does not admit it. To be fair, expression is not Godwin’s forte. Likewise, Max is recruited by the professor to assist him on a personal project. Godwin invites Max to his manor to meet with Bella while she is still a child. Godwin wants Max to make observations about Bella’s cognitive and social behavior as her mind is rapidly progressing with every passing day. This unusual scientific breakthrough garners the interest of these two men of science. Max takes on the role of teaching Bella about the world, observing how she acquires information and language through the days. 


What Does Max Feel For Bella? 

Even though motivated by academic pursuit, gradually, through his meetings with Bella, Max starts to develop feelings for Bella. Bella, who has just found out about her sexuality, does not understand the frame through which Max sees her, but neither does Max. Perhaps the manifestation of these feelings for Bella is because of his physical attraction to her. If Max had been born in our generation, he might’ve had more insights about his feelings. However, regardless of how he feels about her, he sees suffering in Bella’s captivity inside Godwin’s utopian environment, which he created for Bella. Once again, Max was raised in a society where women are viewed as the property of men, but that doesn’t prevent Max from seeing what is wrong. 

Godwin, for the sake of experimentation, suggests Max marry Bella. Max could’ve used this moment and Bella’s naivety to act upon his own feelings of desire like Duncan does later, but Max interjects Godwin’s offer, emphasizing that Bella should consent to the marriage as well. Bella does not understand the implications of this institution of marriage that she is being subjected to. Max’s flaws do indeed take form when his marriage with Bella is threatened by Duncan’s arrival. He resorts to contemplating violence to protect this woman whom he thinks he owns because they are engaged now. But again, this is the only possibility that Max has been exposed to. Being the man he is, he would’ve been open to challenging these patriarchal norms if his society were a bit more open. However, after Bella leaves, he comes to terms that indeed Bella cannot be owned by anyone. 


Why Does Bella Marry Max?

Following her departure from her creator’s utopian sanctuary, Bella, a woman uninhibited by the inner workings of a patriarchal society, explores the meaning of existence as a human and as a woman. She goes through the ups and downs of human society. She even comes across the suffering of the underprivileged, which makes her realize the evils that breed in our world. During her journey, she meets countless people with whom she engages in philosophical discourse, contributing to her understanding of things like good and evil, morality, and society. I think Duncan’s role in her journey played a very important role. For her, Duncan ended up representing patriarchy in its truest form. Duncan wanted to control her and coerce her into conforming to his beliefs, which Bella eventually came to understand. It is only after she chooses to sell her body for money that she realizes how most men view women as objects that they can own. The prohibition of women’s sexual choices has been associated with men’s own pride and insecurities. 

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This is why she is drawn to Max when she returns to London to attend Godwin. Ever since Bella’s return, Max has refrained from bringing up their betrothal. When asked by Bella, Max admits that he no longer thinks that Bella should be bound by something, especially from a time when she didn’t fully understand it. Even Max did not understand what an engagement with Bella really meant if his selfish feelings were put aside. All he knew was that he was mesmerized by Bella, and the person she had grown into was worth even more of Max’s fascination. Bella asks Max what he thinks about the line of work she has indulged in. Max replies that he only envies the men she spent her time with but does not question her choices as he has no moral inclinations. Bella was not the only person who developed during the time she was out exploring the world. Max, as well, has grown into someone whom Bella could admire and sees as a worthy suitor, which is why she asks him to marry her. 

Bringing back the question I stated earlier, what makes a better man, and why is Max a better man than Duncan or Alfie? The sole fact that Max is a person who is not inhibited by the pre-existing notions that used to govern his beliefs. He subjects himself to change and transforms into a better version of himself. Perhaps, in a world full of Shakespearean lovers, Max is a true romantic. His love for Bella does not want him to express ownership, but he respects Bella as an independent person of her own volition. 

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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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