As a species, humans enjoy looking for the unexplainable, seemingly magic elements in our day-to-day world. Whether it be reading ghost stories, watching an illusionist, or listening to folklore, we latch onto what we don’t understand. Sebastián Lelio holds onto the idea of assigning importance to the otherworldly in his new film The Wonder, based on the book of the same name by Emma Donoghue.
The Wonder focuses on Anna O’Donnell, a young girl in Ireland in 1862. Per her community, Anna has not eaten anything in four months, making her a wonder to all as she claims that manna from heaven is her only sustenance. Nurse Lib Wright is hired to watch Anna and document how she is achieving her prolonged fast, and if it is in fact a miracle. Lib goes into this with a scientific eye, and must pit what she believes against what she understands throughout her journey.
Florence Pugh is no stranger to portraying powerful women, and with this performance she continues this trend. Pugh plays Lib Wright, and has to continually battle science against faith as well as speak out against many men who have expectations of her. Lib’s inner demons and struggles are also on display throughout the 108-minute-runtime, and Pugh immerses herself into this character with each step. It’s hard to imagine the actress not playing a female powerhouse that coins iconic moments such as in Midsommar, but regardless of what Pugh does next, we’ll be tuning in.
Kila Lord Cassidy stuns in the role of Anna O’Donnell. The 13 year old gives a serious, haunting performance with each frame. Her actions as Anna make viewers wonder if she is a miracle or an enigma. Her chemistry with Pugh will keep you on the edge of your seat, and moments where Cassidy is emotional will break your heart. Cassidy is certainly a young talent to keep an eye on in the future after this impressive performance.
No matter which way you look at it, Sebastián Lelio is a very accomplished director, and this carries over into this picture. With 41 nominations and 35 wins over various film festivals for other works, it’s undeniable. With the consistent chemistry and tension between O’Donnell and Pugh on screen, its clear that Lelio was the right director for such a tense and intimate piece of cinema.
From the first frame, it’s evident that The Wonder is for those who love not only films, but filmmaking. Viewers are taken on a journey both behind the scenes with a narrator consistently checking in as well as via the story at hand. Cinephiles will admire the one-on-one conversations between the viewers and the narrator as well as the reminders of our lives being nothing without storytelling. This artistic choice further immerses audiences into the story and leaves them appreciating the spectacle even more. These moments also feel reminiscent of reading the book the film is based on by Donoghue.
Visually, The Wonder holds a depressed, isolated air that carries over into the storyline. The drab color scheme as well as dimly lit spaces inform those watching of the sinister plot and the actual lack of ‘wonder’ it all holds. Various wide shots of Pugh encapsulate the feeling of being an outsider, just as Lib is in this community. Impressive feats of camerawork are also achieved, namely one transition between Anna and a mountain. The passion and hard work that went into this film is reflected through the careful camera work.
A stunning spectacle that not only tells a captivating story but also displays the beauties of Ireland, The Wonder is not one that should be missed. You can view the film now streaming on Netflix. Be sure to comment your thoughts on the film, or tell us other works you admire from Florence Pugh.