The Wonder is a period piece set in 1862 Ireland. The plot about faith vs. science is as relevant today as it was under the religious and patriarchal confines of that former time.
Florence Pugh plays English nurse Lib Wright in The Wonder. She and a nun, Sister Michael (Josie Walker), are sent to be “watchers” over an 11 year old girl who claims not to have eaten in 40 days.
The child, Anna O’Donnell (Kíla Lord Cassidy), says she lives on manna from Heaven. The town’s leaders are convinced they have a saint on their hands and want proof that the child is really not eating.
Anna is full of religious faith. She whispers the same prayer over and over again all day. She’s obsessed with the idea that her older brother, who died recently, is burning in hell. Anna’s mother is played by her real mother, Elaine Cassidy. Anna’s mother and father (Caolán Byrne) refuse to ask Anna to eat or to interfere in her religious quest.
Grief is a strong theme in The Wonder. Anna’s family is grieving. As we get to know Lib Wright, we see the grief she carries. When the newspaperman Will Byrne (Tom Burke) comes poking around looking for a story, he has his own grief.
The other significant thematic element of the story is faith vs. fact. When the film begins we are asked to believe it before we step inside the world of the film. Belief compels many characters to believe that Anna can live without food. However, as the watchers begin observing Anna and keeping everyone away from Anna, she begins to weaken.
Anna’s parents are willing to allow this sacrifice and suffering in their daughter because of their faith and their grief.
The reporter and the nurse establish a bond of their own while Lib is becoming attached to the girl she is charged with watching slowly die.
The film has intellectual depth. Questions about believing what you think vs. what you see or what you accept vs. what you test are still relevant today. The idea that perception can be illusion is also explored. What can we believe or be made to believe?
I don’t think everyone will love this film. It’s quiet and a bit demanding. I found it beautiful and rewarding. The performance from young Kíla Lord Cassidy was excellent, as was Florence Pugh’s work. The skillful writing of this story created subtle pivot points in the tale and slowly and strategically revealed secrets that created depth and understanding. Those moments gave the two actors a lot to work with and they used the opportunities well.
The sound track was different – unusual – but perfect. The film was directed by Sebastián Lelio. Novelist Emma Donoghue, Sebastián Lelio, and Alice Birch wrote the story.
The film is streaming on Netflix.