By Poulomi Das Dec. 01, 2017
Wonder could have been a terribly one-sided triumph tale, pitting the helpless underdog against the insensitive bully. But, Stephen Chbosky’s inherent warmth makes it a much bigger lesson in kindness.
Meet Auggie, the sun of the Pullman galaxy and the unlikely hero of Stephen Chbosky’s Wonder. Auggie has been confined to the four walls of his house for a long long time. It’s the only life that he’s known and the only life he thinks he’ll have to know until the homeschooled Auggie’s parents insist he start middle school. His family, comprising loving parents, Nate (Owen Wilson) and Isabel (Julia Roberts), and protective sibling Via, is habituated to routinely putting their lives on hold to guarantee that Auggie gets a fair chance at his.
Auggie discerns that he’s not an ordinary 10-year-old boy from the expressions of the people outside his family. Born with a congenital facial deformity, Auggie has had to endure 27 corrective surgeries in a span of just 10 years. His face is scarred: His ears look like little flaps, his facial scars pull down the corner of his eyes giving him a perennially sad expression, and his nose gives the impression that it could fall off any moment. Though his surgeries have done little to help his face, Auggie thinks they’re “hilarious” and has his hospital bracelets plastered in his room as an extension of the joke. Auggie’s only fashion statement, the only thing he has control over is his rat-tail, which he angrily chops off after being bullied on the first day of school.
Life in school for a kid like Auggie is obviously not easy. Kids can be cruel and nothing brings out their cruelty more than someone who is different. In his life-changing year at school, Auggie meets the usual suspects: Julian, the trust-fund bully who doesn’t waste any opportunity to poke fun at his appearance, besides instigating other kids around him, kids who don’t think before they speak, and others who visibly stare at him in the courtyard.
At the outset, Wonder is a story about a young boy enduring a year of bullying only because he failed to conform to what society accepts as normal. It’s a film that could have been a terribly one-sided triumph tale, pitting the helpless underdog against the insensitive bully. But, Stephen Chbosky’s inherent warmth, empathy, and wit makes it a much bigger lesson in the importance of understanding the reasons behind one’s actions, no matter how terrible.
Wonder is a searing commentary on the current climate of bullying. So often in our instant rage, we tend to forget that kids who we term as bullies, are essentially kids too.
In the process, it becomes a searing commentary on the current climate of bullying. So often in our instant rage, we tend to forget that kids who we term as bullies, are essentially kids too. With Wonder’s multi-person narrative that lets every character explain their actions, Chbosky is determined to remind us how often we judge people without really getting to know them.
For instance, the minute we start judging Via for being selfish when her brother is fighting a battle everyday, are we treated to a back-story of just how lonely her life has been from the very start. For most of the film, Julian is shown as the bully who takes pleasure out of asking Auggie if the story behind his face was being stuck in a fire or photoshopping him out of a class picture. His bullying gets so frequent and personal, that after a point it seems that alienating Auggie from the rest of the class is his life’s sole mission. Naturally, it’s tempting to keep painting Julian as the face of pure evil, but he is surprisingly also afforded redemption toward the end when he lands in trouble for a particularly mean act toward Auggie. Once the dangerous effect of his misdeed is explained to him, he understands it even faster than his snooty parents do.
Even better is Auggie’s own lack of rage. He doesn’t blame the people who poke fun at him, because in a different world, he might have been one of them, especially he admits, if Chewbacca were to appear in front of him out of nowhere. Wonder even explores the undeniable social pressure most kids fall prey to when it comes to forging friendship with the “right kind” of kids.
Meet Auggie, the sun of the Pullman galaxy and the unlikely hero of Stephen Chbosky’s Wonder. Image Credit: Lionsgate Productions
Meet Auggie, the sun of the Pullman galaxy and the unlikely hero of Stephen Chbosky’s Wonder.
Image Credit: Lionsgate Productions
Take Jack, Auggie’s first friend in school for example. Despite how much he likes Auggie, ending up playing videogames at his house, and making him feel normal about the way his face looks when he eats, Jack ultimately joins the bullies in making fun of Auggie. In any other case, we’d be quick to judge this as an act of betrayal, like Auggie initially does, but it is because of Chbosky’s relentless determination that we remember that there is more to what meets the eye.
In making no distinction between the good kids and bad ones, Wonder becomes a helpful reminder in how to be kind. This thought is aptly portrayed in a scene toward the end of the film. Auggie and Jack, who are at a nature reserve, are joined in a fight against seventh graders by the same kids who bullied Auggie back at school. They don’t just beat up the guys and win the fight, but also ensure that Auggie, who the seventh graders called a “freak” is safe and sound. After all of them reconvene, they extend a hand of friendship to Auggie, who is equally touched, and sad at how life looks like for him, and the kindness that his friends willingly bestow on him.
As he runs away from them toward the sea and breaks into tears, they follow him and comfort him, making him believe that he may after all be just as ordinary as them. And that he is not alone. The kids in Wonder, are after all, all right.
When not obsessing over TV shows, planning unaffordable vacations, or stuffing her face with french fries, Poulomi likes believing that some day her sense of humour will be darker than her under-eye circles.