The Wonder ending explained: How is Anna surviving without food?
Sebastián Lelio's new film is a gripping psychological thriller. **Warning: This article contains spoilers for The Wonder**
From a grieving trans woman in 2017’s Oscar-winning A Fantastic Woman to two Orthodox Jewish women in love in 2018’s Disobedience, Chilean director Sebastián Lelio has long been drawn to strong female leads.
Now he's back with another tale of female resistance in the form of his gripping Netflix adaptation of author Emma Donoghue's The Wonder, which follows English nurse Lib (Florence Pugh) as she embarks upon a battle against religious fervour and patriarchy in 19th century Ireland.
Based on a disturbing historical phenomenon - real-life cases of 'fasting girls' reported in the Victorian era who claimed to survive without food for lengthy periods of time - Lib travels to the Irish Midlands after being invited to observe 11-year-old Anna (Kíla Lord Cassidy), who apparently hasn’t eaten for four months.
Anna’s parents (Elaine Cassidy and Caolan Byrne) and many of the town’s all-male committee, including the likes of Doctor McBrearty (Toby Jones) and Father Thaddeus (Ciarán Hinds) are desperate for Anna's situation to be either a religious or medical miracle, but as soon as Lib arrives she is certain of trickery.
In 15 days' time, Nurse Wright and Sister Michael (Josie Walker), who are sharing the shifts, must present their testimony to the committee.
But does Lib get to the bottom of the mystery at the end of The Wonder? And does Anna survive? Read on for everything you need to know about the ending of The Wonder.
The Wonder ending explained: How is Anna surviving without food?
Initially, sceptical Lib expects she will have the mystery solved swiftly, but she grows increasingly frustrated as the days pass with no secret feeding apparent. In one scene, we see Lib try to force-feed Anna, shoving a feeding tube down her throat in an act of desperation before yanking it out, horrified by her actions.
It is only when Lib abandons her desire to expose trickery and her own rigid beliefs and adopts Anna’s version of reality that family secrets crack wide open.
As it turns out, Anna has not been surviving on "manna from heaven" and is actually being passed food when she is kissed by her mother.
And the reasons for this are devastating: Anna is mourning a dead brother, who she explains gave her "double love" when she was nine – the love given to a sister, and to a wife. By fasting and sacrificing herself, Anna hopes to enable his transition from purgatory to heaven rather than hell.
Does Anna die at the end of The Wonder?
No, in the end, Lib does manage to escape with the child, but doing so doesn't prove to be easy.
In a bid to put a stop to the secret feeding, Lib separates Anna from her parents. But disastrously, this only results in Anna deteriorating faster under her watch, with Rosaleen, who explains she wants her children to find happiness in heaven, and the obstinate town committee, who want Anna's situation to be either a religious or medical miracle, refusing to intervene.
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In the end, Lib realises she must take matters into her own hands, urging a reluctant Will to help her get Anna to Dublin.
Lib then takes the child to the Holy Well and presents herself as a priest, telling Anna to to close her eyes. She awakens her by repeating the name 'Nan' - a rebirth that finally enables Anna to eat.
Lib, now on a roll, goes on to burn down the house where the watch was taking place, convincing the committee that Anna perished in the blaze after she knocked over a lamp.
The committee argue over the validity of Lib’s report and whether she should be charged, but eventually realise they themselves could be liable given she was their employee.
In a moving and optimistic finale, Lib returns to England where she meets up with Will and 'Nan'. Under false names, they board a boat bound for Sydney, Australia.
In the closing scenes of The Wonder, we watch them eat around a table with other passengers at sea before the camera pans around, leaving the set and showing the huge studio where the movie is being filmed.
What is the bird-in-cage symbol in The Wonder?
At the end of The Wonder, as we're shown the studio set where The Wonder is being filmed, Niamh Algar, who plays the family servant Kitty, looks straight at the camera and says: "In, out, in, out."
This is a reference to the thaumatrope that Will gave Anna early on in the film - the spinning toy that shows an optical illusion of a bird moving in and out of a cage - and is of course symbolic of Anna's freedom.
What does the framing device in The Wonder mean?
As mentioned above, The Wonder is bookended by an unusual framing device – the studio set where the movie is being filmed.
At the beginning of the film, Algar invites us to believe in the story we are about to see, telling us: "We are nothing without stories." Later, in character as the family servant, Algar breaks the fourth wall again as Lib questions whether there is secret feeding going on. "We all have our stories," she says to the camera.
These breaks of the fourth wall serve to expose the film's artifice and draw our attention towards the power of fiction, mirroring the plot of The Wonder: as Lib is forced to abandon her rigid beliefs and adopt the child’s version of reality in order to free her from it, we too are forced to question the validity of our beliefs.
In The Wonder, we see Kitty learning to read, which of course makes the character's involvement in the film's meta elements all the more pertinent.
Talking about the film's fourth wall breaks and how she approached the film's meta aspect, Algar told RadioTimes.com in an exclusive interview: "It was sort of sitting down with Sebastian and figuring out what it was he wanted from that character, someone who is sort of introducing the story but is also in it."
She continued: "It’s that idea of allowing the audience to be drawn into the story, we’re giving them a wink and going: 'We’re telling the story, stories are used in order to make sense of this world and inviting you in in the hope that you’re going to believe in the characters and the story.'
"And then we’re in the story and every now and then, we see Kitty come up and it’s almost like she’s watching everything. She’s watching Florence’s character, and there’s that intrigue, because for Kitty, language is something that she struggles with because she can’t read and so therefore I think stories must have been quite difficult because she has to be told them, and she’s wanting to learn to read and read the stories for herself, because that’s a powerful tool for someone."
The Wonder was released in UK cinemas on 4th November and comes to Netflix on Wednesday 16th November. Sign up for Netflix from £6.99 a month. Netflix is also available on Sky Glass and Virgin Media Stream.