starring Florence Pugh, Niamh Algar, Kila Lord Cassidy, Ciarán Hinds
screenplay by Alice Birch and Emma Donoghue and Sebastián Lelio, based on the novel by Donoghue
directed by Sebastián Lelio
by Walter Chaw Sebastián Lelio's The Wonder aspires to the scabrous experimental satire of Lars von Trier's Dogville, down to establishing itself on an open soundstage, but it doesn't quite have that film's intellectual rigour, nor its nihilism. Some would say that's to its credit. I guess I'm glad I didn't feel like swallowing a shotgun after The Wonder, but I do, er, wonder if its effectiveness isn't undermined by its essential hopefulness. I had a similar problem with co-screenwriter/source novelist Emma Donaghue's Room, which treats severe trauma as not only a thing small children don't suffer for some reason, but a thing small children are designed to heal in adults. It's appalling. Evidently, Donaghue is stuck on a theme, as The Wonder is also about sexual abuse and the imprisonment of a young woman. It's also, again, about a child tasked with redeeming the soul of a family and a society. But as the film ends right at the point the real consequences of the atrocities it portrays are about to bloom, we can at least imagine that its happy ending will be marred by the howl of PTSD's florid demons. The Wonder is an improvement over Room as well in the sense that it's a full-frontal attack on the patriarchy and its repulsive handmaiden--organized religion--rather than a somewhat tepid thriller with mishandled social grenades. Any full-bore offensive against systems of oppression, especially one as handsomely helmed and brilliantly performed as The Wonder, has undeniable value. Yet I can't shake the feeling that Donaghue, for all the darkness of her narratives, is mainly interested in the fairy-tale ending.