The Emma Donoghue novel The Wonder is the inspiration behind Netflix’s recent release of the same name. Set in 1962, on the heels of the Irish Famine, a young girl named Anna has drawn the attention of the town and other devoted miracle seekers. From her 13th birthday to the opening scenes of the film, Anna had gone 3 months without eating. A panel of town leaders, including the local priest, convened and solicited the help of two watchers, one a religious sister, the other, a nurse named Lib played by Florence Pugh. They are tasked with observing Anna to ensure that she is not eating. Over the span of eight-hour watches, the two watchers take turns.
Catholicism In The Wonder
There are some elements of Catholicism that are portrayed in the film quite well. For example, there are the saint cards that Anna has and recounts the stories of several of them like St. Cecilia, St. Elizabeth, and St. Catherine. Anna and Lib dialogue another time about purgatory and hell. She describes Purgatory as a temporary burning to clean souls. When asked about her brother who died, Lib believes he must be in heaven, while Anna says that one cannot know that for certain. Another conversation about Catholicism is brought out between Anna’s mom and Lib. The last known food Anna ate was the Eucharist. When Lib calls it just wheat and water, Anna’s mother quickly defends the true presence, calling it the body and blood of Jesus.
The notion of someone existing only from eating the Eucharist is not a foreign concept in Catholicism. Several holy men and women have had this experience. Blessed Alexandrina da Costa, St. Catherine of Sienna (for some time), St. Catherine of Genoa (during the seasons of Advent and Lent), and the Servant of God Floripes de Jesus, to name only a few. Christ alone becomes the substance by which these people have been sustained.
While I see the value and good shared in some aspects of Catholicism, I fear the film portrays religious people as crazies. People in the town believe this young girl has not eaten. In one instance, if the whole thing is manufactured, it shows how quickly people can believe something, making them somewhat delusional in their pious followings. On the other hand, if not eating is forcing the girl to die, then people are standing by allowing a young girl with a future ahead of her to die, which makes one think that her death could be prevented if she was forced to eat.
Devotional practices are featured in the film. In the apparent fast Anna is undertaking, she does so for the salvation of the soul of her brother and her mistaken belief she could deliver a soul from hell. Another formulaic prayer is repeated by Anna 33 times because of the promises and efficacy of the prayer for the dead.
Miracle Or Fraud? You decide
Those who watch the film will be left to determine if they think Anna’s fast is a miracle or a fraud.
Fr. Looney’s Rating: 5/10
Viewers should be advised that there is an (unnecessary) sexual scene.