The Wonder, directed by Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio, takes place in the Irish Midlands in 1862. A young girl stops eating but remains miraculously alive and well. An English nurse Lib Wright is summoned to a tiny village to observe 11-year-old Anna O’Donnell (Kíla Lord Cassidy) along with a Catholic nun.
Tourists and pilgrims gather to witness the girl who is said to have survived without food for months. Is the village harboring a saint ‘surviving on manna from heaven’ or are there more ominous motives at work? This psychological thriller is inspired by the 19th – century phenomenon of the “fasting girls” and adapted from the acclaimed novel by Emma Donoghue. After making an observation involving Anna’s mother, Rosaleen (Elaine Cassidy), Lib forbids outside visitors and as well as physical contact with her family.
The atmospherics and the soundtrack feels as if this is half a horror story and half a murder mystery, while the scenic back drops and creepy soundtrack reminded me of 1973’s The Exorcist. While Ellen Burstyn reached out to a priest to shoo away the demon living in her daughter, Florence Pugh pulls out all the stops with her bravura performance as she tries to learn why Anna hasn’t eaten any food since her birthday four months earlier while insisting she survives by eating “manna from heaven.”
The first half of the movie is a slow-burn, but the plot catches fire in the second act when science is pitted against religious beliefs in a contest of grieving mothers. Pugh gives a sober, determined performance as a young widow whose loss of a child in infancy causes her to self-medicate with opium as she tries to save another from self-sacrifice.
As Lib anticipates, Anna’s health begins to fail, but appeals to Dr. McBrearty (Toby Jones) fall on deaf ears and, appalled by the cruelty and betrayal of the act, she abandons an attempt to secretly force feed her. Lib also forges a relationship with The Daily Telegraph’s Will Byrne (Tom Burke) on her long walks across the moor to and from the O’Donnell’s thatched cottage, one which leads to sexual intimacy. Meanwhile, the all-male council who hired her refuses to accept her prognosis that the girl will eventually die.