Wonderstruck, a coming-of-age Todd Haynes’ adaptation of a children’s novel by Brian Selznick premiered in the Offical Selection of the Cannes film festival.
Upon a lightning strike to a telephone that short-circuited into his head, a boy, Ben, becomes death. Upon a walk back in time, a young girl, Rose, is presumably born deaf. Together, their 50-year difference paths parallel to tell the story of Wonderstruck, a coming-of-age novel adaptation from Brian Selznick’s novel.
Ben, the protagonist, played by Oakes Fegley, longs for the knowledge of the father that is not in his life. He loses his hearing in his mother’s old house in Minnesota. His mother, unfortunately having died in a car accident before telling him who his real father was, was someone that allowed him to look at the stars and ponder on the structure of life. The secrecy of his father and this curiosity led him to run away from his aunt’s house with the help of his cousin.
Rose, a girl from 50 years in the past, who is acted by Millicent Simmonds, also longs for a seemingly lost relative. The audience witnesses their journeys in different time periods. Silent film is the structure of Rose’s life in 1927, as silent movies connected fully with the deaf and hearing alike, respectfully. The literal structure of her timeline also reflects that of a silent film. There is no dialogue as the scene plays out, aside from dialogue intertitles that display what someone said, and the majority of the scene is delivered through action.
But, as talkies, the first type of film with sound, came into play, Rose felt that her world was attacked. She too ran away from her home in New Jersey to find a famous silent film actress, Lillian Mayhew. At first, the audience does not realize that this actress, played by Julianne Moore, is the mother of Rose, but after a brief interaction between the two, the audience has a revelation that both Rose and Ben wanted the acknowledgment of the parents they longed to see the most.
The parallels in Wonderstruck come neatly together through intercuts, but individually start off on their own stories, like any life.
In Ben’s timeline, New York City is a place where culture is vibrant in oranges, yellows, and browns, which accent the movie throughout its telling;
Rose’s timeline follows the classiness of the 1920s era. But what is particularly the same, something that has lasted throughout the decades, is the building they are both drawn the most to – the Natural History Museum.
Intriguing aspect throughout the Wonderstruck is the use of communication and what type of communication is even used. Rose’s father tried to dictate how her disability was handled. Disrespectfully, but maybe due to a lack of knowledge even for such a smart, rich man, he tried to educate Rose in lip reading. Later in life, Rose uses sign language with her brother.
When Ben loses his hearing, his aunt is beside him in the hospital with a piece of paper and pen, ready to explain what happened and how. Jamie happens to also be carrying a small notepad, which he uses to talk to Ben as well. Ben, having been able to hear before, can still speak normally and retain the memory of how to do so, making communication between him and Jamie, or him and Rose, faster.
For those who know sign language and the culture of people who are deaf, this is an incredibly touching movie. It is a movie that anyone could connect to in general, as most long for a fatherly or motherly figure, but it’s a story that has been done before.
With making the character so relatable and understandable, paired with the way the story was told, there is a new, unique movie ready to be seen by many, including the deaf. Wonderstruck will be appreciated and enjoyed as a family film for many, and meaningful story about wonder for more.