Sunday, May 27 , 2018, 1:03 pm | Fair 63º


Cinema in Focus: ‘Wonder’

4 Stars — Inspiring

There is no doubt that, if we had the eyes to see, every human being is a “wonder.” The eternal uniqueness of each person, blended with our universal humanity, should cause us to be awed and captivated by all those who are around us.

But instead, we get caught up in the shallow externals of beauty or power or wealth, and too often we miss out on who a person truly is. Although judging others by externals is considered to be more common in middle school than in adulthood, too many of us do not outgrow such trivializing of others.

This truth is the theme of Steven Chbosky’s film: Wonder.

Having shown his skills as a writer in Rent and Beauty and the Beast, Chbosky has now established himself as a director with this wonder-filled film. Based on a 2012 novel by R.J. Palacio, the drama focuses on a family with a child whose genetic malady leaves him with facial deformities. After 27 operations, he remains a person whose appearance is far from perfect.

Having been homeschooled by his mom until fifth grade, she believes that he now needs to join the world outside their home and go to school. It is this year in his life on which the film focuses.

By all accounts, this is an amazing family. August “Auggie” Pullman (Jacob Tremblay) as a fifth-grader is brilliant, especially in science. But his academic skills are as much a result of his mother’s complete focus as they are his innate intelligence.

Isabel Pullman (Julia Roberts) had almost completed her masters’ program when Auggie was born. Putting everything on hold, she has spent the last 10 years caring for him and giving Auggie a chance to live a normal life.

Auggie’s father, Nate (Owen Wilson), is a humorous, thoughtful, understanding father who comes alongside his son in ways that empower him as a male. The power of the tale is that these two parents are believable, normal and yet exceptional.

The final member of the family is Auggie’s older sister, Via (Izabela Vidovic), a high school student whose own life has been overshadowed by the family’s focus on Auggie. She also exudes the family’s love and wisdom even at her young age.

The story of Auggie’s introduction into the world of real kids is the plot of this tale and we won’t spoil it, except to say that every child, teen and adult should see this film. It is a primer on family and relationships, and without being moralistic, it explores what is wrong and what is right within our schools and society.

From bullying to friendship, from dating to marriage, from illness to resilience, the story is told in a heartfelt way that is inspiring and can transform the way we see others if we will let it. To us, that is the highest purpose of the “cinema.”


» If you were the parents of Auggie, would you have made the same choice his parents made to send him to school? What difference do you think it made that this is a private school in Manhattan named Beecher Prep? How do you think his experience would have been different had he gone to a public school? What difference did the wisdom of the head of school, Mr. Tushman (Mandy Patikin), make in the success of his experience? What experiences in private or public schools did you have to cause you to answer as you do?

» The cinematic technique of telling the tale from different perspectives allows us to also understand the backstory of certain central characters. How much does it help in real life when we know the backstory and causes behind a person’s behaviors?

» Although the film did not focus on Julian’s (Bryce Gheisar) backstory, we do have the opportunity to meet his parents and particularly his mother (Crystal Lowe). How did her arrogance and insistence on using her wealth and privilege help you understand Julian?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is the retired pastor of Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara and lead superintendent of Free Methodist Church in Southern California. For more reviews, visit, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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