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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Collinson

My thoughts on "Wonder"

(Spoiler alert) Other than if there’s another movie with Owen Wilson and a dog then I’m not watching it!

I finally watched Wonder after years of pretending it didn’t exist as it felt far far too close to home. To briefly summarise for anyone that hasn’t seen it, it's the story of a boy (Auggie) with a facial disfigurement starting school with Julia Roberts and Owen wilson as Mum and Dad. It’s of course a net positive in terms of representation, education and encouraging a society with more empathy. Understandably being a hollywood movie there always has to be the inspiring happy ending, which in a way we all want to see but unfortunately often doesn’t reflect reality.

Auggies home life felt very familiar, he’s surrounded by an incredibly warm, loving and supportive family. Having my tribe was vital for me growing up, from the tangible aspects of being taken to endless appointments etc to the more intangible feeling that my parents were fun, likeable, successful people and feeling proud to come from that family, both in relation to my close and extended family. I honestly cannot comprehend the strength of those living with a chronic visible condition who don’t have this support network. To have no one to make you feel that you are special and important must be incredibly difficult.

The movie starts with the parents arguing as to whether Auggie should go to school or stay in homeschooling. I personally don’t believe there’s a right or wrong answer to this. There is certainly a benefit from the social aspect of school but I do believe there are instances (at least when I was growing up) where the cons significantly outweigh the pros. I think that spending all day every day somewhere that can strip you of all feelings of confidence and self worth can be something that is better to be avoided. It should be on a case by case basis but I do believe that the extremes of bullying and feelings of daily humiliation will have longer lasting negative consequences than missing out on the social skills that can be developed from school. I do think these social skills can be learnt in slightly more controlled environments (sports clubs etc). Again I’m not saying that every child with a visible condition should be homeschooled but I don't think anyone should see it as some sort of failure if homeschooling is the best option.

I hope that nowadays kids are kinder and more empathetic as when I was there it was the law of the jungle. You did not show any element of weakness and you were constantly on alert to maintain your position and not become a target. Something some kids probably think about less than others didn’t but I was painfully aware I could be an easy target if I allowed myself to be. One of the characters in Wonder was Auggie’s friend Jack, at one point in the film Auggie hears him saying to the “popular kids” that if he looked like Auggie he would kill himself. Jack is then full of remorse and guilt when he realises that Auggie heard this. This resonated with me as there are a number of ways I acted in school that I’m ashamed of. I would certainly like to believe I was nowhere near the worst but in order to “maintain my position” and purely out of my own insecurity and cowardice there were times when I would put others down in an attempt to build myself up. I feel a lot of guilt and anger at myself for this.

There’s also a part in the movie in which both Auggie and his sister experience a friend who all of a sudden does not want anything to do with them anymore. I experienced this a few times through my school life. I wasn’t cool to be around so after a while they would “upgrade” and move on. This is something I deeply struggled with and began cutting people out far too quickly so they didn't have the chance to do the same to me.

I did like the way in which the film addressed how Auggie’s situation affected everyone around him too. This is certainly something everyone with/everyone around someone with chronic AD can relate to. I feel a sense of guilt and shame in how much hard work I must be. I remember my wife in her mid tw helping me apply bandages all over me and thinking this is not what a beautiful girl in her mid twenties should be spending her time doing.

Through all the ups and downs Auggie is eventually accepted and celebrated by everyone and the movie ends with Auggie receiving a standing ovation by everyone in the school for his bravery. This is certainly not reality for so many and I would have preferred if they’d ended the movie on a positive note but without quite so much of a Hollywood ending. There is a lot of autism in my family and there was a BBC series a few years ago called “There She Goes” which is the true story of a family with a profoundly autistic daughter. The brutal reality of the situation is captured perfectly by this series and I think it’s something everyone should watch for a better understanding. While there’s still moments of positivity and triumph there’s no naivety in just how difficult life can be. 

Overall it’s an important step in the right direction but I believe the harsh realities could have been better represented to make those who are suffering feel more seen. 

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