‘Poor Things’ Ending Explained & Movie Spoilers: Did Bella Marry Max? 

There’s the characteristic Lanthimos-core peculiarity in the Emma Stone-starrer Poor Things, albeit not needlessly. But the director, maybe just for the sake of challenging his usual pessimism, turns the absurdities endearing with the constant existence of hope. Of course, transcendence from the glum limitations of being Frankensteinian is not handed on a platter to our recreated heroine, Bella Baxter. Granted, the theme of deviance, which is the very foundation of the film, is delivered through motifs that aren’t identical to the world we know. But the existential and social parallels that Poor Things inspires you to ponder over are enough to make the film intensely effective. 


Spoilers Ahead

Plot Synopsis: What Happens In The Film?

It’s funny how, at the very beginning, Poor Things pulls a little prank on you by confusing you about who the Frankensteinian “monster” really is. Just a peek at Dr. Godwin Baxter’s face, which seems to have been callously put back together after being torn apart, and you’re wondering if he’s the one who escaped the grim reaper’s clutches. But in this dystopian reimagination of Victorian society, Godwin is an extraordinary surgeon whose eccentric father founded the medical school he now teaches and terrifies his students at. The teacher’s pet, Max McCandles, deems it an opportunity of a lifetime when Godwin seeks his assistance with a personal project. But Godwin isn’t just God to Max. He’s the all-powerful, all-knowing patriarch of his household, where his little project, namely Bella Baxter, spends her days in strange captivity. Godwin loves Bella, and Bella, who seems to have the body of a grown woman and the mind of a child, reciprocates the fatherly affection with the kind of genuine warmth that’s eluded Godwin all his life. Max is to inspect and take notes of Bella’s progress, which, with the reluctant and bitter help the sour-faced housekeeper Mrs. Prim, he does with a sincere sense of devotion—a devotion he’s come to feel for Bella. 


Where Did Bella Really Come From?

The woman embracing death and plunging into the river at the very start of the film was none other than the adorable, reanimated subject of Godwin’s “ungodly” experiments. This isn’t knowledge Godwin wished to impart to Max. But seeing as the self-proclaimed romantic in him has recognized a love between Max and Bella and he wishes for their marriage to bind Bella to his estate forever, Max couldn’t be kept in the dark much longer. For his groundbreaking experiments, Godwin has always wanted a subject more lively than the corpses on his table. And when he found the fresh corpse of a woman with a life growing inside it, he deemed it a kind gesture to replace her brain with that of her fetus. On the surface, the creation of Bella seems immoral. And the observation of her progress, with isolation from the world being the center to Godwin’s “controlled environment”, seems even more cruel. But at the end of the day, the world is a better place because Bella exists in it. And given that the woman who jumped from the bridge voluntarily decided to put an end to her misery, Godwin couldn’t bring himself to send her back to what she tried to escape so desperately. 

Why Does Bella Want To Go Away With Duncan Wedderburn?

Lanthimos’ Bella, untethered from her connection to the narrative, is a child who’s new to the world and is only starting to slowly learn how it works. And because she’s unique and her brain’s growth is clearly influenced by her biological age, she often finds the world’s workings contradicting her “impolite” impulses and tendencies. She’s inquisitive and belligerent without fully understanding why people around her would even impose societal norms and limitations on her. Her sexual awakening and the newfound joy of pleasuring herself threaten the fragile masculinity she’s surrounded by. Max doesn’t mean bad, but as an otherwise good man who’s still not quite broken free from the societal dos and don’ts, he inadvertently tries to clip Bella’s wings anyway. As much as Bella adores her dear God, she doesn’t care for the ways he traps her on his estate. And in comes a cunning man, Duncan Wedderburn, dressed as everything Bella’s furtive inquisitiveness seeks—freedom, pleasure, and danger. She’s not unaware that Duncan doesn’t care a hoot about her well-being and only wishes to take advantage of her for his fleeting whim. Yet, without the risk of being in a position of emotional disadvantage, Bella doesn’t see why she should turn down his proposition to go off to Lisbon when adventure is all that she wants. Her fiancé protests more than her father figure. This, of course, comes from a place of wishing to keep Bella for himself, shuddering at the thought of what Duncan has in mind for his betrothed. But Bella, free from the preset expectations that children are otherwise taught to live by, doesn’t find it wrong to want to explore life in the ways that bring her joy. So off she goes to Lisbon with one Duncan Wedderburn. 


Why Does Bella Get Disenchanted By Duncan?

As though she were a stranger to the entire world, it’s in Bella’s very nature to feel wide-eyed amusement at every new thing she sees. At the start, Duncan represented everything that Bella was looking for—a safe link to the freedom she wanted to explore. I can’t deny that being told the lie that her parents were explorers who died doing what they loved had an influence on Bella, who now cares little about the risks associated with being out in the unknown. But to our relief and that of Bella, the first phase of her time in Lisbon enriches her with all the hedonistic pleasures she was aching to experience. Yet, there was an expiration date on all the “furious jumping” and the decadent tarts and the balls and galas. It comes as a rather irritating disillusionment to Bella that, despite his self-diagnosed allergy to emotional attachment, like the men she’s pulled herself away from, Duncan has also gotten afflicted with the wish to possess her. Her untamable urge to explore her desires with whoever she chooses hurts Duncan, for he’s fallen in love for the first time. The fact that he isn’t all she wants threatens Duncan’s pride over being someone who’s left a trail of broken hearts in his wake. And now that she’s once again asked to belong to someone, when there’s so much more for her to explore yet, all she feels for Duncan is bitterness. 

What Does Bella Learn From Henry?

Bella’s childlike curiosity, while rendering her vulnerable to the exploitative world, also makes her a blank canvas. She wishes to have herself painted with the colors of new knowledge, sights, and conversations. This also ensures that she isn’t burdened by the awkwardness and anxieties that make human beings cautious of the unknown. So she is open to making new friends, and that’s what she finds in Martha and Henry, the two people she fleetingly encounters on the cruise Duncan has taken her on as an apology. Much to the dismay of Duncan, who’d rather Bella’s emotional maturity be stunted to accommodate his need to confine her, Bella’s first brush with philosophy and the untamable nature of growth comes from Martha. Henry, however, staying true to the imposing nature of men, forces his pessimism on Bella and ambushes her with his extremely cynical view of the world. He even goes the distance and drags her to confront the heartbreaking truth of the unfair division of wealth and class in Alexandria. And as Bella helplessly watches the poor—crying, dying, and rotting below as her privileges keep her safe above—Bella’s skipping feet bump into the rock that is the pain that engulfs the world. Even though she falls face first and feels the weight of the cruel nature of the world for the very first time, she isn’t ready to accept Henry’s cynicism. Of course, her innocent way of trying to help the poor by draining Duncan of all his money is met with bitter betrayal. But as the two workers on the boat take advantage of her naivety and keep the money for themselves, Poor Things also paints a very real picture of the world where donations seldom reach those they were intended for. Yet, Bella, even in the face of betrayal and Duncan’s wrath over losing everything and being kicked off the cruise, is not ready to accept that there’s no way to curb suffering. 


What did Bella learn from Madame Swiney?

When you try to analyze Bella’s unusual optimism in the face of being stranded in Paris with no money, no place to stay, and a very whiny Duncan, you can’t write it off as just her characteristic eccentricity. You must also take into consideration the conditions she’s been brought up in. Godwin has always normalized pain, with an emphasis on almost everything on Earth being an experiment of sorts. And now that she’s found herself in a strange land with no means to sustain herself, instead of sharing in Duncan’s understandable agony, she’s rather excited to find out where she goes from here. As someone who’s unaffected by preconceived notions of morality, Bella doesn’t see prostitution as something degrading. Instead, she finds it a rather convenient way to get the pleasure she seeks and the money she needs. Of course, Duncan doesn’t have the same enthusiasm about her “fall from grace.” And Bella, despite not taking his petty insults personally, grows tired of the conversations running in circles. What she discovers first and foremost as the con of prostitution is the lack of choice women get. She doesn’t understand the wicked ways of men and struggles even further to grasp why they’d want someone who doesn’t want them. Yet Madame Swiney’s words are something that resonate with her, mainly because she realizes the painful cost of existence and growing into an actual human adult. Bella’s inherent feminist worldview reluctantly makes space for the pain and suffering that are unavoidable in the journey of growing into a well-rounded person. She takes the pangs of misery over being touched and caressed by men she finds repulsive and turns it into an experiment of her own. Her colleague Toinette’s growing involvement in her life also helps her navigate her autonomy beyond the heteronormative, capitalistic, and conservative constraints of the world around her. Alongside her rapid maturation into a woman of the world, Bella’s preferences and priorities grow increasingly refined at the same pace. 

Why Did Godwin Baxter Get Emotionally Attached To Bella?

Kindness, like love, has always been a stranger to Godwin. He doesn’t normalize pain so he can inflict it. He does so perhaps to convince himself that the unimaginable cruelty he’s been subjected to all his life wasn’t unfair. He was heavily influenced by his father, someone he brings up in odd anecdotes that aren’t odd to him but make the listener flinch. For a man who still pays the price of his body being mangled in the name of scientific experiments as a child, you’d think that Godwin would loathe his father. But he remembers his old man dearly, partly because kindness is all he knows and partly because he’s grateful to have inherited his love for human anatomy from him. Love, in its purest form, is something he experiences for the first time when Bella comes around. He’s too proud, and maybe even too overwhelmed by his own emotional depths, to accept that he misses her. But his pain over Bella’s departure is evident in every bizarre decision he makes. Someone with a meticulously planned routine fills himself up with alcohol when dawn breaks. He even tries and fails to fill the hole in his heart with Felicity, another woman he reanimates. Attachment can’t be planned or induced. There’s a difference between what people feel for things they stumble on unexpectedly and things they seek out with a preset purpose. Godwin didn’t plan on finding the corpse of a pregnant woman and creating Bella. But just as unexpectedly as she came into his life, she filled it with the kind of unabashed joy and mirth that Godwin never hoped to experience. So, of course, no matter how many bodies he experiments on and how many women he brings back into existence, no one can give him the sense of kinship he feels for Bella. Bella was always more than a subject of his experiments, which is clearly why he recognized her right to find a life of her own and let her go. For someone to have endured so much unethical experimentation, it was only expected that Godwin would develop a life-threatening disease. But if you ask me, the way he completely let go and stopped taking care of himself definitely contributed to his being afflicted with cancer. It’s only when the brilliant doctor knows that death’s knocking on his door that he urges Max to reach out to Bella. He couldn’t bear the thought of dying without seeing his daughter-like creation again. 

What Was Bella’s Real Identity?

The fact that Bella wasn’t really Bella was never unknown to us. Yet, the matter of her real identity not having much of an influence on her journey did push it to the back of our minds as well. Her getting called on as Victoria Blessington by the “strange feather woman” at the hotel in Lisbon was just Poor Things taking the time to let us know the real name of the woman whose peculiar coming-of-age we’re steadfastly following. And it isn’t entirely a dismissal on our part either, considering Bella herself doesn’t think much about the possibility of her story being a lie until Toinette points out the C-section scar. So what if it’s Godwin’s deathbed that gets to be the stage for this imminent father-daughter confrontation? If anything, Godwin’s pitiable state only helps Bella evade the pangs of betrayal, somewhat. It’s always been unlikely that Bella’s quest for new things and new experiences would come to an end. So when Duncan’s vicious bitterness does make him seek out her forgotten husband, Alfie Blessington, what Bella finds in his proposition to go back to her old life is an opportunity to get to know her sort of mother and the former resident of her physical form. Remember, Bella’s brain is still too young to fully grasp the depths of human experience. She didn’t stop to think that there might be a can of worms she shouldn’t be so eager to open, given that Victoria Blessington did try to escape something when she threw herself off the bridge. It takes her a little time to recognize that evil lives in the Blessington mansion. The kind of evil that she apparently once found pleasure in—the kind of evil that keeps poor staff hostage and bullies them at gunpoint for sport. But it’s when Alfie makes it his mission to bind her to the house, even going as far as to secretly plan a clitoridectomy, that Bella realizes why Victoria had to choose to end her life. The mental ailments aggravated by the pregnancy could’ve certainly played a part. But to Bella, at least, someone whose aversion to being tied down or seen as a thing to own is significant, being called Alfie’s territory is certainly the deal-breaker. The gunshot to his foot that bought her her freedom was both lucky and proof of Bella having developed complex reflexive abilities. Her making Alfie the subject of her first surgical endeavor and replacing his brain with that of a goat is just the cherry on top. But the nerve-wracking yet amusing nature of her familiarization with her forgotten life aside, it’s rather prominent how Poor Things wanted Bella to come full circle to fully break free from all that could bind her. 

Why Did Bella Want To Marry Max?

As long as the discourse is still on Bella’s audacious fight for freedom, you might wonder, Why would she come back “home” and propose to Max? You’re right in looking back and acknowledging the textbook signs of Max being less imposing but still very much just another man who wants to keep Bella for himself. And Bella didn’t necessarily overlook the red flags either. But the Max she’s come back to seems like a man who’s taken the time apart to introspect and understand his beloved better. Max would never dare to think of Bella as his possession. And then there’s the matter of him addressing the matter of Bella’s experience with prostitution with as much grace as he can muster. In the beginning, Bella agreed to the marriage out of her faith in God (I amuse myself) and her stance on Max being that he was a good man. But now that she’s seen the world and come back to her comfort zone, she recognizes Max as the only man who’s ever taken a stand for her autonomy and agency. If you do wish to entertain the feelings theory, I guess I couldn’t keep you off that route. Now, coming to the burning question about what happens to Max and Bella in the end. While it’s entirely possible that the two have married and that Bella resides in her utopian estate with her husband Max and lover Toinette, I think the more reasonable theory would be that Bella’s optimistic view on marriage has changed after her experience with Alfie. The home she’s created is just as free from societal norms and conventions as she is in her heart and mind. So it’s unlikely that she’d still choose to conform to something that evidently goes against everything she believes about a woman’s agency. 


Does Bella Get A Happy Ending? 

Poor Things speaks highly of optimism. And even though that optimism can only be worthwhile in a near-idealistic setting like that of Lanthimos’ film, Poor Things doesn’t deny its hyperbolic nature. You don’t have to be entirely like Bella, as that is neither realistic nor achievable in the real world, where someone like Bella all alone would’ve faced a much worse fate. But you can certainly trim around her idealism to find the kind of optimism that fits your reality. Bella’s existential curiosity often existed without an emotional expectation of a happy or sad outcome. Come to think of it, Bella’s seldom shown signs of being happy or sad. These emotions, nonetheless, certainly might’ve been present in her without exuberant signs of them. So the ending of Poor Things can be very reasonably seen as a happy life Bella’s carved out for herself. She’s living with those she holds dear and studying to pursue the one thing that invariably piques her interest. And by becoming a doctor, she’ll only go on to prove that she’s been victorious in her pursuit. In philosophy, the idea that stood out to her the most is that growth and improvement are essential to human existence. By growing into the woman she is today, who only seeks to help people with her expertise in human anatomy, she’s also proven Henry’s extreme cynicism wrong. Her loyalty to the idea of growth is most evident in how she’s transformed the estate—she’s kept the good things and done away with the bad. In the world where Bella gets to do what she wishes, Mrs. Prim is no longer crabby, for she’s now not a servant but an equal. This change, in turn, has also been a boon for Felicity’s cognitive growth. The idyllic world Bella has created for herself couldn’t have come together without the crucial questions that all humans must seek answers to at some point in their lives. Why do we do the things we do, and why are we so hellbent on adhering to the restrictions that guard us against imaginary fears?

Lopamudra Mukherjee
Lopamudra Mukherjeehttps://muckrack.com/lopamudra-mukherjee
Lopamudra nerds out about baking whenever she’s not busy looking for new additions to the horror genre. Nothing makes her happier than finding a long-running show with characters that embrace her as their own. Writing has become the perfect mode of communicating all that she feels for the loving world of motion pictures.

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