Review: The Wonder
Jess Cadogan sings the praises of Sebastian Lelio’s psychological thriller The Wonder, with Florence Pugh giving a reliable excellent performance
Netflix’s newest endeavour brings together Chilean director Sebastián Lelio, the incredible Florence Pugh, and a book about a small village in 19th century Ireland – a bold combination that pays off with every minute you watch. This visually understated drama gently whispers about the mystery of miracles so you lean in to hear, winning your attention with seemingly minimal effort. Themes of truth, stories, and belief are prominent throughout and talked about openly in the unusual framing of the film.
The film opens to a fluorescent-lit studio showing sets that come to be used within the main body of the film, and a narrator’s voice tells us that the characters we will see “believe their stories with complete devotion”. This meta-cinematic opening is somewhat disorientating, and this disturbed feeling is further encouraged by the eerie score of the film, employing haunting sounds of whistling wind and echoes of unintelligible whispers from an unknown source. Florence Pugh’s performance only adds to this. Lib, a widowed nurse, has two personas – while on the watch she is composed and professional, but each night she performs a mournful ritual – pricking her finger and slipping into an opium induced slumber. This is contrasted by Pugh’s poised performance as she comes downstairs for breakfast each morning, showing no sign of the macabre routine of the night before, constantly adding to the disturbing feeling. The wonderfully melancholic cinematography often frames Pugh in complete isolation, highlighting Lib’s loneliness as we discover how her husband left after the tragedy of her child’s death. It soon becomes clear that her particular passion for seeing Anna O’Donnell live while she’s seen so many other die stems from her own experiences- she cannot bear the loss of another child.
This visually understated drama gently whispers about the mystery of miracles so you lean in to hear, winning your attention with seemingly minimal effort.
We soon find out the truth behind the supposed ‘miracle’ fasting girl, a harrowing resolution that reveals truths about the extent of her own mother’s love and the choice that each of them make in trusting a higher power. Kíla Lord Cassidy’s performance of a girl with immense trauma and huge pressure from those closest to her is heart-breaking and impressive in the depth she brings for someone so young. While the main characters are incredibly complex, the narrative never becomes overcomplicated and remains focused entirely on Anna with the only ‘external’ plotline being Lib and her relationships.
Whilst the men of the village debate faith versus science as Anna is dying before them, Lib forms a plan to save her. The dramatic conclusion to this involves burning down the O’Donnell family house and kidnapping Anna – who will soon be ‘reborn’ as Nan. Eventually we are granted a satisfying ending as Nan now becomes the adopted child of Lib and William (the journalist Lib forms a relationship with while on the watch), and Nan begins to eat again. However, this is where the unusual framing of the film comes back in as we return to the meta-cinematic and a now out of costume Niamh Algar brings us out of the story, saying nothing other than the words, “In. Out”.