The Wonder Plot Synopsis
At a time just after the Great Famine, the residents of a village in 1862 Ireland are given cause to believe in miracles when a local girl named Anna embarks on a religious fast. After several months without eating, she appears to be fit and well, and the villagers think she is being sustained by God.
The community elders need to verify this miracle and they hire an English nurse named Lib Wright (Florence Pugh) to watch over her. She works on alternate shifts with a nun who has also been assigned to Anna’s case. But despite the belief of the village and Anna herself that God is at work, Lib is sceptical. She thinks the miracle is a hoax and is worried that Anna’s health could be at risk.
So, is a miracle really taking place? Or is Anna’s life in danger? Let’s take a closer look at Sebastian Lelio’s new film.
Why does Lib think the miracle is a hoax?
Lib is somebody who has a bigger belief in science than religion so this is partly why she isn’t ready to believe in Anna’s story. Another reason is the life Lib has lived. She cared for dying soldiers during the Crimean War and she also experienced the death of her husband and son. It’s likely that these traumas gave her further cause to dismiss the possibility of miracles.
On arrival at Anna’s home, she is confronted by a very religious family. They believe Anna is being sustained by God and Anna herself tells Libby that she is being fed with “manna from Heaven.” In the Bible, this refers to an edible substance but as Anna is supposed to be on a fast, it could be assumed that Anna is speaking about God’s blessing on her life rather than physical food. However, we later learn something else about Anna and her mother, so Anna could be hinting at this here.
Lib doesn’t share Anna’s spiritual beliefs and she thinks the girl’s parents are secretly passing food to her. To prove her theory, she forbids them from spending time with their daughter. Not long after, it would seem that Lib’s suspicions have been proven correct as Anna starts to become weak and unwell.
Have Anna’s family been feeding her?
Due to the deterioration in Anna’s condition, Lib is now sure the family had been feeding her. But when she questions Anna and her mother about this, they both deny the possibility.
Lib returns to the community elders and expresses her concern for the girl but they are dismissive of her assertion that Anna could die. The only person who seems to believe Lib is William (Tom Burke), a journalist that she has become friendly with. He wants to write a story about the miracle child but becomes more concerned for her health when Lib explains the situation to him.
So, had Anna’s family been feeding her? Yes! Lib realises that Anna’s mother had been secretly passing her food through her mouth when giving her a kiss, a little like a bird feeding its chick. This is why the mother had previously insisted to Lib that a “mother’s kiss” was important. The food could also be the “manna of Heaven” that Anna earlier referred to.
But while these morsels of food sustained Anna, the girl still believes God has been looking after her. Other than the chewed-up pieces of food she had been given from her mum, she refused to eat anything else. We learn the reasons why when Anna explains these to Lib.
Why did Anna refuse to eat?
On arriving at Anna’s house and meeting her family, Lib realised the brother from the family photos wasn’t around. She assumed he had just left home but she later discovers he had died.
His death is linked to Anna’s refusal to eat. The girl explains to Lib that she has been fasting so her brother’s soul will be released from Hell. She tells Lib she knows he is in Hell because when she was 9, he repeatedly raped her. Despite this, Anna still loved her brother but by atoning for his sin through her fast, she hoped her sacrifice would be enough to rescue him.
Lib is outraged by what she hears and speaks to Lib’s mother about the situation. Unfortunately, the mother blames Anna for the incest and believes that the brother died from sickness as punishment for the sinful relationship. She now believes Anna must be sacrificed to save her late son’s soul and as such, refuses to give her dying daughter any more food.
What happens to Anna?
Upon realising that Anna’s parents are willing to let their daughter die, Lib decides to rescue her with the help of William.
When the family are at Mass, Lib takes Anna from the house to a nearby stream and tells her that she will soon die but that she will be reborn as “Nan,” which is the nickname Lib had previously given to her. We see that Lib is trying to brainwash Anna here and as the girl is delirious, she is susceptible to what Lib is saying. This isn’t a bad thing, however, as Anna needs to separate herself from her religious delusions.
Lib hides Anna at the stream where William is due to meet her and take her away. Lib then returns to the house and sets it on fire so Anna can be declared dead and given the freedom to move away from the village without anyone knowing she is alive.
Lib reports the fire to the elders and as they are in fear of reprisal for their actions in letting a lowly nurse look after her, they agree to let Lib go without consequence.
A little while later, Lib meets the nun that had also been watching over Anna. The nun tells Lib of a vision she has had of an angel carrying Anna away on horseback. Of course, it was William and not an angel that the nun had seen but we suspect the nun knew this and that she was letting Lib know she would keep her secret.
In one of the movie’s final scenes, we see that Anna is alive and well and travelling with Lib and William. We then see them together sitting at a dinner table with others, with Anna eating a meal. It can be assumed that the girl is now part of a new family with her two rescuers and that she is able to eat again because she is mentally separated from the fasting child that she was before.
What is the meaning of the words “In/Out”?
Earlier in the film, William gifted Anna a spinning toy that showed a bird in and out of its cage when spun. In the final scene of the film, Niamh Algar, who played the family servant Kitty, breaks the fourth wall and speaks to the camera with the words “In, out, in out.”
This is in reference to the toy as William said exactly the same thing as Niamh. The meaning of the words likely relates to freedom. The bird was freed from its cage in the same way that Anna has now been freed from her caged existence.
Read More: The Wonder Movie Review