Criticism of “The Miracle”, Florence Pugh and the blinding power of stories

6 years ago, long before “Midsommar”, “Little Women” or “Don’t Worry Darling”, a then-unknown actress named Florence Pugh was receiving rave reviews as the breakout of the year in the tragic but unforgettable “Lady Macbeth” by screenwriter Alice Birch. Who would have thought that several years and an Oscar nomination later, both would collaborate again, this time under the direction of Sebastián Lelio, in “El prodigio”, a thriller about how stories change the way we see the world.

Lib (Florence Pugh) is an English nurse who has been summoned to a town in Ireland with a curious purpose: to observe Anna (Kíla Lord Cassidy), a girl who supposedly hasn’t eaten anything for 4 months, which according to everyone is a miracle. Lib and a nun (Josie Walker) have to alternate 8-hour shifts for 14 days to confirm the truth of this event, but as the days go by, the skeptical nurse begins to have her suspicions, and she will not rest until she discovers the truth. TRUE.

From the beginning, the script very intelligently makes us aware that we are watching a movie: we are shown the recording set and a voice-over announces that the characters devoutly believe in this story, we are nothing without stories and invites us to believe in this one. Which brings us to the central theme: the power of narrative to make us believe the impossible.

Even against all logic or common sense, the people stubbornly want to believe that the girl is a miraculous being capable of surviving months of fasting. When Lib is called, it is not to question this or seek a real reason, but to confirm her convictions: when she asks questions, she is told that she is there to see, not to question; she is a nurse, not a doctor, she is scolded, but the doctor himself is more interested in knowing if the girl does some kind of photosynthesis than if it is a hoax.

Both scientists and religionists want to believe, and are willing to blindly accept without questioning the premise of this story: the existence of a girl capable of going months without eating, either by a divine miracle or one of science. This along with the interesting beginning allows us to see the eternal debate: is there any responsibility when telling a story? Although many say no, it is undeniable that the narrative has been used to manipulate, convince and shape the way people think, leading them to deny undeniable facts.

This feeling of uncertainty also translates to the technical aspects of the piece, particularly the dark and enigmatic soundtrack by Matthew Herbert, which gives the idea that we are facing a supernatural horror movie, as seen by the characters. With its extensive use of shadows, the photography of Ari Wegner (“The power of the dog”) is just as chilling and is complemented by Kristina Hetherington’s editing (a transition from a mountain to sleeping Anna is particularly mesmerizing). All these aspects have hidden meanings, and surely whoever watches “The Miracle” more than once will enrich her perspective with each repetition.

At this point in her career, it’s repetitive to say that Florence Pugh pulls off another solid performance: behind her cold, objective façade lies a past she doesn’t want to face, and her skepticism is really a mask to keep her fears from facing. As in “Lady Macbeth,” much of the dramatic weight falls on her, and Pugh is up to the challenge for her. Although there are several moments of crying or despair, her best scene is one in silence, when Anna tells her a secret and in Lib’s look we can see everything she is thinking but she tries to hide the girl.

“El prodigio” will satisfy lovers of thriller and period dramas alike. It’s slow to start and takes time to build, but its original mystery, technical quality and Florence Pugh make it totally worth the wait. Sebastian Lelio definitely brings us a great addition to his valuable filmography.

“El prodigio” or “The Wonder” is now available on Netflix.

Criticism of “The Miracle”, Florence Pugh and the blinding power of stories – La Estatuilla