Netflix The Wonder: (Slightly Spoilery) Review
Updated: Nov 27, 2022
Welcome back, speak friend and enter! You don't have to know ancient elven or dwarfish to read my blogs. It does, however, help to be a member of my site and signed up for my rather sporadic email list. I am trying to get more content out, but still have a day job that interferes. Book 2 is moving steadily onward, slower than I wanted, but moving and hopefully it will be available early 2023. That 's my goal anyway. But given my past track record, I am sure it will end up being more like mid 2023. Well, as JRR Tolkien said, "life happens."
So, last night while procrastinating I decided to watch Netflix's The Wonder. I was looking for something interesting that wasn't my usual Superhero or Sci-Fi fare. You know, pretty much something that isn't on Disney + or worth watching on HBO max. I wasn't ready to partake in all of the new Christmas content just yet, so I landed on this new film from Netflix.
The trailer and Florence Pugh were what peaked my interest. I tend to like supernatural content and this seemed like it was right up my alley. I also adore Florence Pugh, and if I were a famous person and not old enough to be her father, would be throwing my hat into the ring as a potential suitor. I can't think of one performance that I have seen of hers that hasn't blown me away. She was the best part of the Black Widow movie and fighting with my family has become one of my favorite movies.
So, just as I suspected, she didn't disappoint in The Wonder. Her performance was haunting and subtle as a British nurse recently returned from war who is harboring the deep loss of her husband and new born child. The death of her baby is a revealed plot point, so it is a bit of a spoiler, though anyone with a brain will have figured that out pretty quickly. She is commissioned by a group of doctors, clergy and local politicians from a small community to come and watch a little girl who is apparently able to survive without eating.
So, you just like me probably are having your curiosity peaked. How can she survive without food? Is she a vampire, is it God or something else giving her life? Or, and in my opinion the most clichéd choice, it is a trick and she is really getting food from somewhere and the new nurse will unveil the conspiracy.
For those of you who don't want any spoilers, I did find that the movie kept my attention the whole time. The performance of Kila Lord Cassidy as Anna the "Wonder" girl was very good. It was subtle and both sad and mysterious at the same time. She kept you guessing on whether she was acting or truly experiencing something supernatural. The rest of the cast, which is comprised of greats such as Tobey Jones, and Ciaran Hinds, likewise give compelling performances. All in all, I was captivated from the beginning to the end even if the twist was a bit predictable and the plot nothing new.
Now, on to the spoiler part of the post. If you want to watch the show without being tainted, stop now and go watch the film before continuing to read. From here on out I will be holding nothing back. So, lets get to, what was for me, the most disappointing part of the movie. It was all just an elaborate con that was being perpetrated by a family and town of religious zealots.
Sigh. Like I said earlier, that was always an option, but for me, would be the most boring and uninteresting option. So, just like most films in this genre, nothing truly supernatural is going on. In fact, the people who believe in the supernatural are back water religious fanatics who are slowly manipulating and killing a little girl in their desperate desire to find something truly special.
Now, I know that Hollywood seems to think that subverting expectations by debunking all supernatural elements of life is daring and revolutionary. Sorry guys, but people have been doing that for years. In fact, for around 200 years people have been rejecting the supernatural in favor of more natural explanations. Even if those natural reasons take more of a leap of faith than the actual supernatural explanations would. So, this is not a stunning and revolutionary film that will make you see things from a different light. It is just another religion bad, science good story.
Now, I am a Christian and someone who writes about the supernatural so I am predisposed to both enjoy and believe in such things. No, I am not a science denier, but rather someone who feels that both go hand in hand. The supernatural is real and so is science. I do, however, like it when films actually make the supernatural a realistic option. Unlike M Night Shyamalan's The Village, this film doesn't do a good job of making the possible supernatural explanation realistic in the story. You never really feel that she is actually living off something supernatural, but that it is something more natural. Which of course, it is.
So, what I did find interesting is the why the family and the little girl are keeping up the charade. The little girl and her brother, who has recently died, had a sexual relationship. They even had a secret wedding ceremony and considered themselves married. Well, of course, this is a sin to the parents and the religious leaders, so they are both going to Hell. The little girl has been convinced that it is her fault her brother's in Hell and that she needs to fast and pray him out, even if it kills her.
This idea is what her parents believe and they feel it is her duty to starve herself to death to save her brother's souls. The mother, however, has been slipping the girl food from her mouth like a mother bird whenever she kisses her. This is how the little girl was able to survive even though she hasn't been seen eating. The mother called it mana from heaven and the girl tells everyone that she has been surviving by mana from heaven, so in her own twisted logic she hasn't been lying. The father of course pretended not to know his wife was doing this. Once the nurse prevented the mother from having physical contact with the girl, her health rabidly declines and the ruse is uncovered.
Again, Sigh. The religious leaders, town politicians and even the local doctor all want it to be a "Wonder" so bad that they are willing to overlook the obvious abuse to keep the charade going. Even if it means that the girl will die. The non religious nurse who believes in science is determined to uncover the plot and then, in the end, to save the girl even if it means kidnapping her from her obviously deranged parents. Which of course, she does by faking the girls death and then burning down the house to make it look like the body has been incinerated. One point I did like, was that the nurse had to convince the girl that she was actually dying and being reborn as a completely new person in order to save her life. This had to be done, because the girl believed the lie's of her parents so deeply that she was certain she had to die.
The parents are content because their little girl is dead and her sacrifice has paid for both her and her brothers condemned souls. The religious leaders, doctor and politicians are furious because there is nothing truly special going on and they are most likely liable for aiding in the death of a little girl. In their fear they try to pin the death on the nurse but can't make it stick and in the end it's all brushed under the rug. I left out a love affair with a local man who is a journalist who believes the girl is faking and has fallen in love with the nurse. They get married and move to Australia and raise the girl as their own. They all live happily ever after.
All in all, this was not a bad film, just a cliched one with only a few little things that I found truly different. Yes, it does have an interesting take on grief and how trying to deal with it can drive people to extremes, but the absolutely absurd overly exaggerated actions of Christian religious fanatics is kind of unrealistic. These stories are obviously propaganda created by anti-religion people and if the girls parents and town leaders had been Muslim instead of Christian there would be tons of backlash. Christians have become fair game for these kinds of stories and I am personally tired of it. The actions of religious people in these films are almost always overly exaggerated and perpetuate false stereotypes about people of faith.
Now, I am not against stories that involve religious fanaticism. It can and does happen, just not to the extend that films like this make it seem. It is also why I haven't given the Handmaid's Tale a shot. It just isn't believable to me that right wing Christian fanatics are capable of taking over America and setting up a totalitarian theocratic government. Nor, do I feel they would even try. No Christian I know would believe God would want that, and I know a lot of Christians from all sorts of denominations.
Plus, with all of these film makers, writers, actors, musicians and artist warning the world about the dangers of religious zealotry, how could they? Of course, that goes against the lefts narrative that right wing fanatics are the greatest evil to mankind. Just ask any millennial or gen Z. They will undoubtably bring up Hitler and the Nazi's as examples of right wing extremism. Of course, the left wing socialist extremists have killed millions more than their right wing counterparts in the Twentieth century, but we don't talk about that because socialism good and capitalism bad.
If the little girl had been a vampire and the whole town vampires, I would have liked the movie more. Even though, that would have been pretty stupid. Yes, the story was a bit interesting and I did find the take on coping with grief refreshing, but it would have been better if it hadn't in the end become the usual anti-religion propaganda we always see coming from Hollywood these days. Plus, why do artists feel the need to subvert the supernatural by making you think it something is special, but in the end really just common place. Lets have some actual supernatural stuff for once.
I feel that this trend is a symptom of how people view the world today. We have lost the mystery of the universe thinking we have all the answers and that there is no such thing as magic or the supernatural. We have, after all, proven God isn't real right? This film is a perfect example of the nihilistic, there is only what we can see, trope that has taken the joy and magic out of life. I for one would rather see a story that ends with me not knowing and having to make up my own mind. This movie doesn't do that, and it left me a bit disappointed. Again, nothing truly magical just more false hope and trickery. Yes, I was happy that they lived happily ever after and that everyone had closure even if it wasn't the closure they wanted.
All in all, I do recommend this movie even if just for the great performances of the cast. The cinematography was good and the scenery bleak and oppressive just like the story. It makes you feel trapped, just as the little girl is and it adds to the ambiance of the film. the music was fantastic and helped me get lost in the story. The Wonder is a good film but not a great film. It has an interesting story, but not a new or revolutionary one and I didn't want the two hours of my life back after watching it. So, take a chance on this little film, but don't expect anything over whelming, unless of course you hate Christianity, than you will find exactly what you are looking for.