I can understand those who see the plot and characters in the—now playing at the Rialto—movie Wonder as being so sentimentally superficial that it makes a good bed time story for children and little else. I could have made that assessment, but sometimes what we see is more about who we are than any objective reality in the world we behold. And, who we are sometimes changes. Thursday night when I went to the Rialto with a friend to see the movie Wonder, I wasn’t looking for a hard hitting, intellectually satisfying narrative about the complex world around us. I was, unbeknownst to myself, looking for exactly what Wonder delivers—a simple-though credible enough, emotionally moving story suggesting there is, yet, something endearing, something—dare I say—noble about human life.
The wonderful thing about Wonder is it reminds me of something I didn’t yet know. I have been looking—however unconsciously—for a reason to believe that, even in the age of Trump, Jonathan Swift is—still—wrong. Humanity is not–at least not wholly nor inherently–the equivalent of the garbage eating, quarrelsome, self-absorbed, restive Yahoos that Gulliver meets and learns to detest after being abandoned on the island of Houyhnhnm Land by his mutinous crew.
You might say Wonder is medicine—or balm—for the heart. It tells a simple story of a ten-year-old boy, Auggie, who is starting school for the first time. He has been kept home in order to deal with operations to correct genetically caused facial deformities. Auggie, of course, encounters disapproval, taunting and ostracism by many of his new classmates, but the audience can also see that there is a tension in Auggie’s tormenters telling them there is something wrong with the idea of mistreating a new student just because he looks a little different.
While the movie bogs down in factitiously portraying the uncomplicated family and school staff support for Augie, it still manages to convey credible positive messages about how, despite our short comings, despite the growing hate and indifference to the well-being of others as well as our planet, human beings can/do choose kindness, understanding and common community.
I sincerely recommend, Wonder to my activist friends who, like me, read too much news about a world that seems to be losing its moral bearing; too much news about a world where greed and hate seem to be gaining the upper hand on love and inclusion, too much news about a world that daily seems to be slipping back into the old Hobbesian view of human life as inextricably “nasty, brutish and short,” too much news about a world where the right to bear arms trumps the goal of health care for all and the health of the planet that sustains all our life is forgotten in the rush to support an economy that benefits a few at the expense of the many.
While a movie like Wonder may seem oversimplified good will, it feels, in my heart, like a most welcome counter point to the news of the day which is absorbed with a profoundly ignorant, self-absorbed, bigoted narcissist whose moral compass seems to point to nothing other than personal greed and self aggrandizement—that he holds the keys to launch nuclear Armageddon is much more than a poorly written script—it is, clearly, an act of collective madness.
We need to hear the ideals of respect for all—even those who are different—and caring for our Earth and all its peoples are still cherished and attainable goals to which humanity aspires least we forget and give into the despair that once set the stage for the rise of Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and is clearly on the rise today.
I see/feel the meta message in Wonder is balm for the empathy-deficit disorder that seems to be infecting people and governments around the world these days. To get to a different place, we will have to take a different ship. We have to believe/know in our hearts that we (all humanity) are not, inherently yahoos. We need creative works like Wonder to reawaken those inner messages that tell us the one dimensional Yahoo/Hobbesian–esk glorification of selfishness presented in programs like The Apprentice, The Bachelor, and Survivor is not the highest goal humanity can aspire to—we are, in our hearts and deepest values better than that. In the depth of our beings, we are caring, generous, tolerant people.
Lest we forget: humanity is, despite the ills and misadventures that beset us, a struggle to understand love, meaning and transcendent purpose in connection to other people and to life itself. Any movie invoking that kind of recognition—must be worth seeing!