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The Wonder

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“We Invite you to believe in this one.” Narrator

In an opening that would have pleased Brecht, The Wonder tracks from a modern skeleton of a stage set to a 19th century bare-bones Irish home, lonely and poor in the moors. Although our narrator admits that movies don’t promise more than illusion, she asks us to believe the story she is about to tell. Let the war between faith and science begin.

English nurse Lib Wright (Florence Pugh) is paid well to travel to remote Ireland to observe a young girl, Anna (Kila Lord Cassidy), who hasn’t eaten in four months. Almost immediately The Wonder establishes the conflicting narratives of those whose belief in divine intervention and those, like Lib, who rely on science for their answers.

A panel of all men has engaged the nurse and a nun to observe and either find out how Anna stays alive while starving or perhaps keep her from eating (the very dark side of possibility for a small-town deriving income from the notoriety of their famous daughter). Lib, however, is bound to clash with the patriarchal board, including the town doctor (Toby Jones), as she clearly wants to do more than observe, i.e., save Anna from death.

The figurative clash between the faith-based believers and science-based skeptics plays out to reveal the anguish of any modern, educated soul who would like to believe that divine intervention, “manna from heaven,” as Anna’s family calls it, and the science that seeks the false in faith. Writer-director Sebastian Lelio’s The Wonder balances between Anna and the town’s faith in the divine and Lib’s faith in science to explain the seemingly inexplicable.

Not unlike inscrutable forces in The Exorcist and The Sixth Sense, The Wonder’s faith is a tough spirit to debunk and a comforting certainty about something of which one cannot be certain. Lelio’s drama poses entertaining questions that are still to be answered about faith, and for the unfaithful, a mystery drama that enjoys the trappings of a period piece while informing moderns about the ambiguity of life.

Probably author Emma Donahue and the three screenwriters were aware of Joseph Conrad’s short story about a professional hunger artist who had a reason for his fasting. The Wonder captures Conrad’s enigmatic faster and reveals more than his circus act. No matter, faith and science are destined to dance right to eternity.

“For he alone, and no other initiate, knew how easy it was to starve. It was the easiest thing in the world. He did not keep this fact a secret, but no one believed him.” Joseph Conrad, The Hunger Artist

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts NPR’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics as well as podcasts Back Talk and Double Take out of WCBE 90.5 FM. Contact him at JohnDeSando52@gmail.com

The Wonder

Director: Sebastian Lelio (Gloria)

Screenplay: Lelio, Emma Donoghue (Room), Alice Birch (Lady Macbeth)

Cast: Florence Pugh (Don’t Worry Darling, Midsommar)), Kila Lord Cassidy (The Doorman)

Run Time: 1h 48m

Rating: R

John DeSando holds a BA from Georgetown University and a Ph.D. in English from The University of Arizona. He served several universities as a professor, dean, and academic vice president. He has been producing and broadcasting as a film critic on It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics for more than two decades. DeSando received the Los Angeles Press Club's first-place honors for national entertainment journalism.