“The Wonder” is set in Ireland in 1862 and follows Nurse Lib Wright as she joins a village to examine a girl named Anna who has stopped eating for four months and appears to be healthy. Dr. McBrearty, Sir Otway, Father Thaddeus, John Flynn, and Seán Ryan divide Lib and Sister Michael into eight-hour stints in order to observe how Anna is performing this task.
Lib and Michael are prohibited from discussing their inferences so that their final assessment of the scenario is as unbiased as possible. Beginning on a mundane start, Lib passively documents all she observes about Anna.
However, Lib is suspicious of her parents’ attention to her and the regular appointments with guests (who travel from far and wide to see her and donate to the cause). Under the pretense of obtaining an accurate reading, she suspends Anna’s visits with her parents and random individuals. And that is precisely when things begin to deteriorate.
After Lib separates Anna from her family, what happens?
Anna loses a tooth almost shortly after Lib takes her from her family. Lib informs her mother and father, Rosaleen and Malachy, that Anna must eat because she is becoming thinner, paler, and more exhausted. Malachy claims he cannot breach his commitment to never urge Anna to eat at Lib’s request, despite Rosaleen’s assertion that she was OK until Lib intervened.
During one of her watches, Lib attempts to implant a feeding tube into Anna’s neck and refill her strength out of pure frustration. Lib relents at observing Anna’s suffering and apologizes for attempting to artificially feed her while she is adamantly opposed to doing so. Her dogged drive turns fatal, as she passes out while walking with Lib and Will (Lib’s love interest and a journalist). Upon assessment, it appears that her lungs have failed, causing her persistent coughing.
So, “The Wonder” is based on the “fasting girl” phenomenon that occurred during the Victorian era, in which pre-adolescent girls would “survive” for extended periods of time without food. Like Anna, who believes her food source is Manna from Heaven, these girls would assert they were God’s chosen or possessed supernatural abilities. Mollie Fancher supposedly went 14 years without eating.
Sarah Jacob claimed she hadn’t eaten since she was ten years old, and as a result, she received a great deal of press and several donations. Other cases include Lenora Eaton and Josephine Marie Bedard, who were both suspected of receiving assistance. And it became clear that this was merely a media gimmick to gain money and notoriety while feeding the girl when no one was looking.
It was reality television before television existed. And based on the O’Donnells’ financial situation and the village’s dilapidated condition, it seems evident that they were encouraging Anna to do her thing to bring in a continuous stream of guests and provide food for the family.
Does Anna Reveal the Reason She Is Fasting?
Throughout the film, Anna makes references to her religious beliefs, as well as the fact that the O’Donnells’ entire home is adorned with Christian symbolism and imagery. Then we learn that Pat, the son of Rosaleen and Malachy, has passed away.
This, together with the fact that Anna conceals a lock of her brother’s hair in the bust of St. Mary, leads to the conclusion that Anna’s fast has something to do with her brother’s death. Anna explains briefly that in purgatory, souls are forced to burn eternally as she describes Lib’s background, in which she cared for ill soldiers who had committed “terrible things” in combat. Anna responds that no one can say for certain that Pat is in heaven when Lib asserts that he is.
Therefore, Lib sums two and two and presses Anna to confess. She discovers that Anna and Pat were involved in an incestuous marriage during which Pat fell ill and died. Rosaleen blames Anna for Pat’s death and forces her to do this entire ceremony in order to release Pat’s soul from Hell and deliver it to Heaven.
According to Ireland’s “Punishment of Incest Act 1908,” incest is a penal offense, even if it is consenting. This indicates that having a romantic relationship with a relative was fairly prevalent prior to 1908. If this makes you want to vomit, you are welcome to do so. If not, please consult a doctor. Coming to “The Wonder,” it is evident that Rosaleen and Malachy approved of Pat and Anna’s relationship.
They continue to assert that Lib is from England and so cannot comprehend the O’Donnells, implying that she is too “modern” to allow incest. And Rosaleen is plainly using religion to brainwash Anna into believing she is doing something righteous while feeding her by chewing food and spitting into her lips during their “goodnight kiss” like a bird (hence, the bird trapped in a cage allegory).
They are profiting from Anna’s pain since, as stated previously, it was popular during that age. That makes Rosaleen an influencer in a sense (the kind that exploits their family to get brand endorsements).
The Ending of ‘The Wonder’: How Does Lib Emancipate Anna? How come Kitty is breaking the fourth wall?
It is essential to note that Lib gave birth to a child who lived for only three weeks and two days and that her husband quickly abandoned her. She carries a pair of the child’s boots and engages in this ritual, during which she consumes a sedative and plays with them.
This indicates that she is in perpetual pain from the death of her kid, and her proximity to Anna reawakens her maternal impulses. Even when instructed to observe, she assumes responsibility for her safety and well-being. At her most vulnerable, she asks Rosaleen to continue feeding Anna in a bird-like manner so that she can continue to survive.
When that fails, Lib employs a second layer of brainwashing to convince Anna that she will die and be reborn as Nan (the nickname that Anna and Lib decided on earlier). As soon as Anna agrees, Lib runs away with her and performs a rite in which she becomes briefly comatose as Anna and awakens as Nan.
Lib then travels to the O’Donnell residence to destroy everything, including her own bottle of sedative and the baby boots. She suffers burns as a result. However, it destroys her memories of the past, as well as Anna’s. Fire is typically viewed as a sign of illumination, purification, destruction, and suffering.
In Christianity, fire has been associated with torture and punishment for one’s sins, as well as the presence of God. Lib makes it out to be an “act of God” by claiming that she “accidentally” knocked over the light and “accidentally” converted Anna to ashes after learning of her death. Consequently, she uses the common interpretation of fire to conceal the truth that she has spirited her away to safety with Will’s assistance.
While the O’Donnells and the rest of the village grieve Anna’s passing, we see the girl in London living with Lib and Will as their adopted daughter, Nan, and also eating with them. Does she recall this horrible occurrence? I do not believe so. She likely repressed the memory or remembered it as a terrifying nightmare.
What’s the deal with the fourth-wall cracks and set-within-set antics? During the introduction, we witness a film set where “The Wonder” is being filmed. The narrator portrays it as a story in which we must have faith, just as the “characters” in the film have faith in their stories.
Around the 25-minute point, the identity of the narrator is revealed to be Kitty O’Donnell, who reminds us that without stories, we are nothing. Nan or Anna breaks the fourth wall by looking directly into the camera while registering her name, implying that she is aware that we are witnessing her story develop.
And in the final seconds of the film, the camera reveals that the final eating scene is a movie set, with Kitty standing there (dressed in contemporary attire) and saying “In. Out. In. Out.” Therefore, as far as I can deduce, “The Wonder” is essentially stating that these stories of the emancipation of women under various forms of oppression are only conceivable in fictitious films.
Things in the actual world are significantly more complicated. However, we can learn from these tales, stand with women who are in cages (whether actual or metaphorical), and facilitate their liberation, even if it involves repurposing the system’s abusive tools and methods.