The Wonder Parent Guide
This brooding, atmospheric film skillfully unfolds the dark mystery at its heart but does so with some unnecessary negative content.
Parent Movie Review
Anna O’Donnell (Kila Lord Cassidy) is considered the wonder of her poor Irish village. Four months ago, at the age of 11, Anna stopped eating. She has not starved, but remains bright eyed and rosy cheeked, assuring everyone that she isn’t hungry because she’s fed by “manna from heaven”. Drawn by the prospect of a miracle, visitors come from afar to meet the girl who smiles beatifically upon them, boosting their hope and faith.
Anna’s fast is not without controversy. Although lauded by many, others in the town consider her to be a fraud, being secretly fed by underhanded means. To solve the mystery, a local committee sets up a watch over the girl, to be carried out by a nun and an English nurse. When nurse Elizabeth Wright (Florence Pugh) assumes her task, she is stymied by the sight of a child who will not eat and a family who are prepared to let her starve. When she uncovers the facts of the matter, puzzlement changes to horror and she realizes that desperate measures are necessary to save her young patient…
The Wonder is a dark, brooding film with rare moments of light. It paints a bleak picture of an Irish countryside still traumatized by the Great Famine, which ended a decade prior in the early 1850s, leaving a residue of pain, loss, and bitterness against the English. Irish devotion to Catholicism provides comfort in the face of grief but in this town, it is also distorted into a weapon of fear, leaving a girl on a fatal journey while her family consoles themselves with heavenly rewards. Into this atmosphere, an English nurse is seen as an unwelcome alien whose attempts to uncover the truth are viewed with suspicion, even by those who hired her.
Director Sebastian Lelio deserves credit for so ably creating a movie that is deeply atmospheric. The empty landscape, shabby homes, and ramshackle graveyard provide a convincing backdrop for residents desperately hoping for a genuine miracle. The reliance on firelight and lamplight makes sets feel authentic to the period and the flickering light enhances the elusive nature of the truth.
Key to the film’s success are its lead actresses. Kila Lord Cassidy gives a moving performance as Anna, filled with faith, pain, and steadfast focus on her self-sacrificing journey. Florence Pugh is totally committed to her role, providing Elizabeth Wright with integrity, courage, and professional resolve despite the wounds of her past.
Skillful production aside, The Wonder is a difficult movie to recommend due to some of its content issues. There is a deeply disturbing plot element that I can’t elaborate on lest I spoil the ending. There are also two criminal acts and a sex scene which, despite involving fully clothed parties, provides some detail. Also troubling is repeated drug use on the part of Nurse Wright. In her off hours, the heartbroken young woman blots out her own painful losses by numbing herself with the contents of an unlabeled bottle. It is almost certainly laudanum, a suspension of opium in alcohol that was widely used and completely legal in the Victorian era.
Clearly unsuited for family viewing, The Wonder will find an audience with adult fans of brooding period dramas. The film might not be a wonder, but it is a solid adaptation of the novel on which its based and will effectively transport viewers to a painful period of history.Directed by Sebastián Lelio. Starring Florence Pugh, Niamh Algar, Ciarán Hinds. Running time: 103 minutes. Theatrical release November 16, 2022. Updated November 20, 2022
Watch the trailer for The Wonder
Rating & Content Info
Why is The Wonder rated R? The Wonder is rated R by the MPAA for some sexuality.
Violence: There are frequent mentions of blood in a religious context. A girl loses a bloody tooth. There’s mention of a baby’s death. There is a scene of attempted forced feeding. There is talk of people burning in hell. A person sets a building on fire. A person receives burns in a fire. There are brief mentions of people starving to death in a famine.
Sexual Content: A man and woman have sex while clothed. There is mention of incest.
Profanity: There is a single sexual expletive in the film.
Alcohol / Drug Use: A woman repeatedly takes an unknown drug (probably an opiate) from a bottle and goes into a trance where she pricks her finger and licks.
Page last updated November 20, 2022
The Wonder Parents' Guide
Emma Donoghue, the author of the book from which this film was adapted, explains her fascination with the subject at the link below:
What do you think of Elizabeth Wright’s solution to Anna’s suffering? Do you think she was justified in breaking the law? Can you think of other options she might have had?
Loved this movie? Try these books…
This movie is based on the novel The Wonder by Emma Donoghue.
Related home video titles:
If it’s atmospheric Victorian movies you’re after, you can try the classic Jane Eyre, starring Mia Wasikowska as the strong-minded governess and Michael Fassbender as her mysterious employer. Young Victoria takes us into the intrigue of the British court as the newly crowned monarch takes the helm of the most powerful empire in the world. For non-stop, family-friendly action set in that era, you can watch Enola Holmes and Enola Holmes 2.
An atmospheric film that features a character with an eating disorder is Spencer, a story based on the life of Diana, Princess of Wales. In Butter, an overweight teen is driven to despair and decides to commit suicide by eating himself to death.
A nurse finds her courage tested as unexplained deaths rock her hospital in The Good Nurse.