by Julian Spivey
Last year I embarked on a movie challenge in hopes of seeing some films I’ve never seen and more importantly opening myself up to some kinds of films I likely would never see. The premise is that you have 12 months to watch 12 movies recommended by 12 friends. I don’t often participate in such social media challenges but being a movie buff, I felt this might be an interesting way to get out of my comfort zone a bit when it comes to watching movies.
Like in 2023, I have some movies on the list that I’ve always meant to get around to watching but haven’t – most notably the 1962 classic “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which I think I saw the first half of in school but was absent on the day it finished. And there’s some stuff I probably never would’ve gotten around to like Andrzej Wajda’s 1958 Polish film “Ashes and Diamonds.”
As I did last year I will write about my thoughts and feelings on each of these films after I have viewed them.
Here are the 12 movies recommended to me and the months I’ve assigned myself to watch them:
January: “The Wonder” (2022)
February: “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962)
March: “Dreamgirls” (2006)
April: “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (2004)
May: “21 Jump Street” (2012)
June: “Mamma Mia” (2008)
July: “City of Angels” (1998)
August: “Fried Green Tomatoes” (1991)
September: “Ashes and Diamonds” (1958)
October: “Clue” (1985)
November: “The Intouchables” (2011)
December: “The Agony and the Ecstasy” (1965)
The first film I selected from the many recommendations I received from friends this year was “The Wonder,” a 2022 period piece psychological drama from director Sebastian Lelio with a script by Lelio, Alice Birch and Emma Donoghue based on Donoghue’s 2016 novel. My friend Hailey Knight Brock recommended this one.
“The Wonder” is set in 1862 Ireland, where the traumatic experiences of the Great Famine from a decade to 15 years before still hang over the community's air. An English nurse Elizabeth Wright is sent to a rural Irish village to watch over a nine-year-old girl named Anna, who has been fasting and apparently hasn’t eaten for four months.
Wright is, of course, skeptical and one of the things she’s tasked, along with a local nun, of doing is to figure out if it’s a hoax or a miracle.
I can’t give any more plot without spoiling this movie and I don’t want to do that because there are certainly multiple ways this film can end and the one it decided upon isn’t necessarily the one I thought it would end with.
“The Wonder” is essentially a science versus faith movie with faith being, especially at the time, something that could be dangerous if in the hands of those who care more about the potential after-life of loved ones rather than their current state of being.
This is a dark film that truly could be considered a horror film, not in the sense that it’s scary (it’s not) but in the sense that it is truly horrific and believable what people are capable of doing under the guise of faith. Some of the things that make the film feel more psychologically uneasy, at least for me, are things that I didn’t think were necessary for the film like Lelio’s use of beginning and ending on a soundstage as if to say, “This is just a movie,” the narration from Niamh Algar who plays Kitty O’Donnell, especially the direct to camera stare around the midway point, as well as the peculiar soundtrack with its eerie whispers. These are almost a distraction, one that didn’t take me out of the engaging story for long but might be more of a nuisance for others. Just ignore them and focus on the story in general.
The performances in the film by Florence Pugh as Nurse Wright and Kila Lord Cassidy as Anna are riveting and along with Ari Wegner’s beautifully dour cinematography and the overall feel of not knowing which aspect – science or faith – would win out in the end made for a gripping watch.
"The Wonder" can be streamed on Netflix.