Poor thins: an easy explanation what womb envy means

7 Minutes Jan 31, 2024 1398 Words

Poor thins: an easy explanation what womb envy means

The film "Poor Things," directed by the talented Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos, unquestionably stands out as one of the best movies I have ever seen. Its fantastic and deeply symbolic storyline, complemented by exquisite costumes and meticulously selected music, coupled with masterful performances, encapsulates the quintessence of the postmodern film industry. However, potential viewers should brace themselves for a film that delves into numerous psychoanalytic scenes intertwined with themes of sex, violence, cruelty, and unfiltered naturalism. As such, this cinematic masterpiece might prove overwhelming for a more naive viewer to fully appreciate it.

The womb envy

Most are familiar with Freud's concept of "penis envy"—a sentiment where women experience jealousy due to their inability to possess a penis. In this symbolic context, the penis embodies notions of power, omnipotence, and goal-oriented behaviour. Regrettably, Karen Horney's concept of "womb envy" remains relatively unknown —an emotion felt by men who envy women for their capacity to give birth to another human being. Birth, a singular act of creation and reproduction, forever eludes man. In contrast, women can attain power and pursue careers, addressing the anxieties stemming from penis envy. Overcoming the anxiety linked to the inability to create life is a more formidable challenge for men.

In the movie, we see a man named Godwin Baxter creating a child whom he names Bella Baxter. This is his unique yet quite direct way of dealing with the anxieties brought on by womb envy. Godwin Baxter, shaped by a traumatic childhood experience with his primary attachment figure—his father, is burdened by the aftermath of this early trauma, rendering him incapable of forming secure attachments in his adult life. Consequently, he seeks solace in creating connections solely with the "poor things" he brings into existence, finding a sense of safety and security in this unconventional process.

Source: Poor Things

His endeavour to create a child unfolds over an extended period, marked by experimentation with various animals such as the goat-goose and pig-chicken—acts that serve as a precursor to the anticipated human experiment. Godwin finally discovers an ideal subject in a tragic circumstance—a pregnant woman who has taken her own life. In a compelling twist, he transfers the child's brain into its mother's, navigating the intricate terrain of life, death, and the uncharted realms of scientific experimentation.

Woman who gave birth to herself

The Bible presents a profound concept where God begets Himself, offering a direct guideline on grappling with womb envy. Similarly, in the movie, we witness a woman granted a second chance at life through a unique transfer—her child's brain transplanted to her head, drawing an explicit parallel to the Bible. Bella, the woman in focus, transcends the traditional roles, replacing God on his pedestal to become a goddess herself. Her involvement extends beyond the act of reproduction. She is involved in the act of reproduction of herself!

Here, we also can explore the topic of separation anxiety inherent in mother-child relationships. The conception and development of a child within a woman's body signify a profound connection. The act of birth, marked by the physical separation of mother and child, becomes the primary and most poignant instance of disconnection. This separation elicits many emotions—fear, anger, and happiness—in both mother and child. In the movie, Bella, unwilling to reach the point of being severed from her unborn child, tragically takes her own life. In this way, she seeks to ensure that the sacred bond between mother and child remains unbroken.

A child in the body of an adult

This is the juncture in the movie where it bravely navigates into the realm of a taboo subject. It prompts a recollection of Freud's groundbreaking revelation that stirred a significant upheaval in Vienna and the world. I'm referring, of course, to Freud's stages of psychosexual development and the Pleasure principle. In the movie, we are presented with one conceivable scenario depicting the repercussions of a child inhabiting the body of an adult woman. The ensuing abuse and desire evoke a sense of repulsion, particularly in those individuals with a well-developed Super-Ego.

Source: Poor Things

After the brain transplant surgery, Bella undergoes the typical developmental stages of an infant. Initially, she learns to walk, play, acquire knowledge, and explore her surroundings. When she reaches a developmental stage equivalent to that of a 3-year-old child, we witness her first outburst of separation—an intense desire to leave Godwin Baxter's house. Mirroring the behaviour of typical children, she asserts this desire and is granted limited freedom. Notably, the narrative also introduces the concept of the pure Id in parallel—a brilliant scenario! This implies that children up to a certain age cannot control their desires as they are internally driven without any inherent regulatory mechanisms. Control functions initially rest with the caregiver, serving as external regulation by the parents, and subsequently, the child gradually internalizes and initiates self-control, mirroring the caregiver's role. However, in the initial stages, Bella lacks any form of control.

Later, Bella reaches the so-called "Oedipal phase". And Bella, a grown-up woman, masturbates without any feeling of shame at a dining table just because it brings pleasure. And once others notice it, they teach her this behaviour is inappropriate. In this way, she gets a vorbitteness to the pleasure concept. This is the act of the Super-Ego. Nonetheless, her desire to explore is so strong that she decides to leave her home to travel with a Godwind lawyer, who abuses his power extensively and engages Bella in sexual relationships, which, to a healthy person, is inappropriate.

As time goes on, she develops Super-Ego, and later on, Ego - functions. This stage is reached roughly when she finds herself on a Ship. This is the teenage stage of Bella's growing up. She develops a sense of boundaries and rebellion and finds her way to philosophy. Also, her illusion of a peaceful and easy-going world is broken when she sees that the world does not have equality and, on the contrary, includes a lot of suffering.

She continues her self-search in Paris, where she works as a prostitute and attends socialist meetings. Finally, she finds her way home when her creator is close to death. She comes to London as a grown-up woman who knows what she wants and is ready to pursue her goals.

Transgenerational trauma

Bella arrives in London and decides to follow in the footsteps of her ailing creator as a doctor-experimenter. She forgives him for the experiment he conducted on her, first verbally and then -- in action, where she performs surgery, transplanting the goat's brain into her ex-husband. Additionally, the goat serves as a symbol of sacrifice to the Gods across various cultures. In this context, her ex-husband becomes the initial sacrifice she makes in devotion to her deity—her creator, Godvin Bexter.

Source: Poor Things

Throughout the film, we understand that Godwin's father was also an experimenter. His primary subject of experimentation was his son, whom he profoundly harmed both physically and mentally. Godwin's father shaped his son in a traumatic way, which can be interpreted as being the creator of the child. This trauma is subtly implied to be inherited by Bella. Though not explicitly stated in the movie, it hints that Bella might face challenges traditionally conceiving a child. Instead, she may create babies - "poor things" - herself, continuing her father's experiments. Or, she will go to psychoanalysis and will be cured, and will no longer pass her trauma to other beings ;)

Godwin Crucifix

As Godwin takes his final breath in his bed, we witness Max, a devoted student, on the left side and Bella, his creation and continuation, on the right side. This composition resembles the familiar scene found in Orthodox churches, known as the Jesus Crucifix. In Orthodox tradition, the depiction portrays Jesus on the cross, with Mary, his mother, on the left and Ioan Bohuslov, his follower, on the right. Given that the director of the movie, Yorgos Lanthimos, hails from the Orthodox culture, it is reasonable to interpret this scene as a deliberate reference to the canonical Crucifixion tableau.

So, in the end, God wins when GodWin find his peace in the people to whom he was able to attach and continue his life.

To conclude

Yorgos Lanthimos has crafted a remarkable masterpiece, and there's little left to be said other than that one must watch it!