‘The Wonder’ Is a Marvel—And One of Florence Pugh’s Most Stunning Performances to Date

It’s not entirely accurate to say that the film abandons its set-up over the course of this fraught exploration, even if the camerawork doesn’t return to the explicit framing with which it begins. When Lib confronts a family member about the last thing the girl ate and is told it was “flesh of our savior,” Lib chides her, saying, “That’s a story, I’m looking for facts,” and tucks away the notebook in which she’s been taking notes. “You also need your stories,” the woman responds. “You write them down there in that little notebook … quite the Bible you’ve got going.”

More than the mystery of how Anna is surviving, it is the power of storytelling, whether it’s governed by science or spirituality, that is the true subject of The Wonder. The stories that Anna’s family is telling itself have their own logic and insanity, as does the story that Anna is telling herself. Lib has lost a child; the journalist, Will, whom she thinks an adversary at the outset, but who becomes her closest confidant (and more), is carrying with him an unimaginable tragedy born of the famine that ravaged Ireland only a few years earlier and took his parents. Each of these survivors, it’s implied, also tells their own story to themselves in order to go on.

Lib eventually does come to a conclusion about Anna, but before her understanding becomes a coherent narrative, the film suggests that it won’t offer a believable explanation at all. Perhaps Lib, the rationalist, will be forced to accept the limits of her understanding as an outsider, a skeptic, a nurse rather than a doctor, a woman without a child of her own, and a woman among men doggedly committed to their own explanations. The Wonder is a mystery in the sense that there is an event at its core that prompts an untangling, but it lacks the twists and turns that are the usual trajectory for entertainment in that mode. The revelations take place mainly in Lib’s head as she gradually puts together the pieces of what she’s observed; they are legible mainly on Pugh’s face as she processes what she has seen.

The film does ultimately offer an answer, but it also introduces the idea that Lib’s deductions are not based entirely on objective observation. As she grows closer to Anna, her thinking both sharpens and blurs, until her final understanding leads her to actions that are believable and irrational at the same time. With apologies for the obscurity of this description (necessary to preserve the truly thrilling last quarter of the film): Anna’s salvation is, in the end, based on an entirely new story.

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