November 2nd, 2022
MOVIE: THE WONDER
STARRING: FLORENCE PUGH, NIAMH ALGAR, KILA LORD CASSIDY, TOM BURKE, ELAINE CASSIDY
DIRECTED BY: SEBASTIAN LELIO
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
The Wonder begins with a story that has captured the ears of the people, from Ireland to England, set in 1862, about a case involving an eleven-year-old girl that has not eaten for four months and has yet to be impacted by it. “A miracle from God” some call it, or as the young girl claims, “she is nourished by the spirit”. Director Sebastian Lelio’s newest film, based on the novel by Emma Donoghue, is not a story with judgment, is without contempt for the believer, nor in agreement with the non-believers, but a story with an observant eye. Much like the lead character, The Wonder is asking the audience to be patient, to figure out exactly what is at hand, and fight the struggle of doing what is right when you are a lone voice in a crowd.
An interesting framing that Lelio begins with is starting on a soundstage, pulling the camera back to show that what we are about to be told is a production, a movie being made, and telling us a story. He then zooms into a train, where Lib Wright (Florence Pugh) sits, a nurse from England, on her way to the Irish countryside where she has been asked to be an observer. Along with a nun, the task involves Lib sitting by the bedside of Anna O’Donnell (Kila Lord Cassidy), watching over her as she has not consumed any food. The council of men in town, led by Dr. McBrearty (Toby Jones) and Father Thaddeus (Ciaran Hinds), believe this is an act of God, and refuse to medically use a feeding tube against Anna’s wishes. What follows is the struggle for Lib, her relationship with Anna, a connection with a journalist named Will Byrne (Tom Burke), and the search for the truth in the matter. Could the faith that Anna and her family have truly been keeping her fed? It becomes a question of control, a question of what responsibility a person has to their patient, and how far a family will go to keep their beliefs above the well being of someone they love.
It may seem like a simple straightforward narrative and dealing with a subject matter that feels too current. What The Wonder has going for it outside of a complex debate, is a screenplay- co-written by Lelio and Alice Birch- which is read by a superb collection of actors. The performances are all collaborative, with Florence Pugh leading the charge, showing her great versatility once again, in a role that is isolated, playing an outsider that is never welcomed. She’s a woman at a time they were never believed or taken seriously to benign with, tasked with fighting back against the fundamental beliefs that can destroy lives. And it’s not just the Pugh show, as Burke is the journalist whose reporting is shunned, while young Kila Lord Cassidy delivers her confined, yet shocking performance from a bed, playing a character that is both culpable and a victim of her circumstances.
It isn’t a surprise that The Wonder is an excellent movie from Sebastian Lelio. The director’s previous films Gloria, Disobedience, and possibly his best work A Fantastic Woman, have all dealt with themes of independent women, their voices not being heard by others, rebelling against those who would not give them respect, and finding themselves in moments of conflict. It’s similar to those other films where The Wonder becomes more than just a story of survival. It may be set in 1862 but the story is timeless. It may be a time where modern medicine did not exist but it feels current in the struggle between medical intervention versus the beliefs that religious fanatics have. And even as that subject feels current, Lelio is not saying one shouldn’t believe in God, but asking us if it is worth dying for? That is an answer left for each character to answer.
What might put other viewers off is that The Wonder can be a process to see through but the rewards are rich. As the protagonist does, we are left watching, observing the matter at hand, but in that lies the conflict. There is a powerful force at hand with religious fanatics, similar to Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, what we see in Paul Dano’s character in There Will Be Blood, or the forced beliefs in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, there is a larger debate at hand with The Wonder. What’s not up for debate is the excellent pair of Florence Pugh and Sebastian Lelio, a team that I hope continues together, as the future of their films will be a wonder to behold.
THE WONDER IS PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS NOVEMBER 2ND AND AVAILABLE ON NETFLIX ON NOVEMBER 16TH, 2022
3 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady