The Wonder Movie Unpacked and Discussed

The Wonder Movie Unpacked and Discussed
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The Wonder Movie Unpacked and Discussed. I’ve heard from some of you that you generally watch one in ten of the movies I recommend, but that you read about them all the same. First – you are fired. Second – you should know better than to spoil perfectly good movies before watching them. Third – I’m flattered. But really, you guys should not, under any circumstance spoil these fantastic movies without watching them. That, is the rule. But absent a new THiNC. strike force and police squad, what am I to do?

Also, before we wander into spoiler territory, the movie opens in a sound studio… a literal movie set. I was TAKEN with this affectation. Literally smitten. (We’ll talk about why the film makers made this artistic choice at the ending of my walk through, so we will leave that for now.) BUT, I began playing a game throughout the course of the movie as I attempted to puzzle out which sound set piece was which over the course of the movie. If you didn’t try this particular game, I highly recommend it simply for the attempt at winning this particular game!

So – regardless, it should go without saying that I highly recommend this particular movie. Highly. On the face of it, it is a movie about a woman, a nurse, who is sent to check on an Irish girl who has gone four months without eating. And they have called her in to ascertain whether or not there has been any trickery, or if it is a legitimate miracle. Hrm. Okay. Clever enough setup… I wonder where this one will go?

The Wonder Movie Walkthrough

The movie opens with Lib, Elizabeth Wright, an English nurse who is sent to an isolated village in Ireland. Her job? To watch closely Anna O’Donnell… a miracle in the making. Anna O’Donnell, a young woman who has been fasting – according to her family – for four months. What is that, 120 days? Yikes. There will be two women watching her, Lib, our nurse, and also a nun, Sister Michael.

Let’s stop there for a second. You notice what is going on here? The nun is representing the “faith,” and Lib? She’s representing the perspective of scientific inquiry, or logic. This movie, in the first 10 or 15 minutes already has setup the dualistic confrontation of faith and logic. And let’s let the greater man win. (Personally, I don’t think there is a conflict between faith and logic, but maybe I’m in the minority there. Let’s continue on, shall we?)

Regardless, quickly, Lib meets the family; mother Rosaleen, father Malachy, and sister Kitty and she also discovers that Anna’s older brother died of some unknown disease. And we also learn that Lib is a widow, having only been married a single year. She’s damaged from her husband’s death, as well as that of a baby? We see booties – and we also see that our nurse Lib might have something of an absinthe or maybe laudanum addiction as well? She definitely is suffering in one way or another.

Early on though, Lib takes it as her project, her goal, to disprove this particular “miracle.” She tempts the girl with food, she search’s Anna’s clothes, her things, she looks for secret compartments, etc. Lib is determined to unhinge this particular fake, and then head back to whence she came. And then, she comes to really believe that Anna may in fact be telling the truth, she may actually be sincere. Could it be that she is a miracle? But then, noticing that her mother kisses her directly on the mouth, Lib forbids any more physical contact between Anna’s family and herself. Meanwhile, Will Byrne, a reporter from London, is hellbent on finding out Anna’s trick – discovering what exactly the “wee faker” is doing.

Here is the conundrum. Anna’s family is between a rock and a hard place. If they are all conspiring together, and they admit it, they will be hauled in front of a judge for conspiring and they will be excommunicated. There is no going back for Anna’s family now. They are right and truly stuck in this situation, at least by Will’s reckoning anyway.

When confronted by Lib that her manna from heaven is actually food given to her by her mother via a premasticated kiss (definitely not a phrase on my bingo card for the day I thought I was going to use), Anna does not, in fact, deny it. Ah. So this is how the “miracle” has transpired. But come to find out, the reason that Anna has been fasting has been because her brother actually raped her numerous times. And also, Anna figures that his death was as a result of God’s wrath on her brother. But, if only she could sacrifice herself, maybe she could save her brother from the torments of hell. Now that Anna cannot be given food by her mother anymore… since their physical separation, her condition rapidly worsens. Anna, since she has stopped receiving food – OBVIOUSLY her condition gets worse.

But nothing here is as it seems. This isn’t a story about a miracle… it’s a story about a NEEDED miracle. A much needed intervention. Why? Well – because, soon after, we learn that the reason that Anna is fasting is because her brother, who is recently deceased, had been raping her. And his death? Was it because this was God’s wrath playing out in his life. And her goal with fasting is actually to die, as a sacrifice in order to free her brother’s tormented soul. (Theologically – just gotta interject – is 100% incorrect. Actually sounds more Mormon in thinking theologically than any sort of Christian doctrine historically. File that under FWIW. But I’ll discuss this in the wrap up I’m sure.)

Meanwhile – William, the newspaper reporter connects a couple dots, and files a report that details the blame for Anna’s coming death on her family and the larger church community. (Hate-Tsunami? You are go for launch!)

Lib, learning what is really going on here, takes the initiative to tell the council exactly what is going on here. And surprise – they don’t believe her at all. Why? Because Sister Michael hasn’t found ANY evidence that Anna is being fed by anyone. And when the council ask Anna specifically how she is being sustained, she repeats the ambiguous line – “solely by manna from Heaven.” So the council route failed – because, of course, it did – which causes Lib to go to Anna’s family to plead with them to do something. I mean – AT LEAST DO THE WEIRD KISS THING PEOPLE! MY BAD! SORRY I MADE IT STOP! But her mother refuses. And the reason she refused was so that both her children, both her son, and also her daughter will be in heaven. (Someone show me the doctrinal evidence for this working and I will let you have my car.)

With all options dead, Lib convinces William to help her with a come to the rescue effort with Anna. While Anna’s family are at mass, Lib and Will take Anna to a holy well nearby. I think this water source is known as a clootie well. Laying there at the well, on the brink of death, Lib asks Anna to closer her eyes, and then she asks Nan to open her eyes, signifying that Anna has died and been reborn as Nan. Nan the name that Lib had taken to calling her. And, after coming back as Nan, she allows herself to be fed finally. After that, Lib heads back to the house by herself and torches Anna’s family home… she also destroys her drug stash as well. Which, I think, is pretty important.

When Lib is called in by the council to tell what happened, she informs them all that Anna died of natural causes and that the fire to the house was an accident. Also, seeing as though the council was scared witless about their culpability for Anna’s death, and due to the fact that Anna’s body was missing in the ruins of the house fire, they let Lib go without pay. Sister Michael on the other hand, claims to have witnessed an angel secreting away Anna on horseback after the fire. She was desperate to be consoled by Lib that Anna has gone on to a better place.

Later, in Dublin, the trio are reunited together, and we see immediately that Nan has been restored with a little help from some food. Imagine. Lib, Will, and Nan all pose for a photo together as the Cheshire family. And then with that, they head off to Sydney together in an attempt to start a family together.

Thoughts on the Movie The Wonder

I loved this movie. Loved the way in which it depicts the Church and the way in which the perspective of the faith is shown. Wait, what man? Aren’t you a Christian yourself? Why, yes, I am. Thanks for asking. But many times we watch as a body of “believers” ignorantly subscribe to truly idiotic positions out of fear. Fear of science. Fear of truth. Fear of public dissent. And last I checked, “Ours is not a spirit of fear.”

It’s interesting, at the top of this post I pointed out that this was intended to be a collision between faith and science. But I have to say, it was more like the collision was between the willfully ignorant and science. Or, better yet, between the grieving and science. Rosaleen and Malachy probably learned of their son’s horrible sins about his sister. Did they kill him for raping his sister? Maybe he committed suicide. We don’t really know – but the bottom line for Rosaleen and Malachy was that they were desperately sad. Brokenhearted. Not only was their son a monster, but worse, he was perpetually burning in purgatory. (Another non-Biblical idea.) So deep is their grief, that their only real answer is a sacrifice on his behalf… a sacrifice of his sister’s life to save him. (More on this in a moment.)

From a pure New Testament, Biblical standpoint, the only atonement that is made for sin is Christ’s. Anna’s life wouldn’t help a bit. She is flawed by sin, just as much as her brother was. (Do NOT email management complaining about that last sentence… first, I am the management here. And second, the only atonement that was without sin was Christ.) So her death would be pointless. Better yet, there is nothing in the Bible that indicates that atonement for sin for those that are already dead is possible. We are all appointed to live once, and then judgement (Hebrews 9). Not to live once, and then hope to hell (see what I did there?) that someone comes along and pays the penance for your life. The Mormons believe in the baptism of the dead, which is similar to this idea, which basically could boomerang a non-believer from a purgatory-like place to heaven? (Would love for a Mormon to walk me through how Mormonism thinks that logic through. Honestly.) Which is why they work so hard to keep really great family records – so that they can get them baptized after they’ve been dead for years.

This is all missing the forest for the trees though

Let’s start again from the beginning. The movie opens in a movie studio’s sound stage. And it heads into a set as tells us the following:

“This is the beginning, the beginning of a film called The Wonder. The people you are about to meet, the characters, believe in their stories with complete devotion. We are nothing without stories, and so we invite you to believe in this one. It is 1862, we left England, bound for Ireland. The great famine still casts a long shadow, and the Irish hold England responsible for that devastation. There, sits a nurse. An English nurse. Traveling all on her own. And it is with her we begin.”

So. Taking this intro at its word, this story is completely about… whom? Is it about Anna? I don’t hear any mention of Anna in this introduction. It’s about Lib. An English nurse, traveling alone. OK? Alright, so what do we know about her? We know she was married for a year, and that she lost a husband and a child. And we also know that she willingly chose to ship off and go to the Crimean War afterwards. And we know that she got addicted to laudanum as a result, as an escape from the enormous pain of her grief. Every night she takes exactly two tablespoons worth, and bleeds herself with a pin, and passes out under the spell of the drug.

After her spell at the front of a horrible war, she is offered a chance to make a significant amount in order to confirm the story of a miracle. So she jumps on a ship and heads to Ireland. I mean, why not? Money is money. But she falls in love with Anna, and her desperate situation. She understands that there is no way out for her, or her parents. She tries, but upon realizing the immovable rock of the church, and the immovable hard place of Anna’s family, she finds another solution. She takes Anna to a holy site to convince her she’s been reborn. And then she covers everything up…

Now, here’s the part that maybe you didn’t fully grasp. The council knew. The family? They knew. Everyone knew that there was a body missing. HECK, the nun, Sister Michael? SHE SAW ANNA LEAVING. “I saw her spirited away with an angel…” Oh, please. Everyone was extraordinarily happy to be out from under the weight of the story. The council? They were culpable in Anna’s death if she starved to death. The world was hearing of the story and they were on a collision course with England and British authorities. So what did Lib give them? An out. And they all took it.

The church wasn’t being Christ-like or Biblical in their treatment of Anna. They were using her and her family. Anna’s family wasn’t specifically worried about heaven; they were an abusive family that wanted only to keep their secrets and ride this thing straight into the ground. And they believed this was going to be the only way to dodge this rape rap bullet. And they took it. And the council took it.

Now, back to Lib. She was the one really interesting character in this entire horrible story. She was an independent and free-thinking, fully rational individual. She solved the mystery of the Manna. She befriended Anna and got her to tell her what was really going on here. And from that, it was Lib who realized that her own salvation wasn’t going to come from science, or the church, or the bottom of a laudanum bottle, but rather with Will and Nan in Australia. Which is why she left her bottle in the fire. It’s why she took Nan. It’s why she joined Will and they went together for a new beginning.

(2500 words and I just deleted an entire section about rape culture, and abuse, et al. Seems a little obvious and trite after all that I’ve written so far. But I’m happy to hear your take on that now trash-binned section in the comments.)

Edited by: CY