Divinity and depravity collide in director Sebastian Lelio’s The Wonder. It is the second Netflix movie in less than a month, after the good nurse, to be completely misrepresented by its middle title. And just like that movie, it too demands to be experienced without any prior information about its deliriously engaging plot.
It begins with a shot so unexpected that for a moment I was convinced that I had played the wrong film. But having reveled in rocking the ship even before the opening title sequence, Lelio settles into a more even tone. Of course, this isn’t the tone you’d expect from a ‘period film’ – The Wonder is more of a psychological thriller than a drama – but by essentially slapping the audience in the first 10 seconds, Lelio manages to create a sense of discomfort, which maintains during the more than 100 minutes of the film.
There is a danger of watching too many movies. After a point, you start to notice nothing but lightness. The only thing that empowers you to keep moving forward is the waiting game you play in anticipation of that magical moment of subversion. In most cases, this moment never comes. But there is no greater joy than undergoing a movie and having expectations broken. This is what makes The Wonder a breath of fresh air in a market crowded with algorithm-driven pieces of ‘content’.
A nun and a nurse are summoned to rural Ireland in 1862 to take turns “watching” a girl who is said to have survived without food for four months. The purpose of the watch is to understand if this is a miracle or an act of mischief. The two women must work independently and avoid consulting each other. These are the rules. They should not intervene, regardless of what they observe. They simply have to present their findings to a committee of men within two weeks.
Florence Pugh plays Nightingale nurse Lib Wright. She arrives at the young woman’s country house with more baggage than she carries in her hands. Nurse Wright is alone in the world; she lost her only child at three weeks and was subsequently abandoned by her husband. “He could be dead too,” she says matter-of-factly in one scene.
Immediately, Nurse Wright is sure something sinister is afoot. In a brief but important early scene, she asks the young woman’s relative what was the last meal she ate. The flesh and blood of Christ, says the familiar. This is a devout community, and everyone has decided that the girl has been touched by a saint or something. But Nurse Wright wants none of that. Responding to her relative, she says impatiently: “So, wheat and water?” It’s through scenes like this that the film establishes its level-headedness; The Wonder doesn’t rely on unnecessary exposition or meaningless backstory, and yet its characters feel wonderfully fleshed out. Lelio’s direction is decisive.
As stories of the young woman’s ‘feat’ begin to spread, a journalist appears, determined to refute the superstitious narrative. He’s from London too, he proudly tells Nurse Wright, but his Irish accent betrays him. The nurse’s efforts to debunk the ‘miracle’ aren’t elaborate, but the stunt itself might remind you of similar scams being wrought in the name of God in our own country. How many young women have we seen sitting in a vat of boiling oil, emptied from a slowly filling canister with cash reclaimed from the pockets of the easily convinced?
Having a nurse and a nun take turns watching the ‘devi’ clearly captures the ideological conflict at the center of the film. The Wonder deals with themes of misinformation, deception, and self-destruction. Based on a novel by Emma Donoghue, who co-wrote the screenplay, the film reunites Pugh with Alice Birch, author of her breakout film Lady Macbeth. There is no doubt that Pugh has lived up to the promise he showed in that fine film and, despite a couple of inevitable detours down the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s heartening to see her return to her roots. Cinematographer Ari Wegner’s camera often isolates Nurse Wright in the vast rural landscape, but it’s Pugh’s performance that highlights her lonely fight for the truth.
A historical drama about the aftermath of the Irish famine, a horror film about a young woman possessed, or even a satire on blind faith, the coyly titled The Wonder is open to interpretation, but most impressively, it’s as hard-nosed as it gets. a movie. be without having serial killers or cannibals in it.
Director – Sebastian Lelio
To emit – Florence Pugh, Tom Burke, Kíla Lord Cassidy, Niamh Algar, Toby Jones, Ciarán Hinds, Brían F. O’Byrne
Classification – 4.5/5