Directed by: Sebastián Lelio

Written by: Emma Donoghue, Sebastián Lelio, Alice Birch

Starring: Florence Pugh, Tom Burke, Niamh Algar, Elaine Cassidy, Dermot Crowley

Rating: [4/5]

Religious convictions will have normally sane individuals do things that are completely asinine because of their belief in a higher being. A form of idiocy that can get people hurt because they do not want to lose what they believe could be something holy. The Wonder looks at a particular case where the world of science goes up against religion in detailing the potential existence of a miracle occurring in a small Irish village. However, as the story continues to unravel, it proves to demonstrate a more troubling systemic issue in existence then as well as today. 

English nurse, Elizabeth (Florence Pugh) travels to a rural village in Ireland asked to watch over a girl that doctors claim has not eaten in months and is suffering no physical consequences. The young girl claims to be having “manna from heaven” and while the community wants to prove this as a miracle, Elizabeth needs to ensure the girl’s health does not fall victim to the whims of the adults around her. 

No human being can survive without food for four months, which classifies what is happening in the rural town as a miracle and if you know anything about the Catholic faith, the believers are quick to want to be part of something fitting the description. Whether it be something like the apparitions of Mary at Međugorje or a whole host of other supposed miracles, it’s something Catholics who experience it will fight to prove. The events transpiring in The Wonder are no different with the only caveat being that there’s a girl’s life on the line if this proves to be some sort of a hoax. This brings in Elizabeth, an audience surrogate into this world as she enters as a figure of the secular world into something incredibly religious. The tension felt whenever she steps into any space can certainly be felt. It also does not help that she’s an English woman sent to “disprove” something Catholic and Irish. There’s plenty going on that brings tension to this situation and it makes for a contentious viewing experience. 

At the core of the mystery of this feature is the central question: is this actually a miracle or is there some elaborate way of how this girl has seemingly survived for four months without ingesting food? Has the impossible been accomplished? Elizabeth certainly does not believe it, which makes her quest to find the truth of the situation much different from the other adults in the room, which is the actual well-being of the child. What ensures is a clashing of the heads and science vs. religion with a human’s life in the balance. The revelations make for something quite damning and it makes sense why this story is getting told seeing as the attitudes explored here have not really changed much, unfortunately. An intentional decision and one that’s incredibly poignant. 

As for the crafts of the feature, there’s a look one would expect for a period piece taking place in a small rural village in Ireland. Plenty of drab-looking interiors and exteriors, where the pop of blue worn by Elizabeth allows her to stand out from the others continually. It solidifies her outsider status and demonstrates she’s someone coming to disrupt something already present among the individuals there. It all goes to service the story being involved and it allows all of the periphery to close in on what matters the most for what needs to be told through this story. 

For many, the main selling point to seek out this film will be to watch another Florence Pugh performance and they will not be left disappointed with what they receive here from her. Having to play a more stoic role, the way Pugh balances the emotions at play in this feature makes for a different challenge for her. She has to portray a woman bringing reason to a situation devoid of any because of the shared goal trying to be accomplished here. The moments where she has her outbursts when trying to pierce through the noise make their mark in the feature and Pugh thrives through it all. With all of her work in the past, with this feature, she proves she can take a film and put it on her shoulders to the promised land and she does just that with the natural elegance she brings with all of her performances. 

That does not take away from the strong directorial work done by Sebastian Lelio as he focuses deeply on the story here in order to get at the root of the themes being explored. While this certainly cannot be classified as one of his showier directorial efforts, he still knows where to focus all of his energy in this feature and highlight the script at hand and the wonderful leading actor he has at his disposal. It makes for the eventual revelation of the feature to be all the more satisfactory. This feature ultimately competently tells this story but brings a level of decisiveness through the performances involved that bring some added flair and makes this such an enjoyable watch.

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