What Happened to Bella? How Old is She Mentally in Poor Things?

Poor Things,’ helmed by Emma Stone as the lead, presents an eccentric narrative about Bella Baxter, a woman with a second chance as she’s brought back to life by Dr. Godwin Baxter’s unconventional methods. However, a side effect of the methods renders an inconsistency between the woman’s physical and mental age, leaving her brain with some much-needed catch-up to do with her 30-year-old body. As the film progresses, the audience accompanies Bella to glorious adventures that open up the reality of the world for her, helping the woman find her own sense of self.

Bella’s drastically transformative journey, ripe with cognitive, philosophical, and sexual explorations, allows the audience to accompany the character as she grows into her personhood. However, as a result of her initially stunted emotionality, the woman continues to hold onto a sense of unconventional idiosyncrasy. Thus, curiosity is bound to arise about Bella’s condition and the complications behind her mental maturity.

Bella Baxter: How Did The Woman Come To Be?

From Bella’s early introduction to the audience, her childlike behavior becomes an instantaneous point of recognition for her character. The woman, who seems to be in her thirties, babbles, stumbles, and remains generally prone to tantrums. Consequently, it isn’t long before the narrative makes it clear that despite Bella’s physical age, the woman’s mental growth is stunted, giving her a toddler-ish demeanor.

For the same reasons, once Max McCandles, Godwin Baxter’s newly appointed assistant, meets Bella, the woman easily intrigues him. Although he operates under the assumption that there is simply something wrong with Bella’s mental health, his duties as a data collector under Godwin’s employment soon make him suspicious of the woman’s origins. Therefore, he notices that Bella’s mental age seems to be progressing at an exponentiated rate.

Likewise, Max also begins to realize that despite Godwin’s seeming paternal instincts toward Bella, he’s using the woman as an experiment subject. Following the realization, it isn’t long before the younger man demands an explanation from his senior— and surprisingly receives an answer in return. Even though Godwin spins tales of Bella’s parents succumbing to an accident in South America to satisfy his daughter’s curiosity, the reality remains bleaker and outlandish.

Godwin found Bella under extremely uncanny circumstances after a woman, later revealed to be Victoria Blessington, jumped off a bride in an attempted suicide. The jump gravely injured the woman’s body, barely leaving a pulse behind by the time Godwin found her and dragged her back into his lab. Still, enough spark remained that the unconventional scientist could bring her back to life. Thus, Godwin found himself presented with a moral dilemma.

The woman was unnamed and unknown to Godwin. Everything about her was a secret, except for her decisive suicidal ideation. However, by killing herself, the woman hadn’t only condemned herself alone to death. When Godwin found her, Victoria was months into her pregnancy with a well-formed fetus inside her womb. Therefore, when Godwin had to make his split-second decision, he decided to allow Victoria her suicidal desire and bestow life upon her unborn child.

Godwin was a man of science with a father who enjoyed experimentation so much that he had well and truly Frankenstein-ed his own son in his childhood. Perhaps influenced by his father’s behavior, Godwin also took to scientific experimentation, seeking to bend the rules and limitations at every turn. As such, Godwin decided to use Victoria and her child for a major scientific experiment and performed brain surgery on the pair.

By inserting the baby’s brain into its mother’s skull, Godwin granted a new life to Victoria’s child inside the mother’s body. As a result, Bella came to be— a toddler stuck inside a grown woman’s body. However, as a positive complication of the procedure, Bella’s brain matured at an accelerated rate than normal babies.

Consequently, instead of a normal two-year window for her to develop speech, Bella makes rapid progress, with a couple dozen words per day. However, the film focuses less so on Bella’s arrival into life— as anomalous as it may be— and dives into the life Bella seeks for herself in her growing years as her mind ages, without synchronization to her 30-year-old body.

Bella’s Mental Age Throughout The Film

After her introduction as a toddler in a woman’s body, Bella grows as the plot progresses, with her brain catching up to her physical adulthood much faster than a normal baby’s brain. Nevertheless, due to the accelerated pace, the woman isn’t introduced to general society’s conventions and regulations in the same way that everyone else is. As such, her innate curiosity, lack of self-consciousness, and shameless disposition allow her to develop in a unique manner.

Although Bella develops in accordance with her brain chemistry— an imperceptible characteristic— her experiences also shape her. At first, Bella only cares about fulfilling her needs and needs anything and everything that rouses her curiosity. Even though Bella’s brain is still developing, she exists in a mature body, retaining an adult’s libido and sexuality. As a result, she adopts a fascination with sexual pleasure since her mind is experiencing the situation for the first time. Given the childish demeanor that viewers come to associate with Bella, the woman’s adventures— significantly revolving around a hedonistic chase after sexual pleasure— may come as a jarring development.

Yet, it becomes a cornerstone for Bella’s character and her growth. While the woman still retains her grammatically unsound sentence structures and tempestuous tantrums, she embarks on the global trip with the sordid Duncan Wedderburn. Since Bella has only spent her life locked in Godwin’s house, her new pleasure-seeking lifestyle with Duncan of food and sex suits her well.

However, Bella’s experiences inform her character’s growth. When she’s with Godwin, she learns philosophies that include words such as empirical. Likewise, when she’s with Duncan, she learns experiences around pastry and bananas. Through it all, she still retains her sense of wonderment and curiosity. Nevertheless, she’s confined by the men in her life and their expectations of her.

As such, Bella’s trip aboard a cruise, where she meets aged Martha and cynical Harry, marks a significant chapter in her life. During this time, Bella learns brand-new philosophies that revolve around ethics and politics. As a result, her character grows further. She sheds her half-formed sentences for intelligent, if unconventional, thought born from an unshakeable desire to learn and grow. Ultimately, her willful employment at a French brothel provides her the freedom to explore her self-identity. Thus, she attends public surgeries, engages in political and academic thought, and creates a personhood for herself.

Throughout the film, Bella grows and evolves in a distinct fashion that cannot be tracked since her experiences mold her mental age much more significantly than time seems to. Over the course of her adventures from Godwin’s house to France, the woman ages from 2 years old to 20 in the span of several months. Experiencing life as a woman unbridled by society’s projected and injected rules, Bella blazes her own path and reaches a fast-paced maturity.

Read More: What is the Message Behind Poor Things? Is it a Feminist Movie?