Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

Stephen Chbosky (director), Stephen Chbosky, Steven Conrad and Jack Thorne (screenplay writers), Wonder (2017)

The film Wonder (2017) was directed by Stephen Chbosky from a screenplay written by Stephen Chbosky, Steven Conrad and Jack Thorne, which was based on the children’s’ novel Wonder (2012) by R. J. Palacio.  The film gently preaches the importance of being kind to others, especially those with a physical disability that they cannot change.  In this case it is a boy, August (nicknamed Auggie), who has the genetic defect of Treacher Collins Syndrome that gives him a facial deformity. 

Auggie had been home schooled by his mother and protected by a loving family.  He had been allowed to wear a toy space helmet in public so he felt more comfortable by avoiding the stares of others.  But his parents have responsibly decided to send him to primary school so he can begin to learn how to interact with the world and live a more normal life.  This is fraught with danger, since his odd appearance can scare people away from him or inspire bullying. 

The film presents Auggie as a very likeable boy with a love of science and an aptitude for the subject.  He is well ahead of his peers in school.  Different people will respond in different ways to the presence of Auggie in their midst.  His parents are patient and loving.  The school principal is welcoming and accepting.  But the students initially have some trouble getting used to the strange-looking boy.

The film presents the view that kindness is the key to acceptance, and the acceptance of difference is a supreme virtue. The overriding message of the film is: ‘Be kind’.  When Auggie receives kindness, he flourishes and he is able to live as close to a normal life as possible.  He even enriches the lives of those around him who open up and become close to him. 

In this context, the film celebrates the courage of a boy with a deformity who endures loneliness and bullying but prevails in the end, achieving acceptance and even admiration. 

The film presents the view that most people are fundamentally decent and, with time and patience, those in error can come around to the morally right point of view.  In the meantime, the film advocates for the quiet, patient perseverance that is needed to allow this to happen.  By the end of the story, Auggie has school friends who rescue him from a bully from another school.  He is popular and accepted. 

The film also puts forward the view that there are two sides to every story and that it is important to endeavour to find out the other person’s point of view.  This message is stated clearly in the film by the principal of the school.  It is also built into the structure of the story that sometimes revisits events from the perspective of another character who was involved.  This invites the audience to appreciate that some people may seem bad, but when you see things from their perspective you can appreciate that they did have good motives or they had made a mistake and acted against the better sides of their nature.  For example, the film shows that Auggie’s loving older sister Via can sometimes struggle with the comparative neglect she feels from their parents since they devote so much more of their attention to her brother. She can sometimes feel resentful, but she always comes around to appreciating that her brother does deserve special attention from her family, including from herself.  Another example of this presentation of different perspectives involves Auggie’s friend Jack.  He, understandably for a primary school boy, said to others that he would rather die than look like Auggie, not realising that Auggie was in earshot.  This revelation breaks up their much-valued friendship.  But the film shows that Jack did care for Auggie, and there were solid grounds for reconciliation.  Jack missed the company of his unusual friend.  When each individual learns about the other’s feelings, the foundation is laid for forgiveness and to resume their mutually beneficial and enjoyable friendship. 

The film also presents subtle messages about the value of racial acceptance by presenting characters from different races interacting and forming friendships or romances regardless of racial differences and as if race does not matter. Auggie’s sister Via will have a romance with an African-American boy and this is accepted by Auggie’s parents as if racial differences did not exist.  Similarly, a girl who admires Auggie’s courage in the face of being ostracised is also African-American. She makes a point of befriending Auggie as a reward for his stoic endurance of loneliness.  She will help Auggie to find acceptance and to patch up his relationship with Jack. 

The film also addresses the problem of bullying and argues for a zero tolerance policy on bullying.  There was a trend in public policy, especially in school administration, to stamp out bullying.  Bullying involves the physical and/or verbal mistreatment of another individual over time that produces physical or psychological injuries or both.  Bullies mistreat others because they can.  Bullying can be perpetrated or experienced by people of all ages but it is more prevalent among children since the part of the brain that produces empathy takes a while to develop.  Without sufficient empathy, people can be prone to take pleasure in the misfortune of others. 

Auggie has a deformity that singles him out and makes him a target for bullying.  The bullying campaign against him is led by a particular child, Julian, who is not necessarily a bad person but he is capable of bad behaviour.  He launches a sustained campaign of bullying against Auggie in the form of name-calling, ostracising Auggie from the group, gossip, and sending Auggie insulting drawings and messages.  When this comes to the attention of the school principal, he announces the school’s zero-tolerance policy on bulling and he suspends Julian from school. 

Importantly, the film depicts Julian’s parents as having done nothing to stop the bullying and they even encouraged it.  This implies that these parents failed in their parental responsibility to teach their son to do the right thing by others.  However, Julian learns from his punishment and he stops the bullying.  Later, he is shown to be happy when Auggie wins a school award.  Here, the film is implying that people can learn from their mistakes and that a zero-tolerance approach to bullying works.  The story also celebrates how Auggie endured and overcame the bullying.  Despite his suffering, Auggie continued to show goodwill to others until he won them over in the end. 

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

© Mark Lopez 2021 All RIGHTS RESERVED

The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

Subject: Wonder meaning, Wonder themes, Wonder analysis, Wonder notes