The name of the three-leaf clover
When an eleven-year-old girl (Kila Lord Cassidy), who lives in the Irish countryside of the 19th century, claims to survive without food for four months, who do we call? To our left: a nurse conveniently named Mrs Wright supported by a journalist (Tom Burke). To our right, a nun (Josie Walker). The challenge of this theological octagon : detect the fraud… or ratify the miracle.
During the movie, science and religion ensure joint custody of the child and respond at the same time to their perception before an assembly of old white males in their Sunday best. In their wake, The Wonder is crossed by binary oppositions: beliefs against evidence, the woman who has traveled against the isolated community, the solitary witness who must resist the strength of the group, the statement of vital constants versus the Panini collection of the saints…
Florence in Wonderland
If a number of characters respond to an archetype, the scenario manages to qualify them. The village doctor questions the unknown scientist, the nun is nothing like a malevolent harpy and the nurse is on the brink of lose ground in front of this enigmagoing so far as to appropriate the opponent’s weapons and symbols (baptism, resurrection, purification) so as not to lose the game.
Any costume film whatsoever, The Wonder deals with eminently contemporary issues. By replacing religion with any form of belief, it perfectly covers the fault line of our societies confronted with the tectonic clashes of post-truth. Through its inaugural mise en abyme, the feature film broadens its focus and extends its thinking to the stories we tell ourselves, of whatever nature…including fictional ones. Too bad that this promising axis is not more fueled by the plot.
And after all You’re my wonder, wall
To the wonder of achievement
That the plot takes place in the Irish countryside of the 19th century grants several points of resonance. From a historical point of view, it is based on the proven practice of fasting in the Victorian era, applied by young Europeans claiming to be chosen by God. Anna’s ordeal largely evokes the destiny of the very real Sarah Jacobso much so that one is almost surprised not to see the convenient label “inspired by a true story”.
The events also take place around ten years after the Great Famine which ravaged Ireland between 1845 and 1852, offering a ideal substrate of traumas to this pathological need to believe into a transcendence, while lending a somewhat ironic significance to Anna’s chosen fast.
A little hydroxycalories and it won’t show
The Wonder gave itself the means of its ambitions by a remarkable reconstruction. Unrolled according to superbly composed peregrinationsthe Irish countryside is sublimated by the photography of Ari Wegner (who had already captured Florence Pugh in The Young Lady). Its chromatic subtlety recalls Vermeer’s paintings, when its interiors evoke the chiaroscuros of Caravaggio.
The small undernutrition in the prairie
From thaumatrope to traumatic trope
Alas, the balance that tries to achieve The Wonder between supernatural thriller and historical drama remains perfectible. Despite a few uncomfortable finds (the sound effects as soundtracks, the sinister prayers, the eyes painted on the photograph…), the film never really disconcerts despite its desire to deploy itself on the edge of the fantastic.
The mystery at the heart of the screenplay lacks a bit of fuel, locking it into a cyclical routine of watching the little girl, random discussion and then a journey through the Midlands by turns catchy, contemplative or redundant. In its last third, the raw drama takes precedence over the ambiguity and the trendy investigation. who-fed-it.
The doctor’s apprentice walks
There remains the performance of Florence Pugh, always so magnetic. Admittedly, the scenario could have pushed her much further into her entrenchments: the scene where she loses patience with the child is as pleasantly tense as it is brief, and her relationship with the journalist proves to be far too programmatic to convince. But the rising star of Hollywood delivers a new impeccable performance of sobriety.
Very comfortable in a suit (after The Young Lady and The Daughters of Doctor March), she follows in the footsteps of Johnny Depp of sleepy hollow, clinging to rationality until digging up, like others peat, the shameful family secrets. His iconized stroll all dressed in blue in the Highlands is not without ironically referring to the presumed Virgin Mary.
The Wonder is available on Netflix since November 16, 2022