‘Poor Things’ Ending Explained & Film Summary: What Happens To Bella And Alfie?


Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos had already made a name for himself as an unusual practitioner of the art, often making absurdist and surrealist choices in works like The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer. His latest film, Poor Things, is perhaps the most bizarrely entertaining of the lot, filled with absurdities on the visual front while telling a fairly resonating story. The plot follows Bella Baxter, a woman who has been brought back to life by an eccentric doctor, as she leaves her sheltered life for an adventure across the continent. Poor Things surely deserves the accolades coming its way and is an entertaining watch even if one does not align with its politics.

Spoiler Alert

Why did Godwin Baxter revive Bella?

The first part of Poor Things is set in Victorian England, although an alternate steam-punk version of it, so to speak, with an introduction to Bella and her father figure, Godwin Baxter. Both of these characters are central to the plot, as Bella’s unnatural existence is because of this very eccentric and ambitious doctor, Godwin Baxter. Baxter had been subjected to very twisted and rather cruel experiments from a young age, at the hands of his own doctor father, and he now conducts similar experiments on others. As a professional surgeon, he is intrigued by unnatural biological questions, and his expertise seems to be to amalgamate different animals into strange creatures. A dog with the body of a duck, a rooster that barks like a dog, and a pig with the body of a goat are all pets in the Baxter house, bearing proof of his surgical practice. But as he brings on a new secretary, named Max McCandles, it is revealed that the doctor’s best creation so far was the young woman living like his daughter, Bella. 

When Max wants to know more about Bella, Godwin reveals that she was actually a woman named Victoria Blessington, who had killed herself in the past by jumping from a bridge. Godwin had been present near the bridge at this time, and he found her body in an almost pristine state, with no rigor mortis having set in. Therefore, the surgeon saw this as a great opportunity for a particular experiment he wanted to run, especially after seeing that Victoria had been pregnant. In line with his supremely strange surgeries, Godwin wanted to test what happens when a baby’s brain is inserted into an adult’s body. Thus, after a long and serious surgery, Victoria’s body was revived, with the brain of her stillborn baby inside her head. The woman was named Bella, and she was taught to refer to Godwin as God since he was the one who had literally created her. 

This is the reason behind Bella’s childish behavior at the beginning of the film, as she refuses to eat her food and finds enjoyment in throwing plates around or stabbing dead bodies. She waddles around like a child and also speaks like one, still learning new words and constructing her sentences just like a baby would. Godwin still continues tracking her growth, and in fact, this is also why he hires the young assistant, Max, to record all measures of Bella’s development. As the experiment is still ongoing, he refuses to let the woman leave the house, always keeping her stuck inside the confines of his house. While Poor Things is set on a fantastical premise, it starts to get serious with regards to the physical and mental development of the protagonist, Bella Baxter. The disparity between her physical and mental development creates a point of crisis in her life very soon, also raising questions along the way. Bella soon starts to make sexual discoveries with her body and is quickly fascinated by the whole new world that opens up in front of her. She starts having multiple encounters, mostly with the lawyer, Duncan Wedderburn, and viewers are really made to feel uncomfortable because of the question of consent. Bella is surely of the age to give her own consent physically, but she is technically a minor if we consider her mental age.

But like anyone else going through the development of age, Bella wants to break free and have new experiences, for she is bored with her life inside the Baxter house. This desire increases tremendously after she is taken out to the park by Godwin and Max, and it soon comes together with her bodily desires. When Duncan offers Bella the chance to tour the world with her in exchange for sessions of intimacy, she readily agrees to it, despite being betrothed to Max by this time. It is to be remembered that Bella is devoid of any understanding, or belief, of societal and moral rules, and so she does not find the proposition odd at all. According to her, she can very well have fun and adventure with Duncan at present and then return to settle with Max. The idea of sexuality being interlinked with morality and society is also completely missing in her.

Although Godwin knows that letting the woman go would ruin his experiment, he does eventually agree to her plan. Despite initially seeming like Godwin had been grooming Bella for some other purpose, he is genuinely loving and caring towards her, treating her as his own daughter. The doctor also later remarks that giving Bella the ability to think and feel was the biggest mistake in his experiment, for her affection for him had also made him grow fond of her. After having a change of heart, Godwin lets Bella go on a trip across the world, even putting in some emergency cash in her dress as a sign of ultimate fatherly support.

What does Bella learn from her experiences?

Over the next stretch of time, Bella accompanies Duncan on a trip around the world, living like her mistress, despite not realizing so. Bella has no inhibitions about getting intimate with any other men, but Duncan is obviously hurt and angered by this, being the petty and insecure man that he is. He tries to convince her to marry him as well, but by then, Bella realizes that he just wants to tie her down. Bella’s journey in Poor Things is essentially about liberation and empowerment, albeit in a twisted and unusual way. She is driven by her desire to know and learn more, but the men around her do not want to let her pursue such matters, always assuming the role of her guardian whenever they can. Duncan is the worst of the lot, though, as he is seemingly ready to fight the whole world to keep Bella by his side, almost like a property to be owned. 

After spending a few days in Lisbon, Duncan takes Bella on a voyage aboard a cruise ship, most definitely in order to keep her fixed to the same place and to ensure that she would not be able to meet other men without his knowledge. Yet Duncan does not know that he will soon have to face a far stronger opposition with regards to his pursuit of Bella than any man. This is because Bella soon makes new friends on the ship who introduce her to philosophy and further knowledge about the world and human life. The seed of education is severely planted in her mind, and she realizes that there is a purpose to life beyond just merrymaking and intimate adventures. Intrigued by the supposed sufferings of human beings, Bella goes out to know more when the ship stops in Egypt. Taking a glance at the real people struggling to make ends meet and dying from poverty, Bella is immediately stirred by sadness and guilt, also learning that there are multiple perspectives on the world.

Bella admits that her life is insignificant when compared to the sufferings of the people, and she decides to donate all the money that Duncan had won through gambling. She is obviously cheated by the two male crew members on the ship, who promise to donate the money for her but most definitely run off with it. This leads to the two characters being dropped off in Paris and their travel coming to an end because of a lack of funds. It is here that Bella becomes a sex worker, both to earn her living and because she is intrigued by the profession. It can be argued that she is not allowed to pursue any better profession in this male-oriented world, and Bella gradually learns that intimacy with a man is not always an enjoyable experience. 

Why does Bella choose to go with Alfie?

Despite having to sell her body in order to earn her livelihood, Bella prefers the situation over having to settle with any man, especially Duncan, who still lurks around. During this time, she receives a letter from Max informing her of Godwin being on his deathbed, and Bella returns to London to meet with her father one last time. Godwin finally reveals to her the real story behind his experiments regarding her, and Bella is shocked to know that she had been created by the man she considered her father. Along with slight grief and sadness, because the truth had been kept away from her, Bella also feels an intense interest in knowing more about her mother’s past. Within this time, though, she mends her relationship with Max, who had been waiting for her, and the two decide to get married, with Godwin seeing over the ceremony.

However, the presence of Duncan once again creates problems for Bella and Max’s romance, for the lawyer now comes with a different man, named Alfie Blessington. It is revealed that Alfie was the husband of Bella in her past life, or that of her mother, depending on what exactly we consider her to be. Bella has the same body as her mother, Victoria, so she can be considered to be the same woman, but her brain and mind are her own. Nonetheless, Alfie is ready to see her as his long-lost wife, Victoria, and he offers to bring her back into his life. Bella does not hesitate to leave Max at the altar, and she instead chooses to go with Alfie, returning to a life of aristocracy at the Blessington estate.

The real reason for Bella making such a choice is her strong desire to know more about her past and exactly what had driven her, or her mother, to suicide. After having learned and experienced the physical struggles of the outside world, Bella now finds an interest in knowing her own self, which is also that of her mother, in a twisted manner. What Alfie reveals further shocks her, as, according to him, Victoria was a rather cruel person who found entertainment in the misery of others. She used to partake in such cruel acts together with her husband before killing herself because she had gotten pregnant and did not want to give birth. There is no proof of these claims, though, and despite Alfie’s sinister nature, Bella has to believe all that he says.

What happens to Bella and the others?

Bella soon learns that Alfie intends to mutilate her private parts in an attempt to ensure that she will never have any physical urges and will never leave his side. However, she manages to escape the cruel man’s plans by shooting him in the foot, and then leaves the house to return to Godwin.

During Poor Things‘ ending, the fatherly doctor dies, but Bella chooses to honor his legacy in her own way. In some senses, Poor Things can even be seen as a coming-of-age story, but in the most twisted sense, as the adult, Bella goes through the discoveries and realizations of someone going through the teenage years. The absence of any moralistic filter in her allows Bella to go through numerous experiences that mature her comparatively faster, and by the end of the film, she finds a clear, true purpose in life. Bella decides to become a doctor, just like Godwin, and her very first surgery is to implant a goat’s brain into the body of Alfie. Thus, Alfie is kept alive by Bella, but he is made into a goat who only goes around munching on grass. Bella, her partner Max, and her woman lover from Paris, Toinette, all simply look on with amusement.

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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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