‘The Wonder’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Set in The Irish Midlands in 1862, The Wonder follows the story of a young girl who stops eating but remains miraculously alive and well. English nurse Lib Wright (Florence Pugh) is brought to a tiny village to observe eleven-year-old Anna O’Donnell (Kíla Lord Cassidy). Tourists and pilgrims mass to witness the girl who is said to have survived without food for months. Director Sebastián Leilo crafts a dark piece that pits science and blind faith against each other. Even though it takes place in the 1800s, the conversation can hold some relevance today. Whether it’s blind faith in what God has created or the scientific fact of what has been studied for decades, the conversation of autonomy over one’s body is always important. The way Leilo and cinematographer Ari Wegner captured the unsettling atmosphere through their incredible visuals and direction made these ideas appear differently to audiences. 

It is one thing to discuss these matters with characters on screen, but it is another to show their feelings through the visual storytelling of the film. Wegner has been such an impressive force with her compositions within the frame that everything complimented Pugh’s incredible performance. It seemed as though the visuals and Leilo’s direction for this piece completely overpowered the story. To see a young woman conditioned to think a certain way after a traumatic childhood event is difficult to comprehend. Her parents have attempted to help her but have turned her into this empty shell of a young girl to fit their religious narrative of heaven and hell. At the cost of a young life, an older generation must enforce their ideals upon everyone, which is even more problematic in itself. Her parents test Nurse Wright’s patience throughout the film, as she pushes her scientific rationalization as to why this young girl has survived without food. 

The moments between Pugh and Lord Cassidy together in young Anna’s room are possibly the best in the film because of their conversations. Nurse Wright has lost a great deal herself and questions if there even is a higher being out there. How can there be if she has lost so much around her, including herself? We see glimpses of Wright’s struggle, and it forces the audience to connect the pieces as to why she is so determined to save young Anna. In return, Anna is so involved in her faith that she doesn’t understand the social cues from Wright. The technical aspects of this film are what hold it together, including the chilling score by Matthew Herbert. However, the script, which is adapted by Alice Birch and Emma Donaghue (who also wrote the book) was a bit too dense. The film suffered from pacing issues and felt overly long to get to the final act. Even though the first half was set up to be a compelling narrative, it did suffer as it slowly came to its conclusion. 

The Wonder has another powerhouse performance from Florence Pugh who commanded every single scene she was in. You felt her pain from her past as it came through in how adamant she was in saving the young girl. Newcomer Lord Cassidy also gave a strong performance as Anna, she had to go to dark places to showcase her character’s blind faith in what her parents had instilled. The technical aspects of this film such as Wegner’s stunning cinematography and Herbert’s chilling atmospheric score are what made this compelling to watch. Sebastián Leilo pulled out a stunning performance from Pugh and made some interesting decisions throughout the film to have viewers question the reality of blind faith in how he chose to bookend this film. Leilo does transport you to a time that feels so distant from what our reality is only to present the same ideologies as we struggle with presently, only proving that the world around us might change, but the same issues will always remain.

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