The Wonder does something strange. The movie – which centers on Florence Pugh's nurse, sent from mainland England to a derelict village in Ireland to monitor a young girl who has "miraculously" not eaten in months – start with a shot of the film studio before slowly pushing in on the fake interior of a ship and finally Pugh, sitting at a table eating stew, before the action begins.
It essentially pulls the audience out of the film entirely before asking them to narratively and emotionally invest immediately – and it’s a bold move devised by director Sebastian Lelio to wrong-foot viewers with what they should and could believe, to demonstrate the inherent falsehood of storytelling.
"This is a film that explores the power of fiction in our lives," he tells Total Film for the new issue of the magazine, featuring Avatar: The Way of Water on the cover. "You know, everything is a story. The self is a story. Democracy is a story. Money is a story. A nation is a story. And in the era of the internet you have all these people that are willing to suspend disbelief in a second, in a blink. We have to finesse the stories that we create for each other. We cannot let stories degrade, because then we will disintegrate. That’s why the film wants to say, ‘What are you believing in? Who are you believing in? Are you fixated on that position? Or do you have enough spiritual and intellectual elasticity to change, to adapt?’"
That modern idea of the narrative is something Pugh (to whom many column inches have been devoted in recent weeks following the release of Don't Worry Darling) is certainly cognisant of: who controls it, who it benefits, and who believes it. As a powerful social-media figure as well as actor, she’s well aware of the potency of the tales told on different platforms.
"I have a big Instagram, to which I obviously share and show people the films that I’m in, and the craft behind them," she says, sipping her tea. "But I also know that prior to me having all of those followers, I was also noticing that we were going down a rabbit hole of people showing ridiculous lifestyles, and showing ridiculous images of themselves. And so from the beginning of when I started getting followers, I always made sure that I would never filter pictures. I wouldn’t remove what I look like. I wouldn’t alter what I look like.
"And I would do stupid dance videos, and keep my spot stickers on. I don’t mind if people know I have spots on the weekend, or even today," she points to her made-up face where presumably a blemish lurks. "Showing people who are following that is really important. It means more to those younger girls that are growing up with Instagram, having that as well as the wonderful premiere pictures. I’m human. I still have things that grow that I don’t like, and I still wee, and I still poo, and I still fart. That’s me.”
That authentic narrative about oneself, the lack of self-mythologizing, is something Pugh sees in her character Lib, even if the thorough nurse doesn’t have a screen to scroll through. Lib has her own secrets that contradict a Victorian idea of the perfect woman. "I don’t think she was ever really ashamed, it didn’t feel dirty," she says. "Yeah, she has her flaws. That doesn’t mean to say she’s not doing good work."
That's just part of our interview with Pugh featured in the new issue of Total Film, which hits stands (and digital devices) this Thursday, November 10. The Wonder is in cinemas now and on Netflix from November 16.
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