The Wonder Review: Florence Pugh Captivates In a Period Drama Filled With Big Ideas
The Pitch: We are nothing without stories, and the characters in Sebastián Lelio’s The Wonder strongly believe in their stories. That’s the message of the film, and it’s a message that the movie explicitly states to the audience right up top. (That message is also conveyed via an unorthodox approach, one that is clearly making A Point, though whether that Point lands is questionable.)
The Wonder’s story takes place in 1862 and follows an English nurse named Lib Wright (Florence Pugh) who is called to a small Irish village by a committee investigating a supposed miracle. The supposed miracle in question? An 11-year-old girl named Anna (Kíla Lord Cassidy) is still alive and well even though she hasn’t eaten anything except “manna from Heaven” for four months.
Lib is there along with a nun to watch Anna and make sure she doesn’t eat any food. And as Anna comes sicker and sicker, Lib works harder to find out the truth and convince the deeply devout Irish community that unless she eats, Anna is going to die.
A Smorgasbord of Metaphors: The Wonder is full of metaphors and symbols and often becomes bogged down by them. From Lib’s bright blue dress à la Belle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast standing out against the intentionally dim Irish countryside, to numerous characters telling Lib that “she doesn’t understand” why the religious folk around her do what they do, The Wonder has a message to tell us, darn it, and it beats that message into its audience over and over (and over again).
The film also uses rituals that different characters follow to further emphasize that what we believe is bolstered by our actions, even if those actions lead us to dark places, including death. Many — but not all — of these rituals stem from Catholicism and serve as further commentary on how organized religion can cause someone to fervently believe things that aren’t true, even if doing so harms them. It’s a message that’s clearly meant to connect to our present-day circumstances, and one that is hammered home in almost every sequence of the movie.
Pugh’s performance here is what brings The Wonder back from being too preachy to bear. Her character is an outsider in this small village and has her own personal struggles that make watching Anna’s situation even more excruciating. Pugh deftly portrays Lib’s passion, her sympathy, and her foibles with care, and you can’t help but become drawn into the story through her.