REVIEW: ‘The Wonder’ Is Built On Florence Pugh

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The wonder- but why tho

Faith and medicine don’t always go hand in hand, and in The Wonder, the ramifications of these two forces crashing against each other result in a tense story. Directed by Sebastián Lelio, written by Lelio and Alice Birch, and is based on the novel of the same name by Emma Donoghue. An atmospheric period piece, The Wonder is set in 1862, 13 years after the Great Famine. An English Nightingale Nurse, Lib Wright (Florence Pugh), is called to the Irish Midlands by a devout community to conduct a 15-day examination over one of their own. Overseen by an all-male council, Lib, along with a nun, are to vet the reality of a perceived miracle. In shifts, Lib is tasked to watch Anna O’Donnell (Kíla Lord Cassidy), an 11-year-old girl who claims not to have eaten for four months.

Not allowed to intervene, Lib is asked to go against her training and let the young girl who claims to be surviving miraculously on “manna from heaven” starve. Conflicted by her call to save a life, burdened by her grief, and stuck beholden to Catholics and men, Lib medicates herself at night. Dissociating in a high, she has a ritual, just trying to get through her life. But as Anna’s health rapidly deteriorates, Lib is determined to unearth the truth behind the wonder, deadset on challenging the faith of a community that would prefer to believe over saving the life of a child.

Florence Pugh is a phenomenal actress, and we’ve seen her explore her range in everything from blockbuster superhero movies to cultic horror, and in The Wonder, she taps into something different. As a nurse, Lib is pushed by science and logic. Surrounded by religion, she has to execute the experiment to see if Anna is being fed at the risk of watching a child die in front of her. At the intersection of politics, religion, and a kind of helplessness that comes from being beholden to both, Pugh manages to deliver a performance that is striking from start to finish. There is care, resentment, grief, and frustration all in one, tangled together.

Pugh manages to use silence as much as her delivery of lines to capture the audience and make them feel what she feels. In her nightly ritual, Lib unburdens herself, moves through her grief, and just lets the world fall from under her. Completely different than how she represents herself in the world, Lib yearns to be released, and yet, she continues to do what she knows is right. Add in the melancholy atmosphere and increasing dread that mounts the longer Anna goes without food, and it’s a recipe for a successful and moving film.

While it’s easy to be pulled forward by Lib’s aggressive stance against the faithful, Lelio also manages to capture the intricacies with which different people view one event; how one girl is seen as a savior, someone to be saved, and just someone looking to fill the gap in everyone else. Pugh isn’t the only power in The Wonder. Young actress Kíla Lord Cassidy as Anna has an innocence and joy that offsets Lib’s logical and cold demeanor. Anna is loving and open, and it’s clear in nearly every view of her worldview the extent to which she’s brainwashed.

The intimacy that Lelio crafts between Anna and Lib is heartbreaking and endearing at the same time. Those small moments are situated in breathtaking landscapes and nature. Visually, we see the small set against the large, and the fragility of the relationships and those on screen is everpresent.

Ultimately, The Wonder is slow-moving, each moment churning into something more cohesive as the film continues, rewarding you at the end. That said, it’s Pugh’s performance that solidifies this film as a contender this year. Her raw emotions, her stoicism, all of it rolled into one is striking. Steadfast and dedicated to logic and medicine, Pugh’s portrayal of Lib is absolutely stunning.

The Wonder is streaming on Netflix November 16, 2022.


The Wonder
  • 8.5/10
    Rating - 8.5/10
8.5/10

TL;DR

Ultimately, The Wonder is slow-moving, each moment churning into something more cohesive as the film continues, rewarding you at the end. That said, it’s Pugh’s performance that solidifies this film as a contender this year. Her raw emotions, her stoicism, all of it rolled into one is striking. Steadfast and dedicated to logic and medicine, Pugh’s portrayal of Lib is absolutely stunning.

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