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Strike that

Millicent Simmonds in WONDERSTRUCK

Spoilers ahead, I guess, for those who have neither read nor seen Wonderstruck; those who have read Brian Selznick’s 2011 novel will find a remarkably consonant story in Todd Haynes’ new movie for which Selznick wrote the screenplay. So if you’ve read the book but not seen the movie, press on, as you’ve been spoiled already.

If you loved the book you will probably love the movie. It is exactly the same thing, he said sweepingly. I did not love the book, and, soon into the movie, I realized that it was not for me, either. And because social norms allow a movie to subject you to itself in a way that a book cannot, it was pretty much torture. I haven’t walked out of a movie since The Madness of King George, and Wonderstruck is not that bad. It’s not bad at all, really: My Richard is a true film buff and he loved it. And the performances, especially by Millicent Simmonds as young Rose and Julianne Moore as Rose’s mother and old Rose, are great. The filmmaking, contrasting 1920s and 1970s New Yorks and cutting very effectively between the two, had all the attention to period detail we love and hate about Todd Haynes. And that the entire movie is captioned is a neat nod to its theme.

But I am, in book and movie, defeated by the reverse engineering of the story and the journey to a forgone destination. I had forgotten the details of the plot, only remembering that somehow the two stories we were seeing would eventually get together. I had also forgotten just how hard they would get together, with a bingo-bango-bongo sequence of narrative revelations delivered in a rush at the end. It makes all that has gone before seem less convincing than it had been in the first place.

While mostly content to emit the occasional low growl at particularly labored moments, at one point I did whisper in Pam’s ear that I couldn’t imagine kids watching this not wanting to climb the walls. But there were plenty of kids at this showing and there were no signs from them of the boredom and alienation I felt.  So don’t listen to me.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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Comments

  1. Mine — 11 and 13 — *were* doing a bit of wall-climbing in fact (it was my pick, not theirs).
    The cinematography and editing were beautiful (modern silent film? cutting across film-color and time?!) — and I appreciated it on that level. Though the 1970’s over-styling did completely remind me of ARGO in a not-happy way.
    I’d read the book aloud with my kids several years ago and liked it for the novelty of its structure and for the fact that the much-loved AMNH was key to the story. Like you, I’d forgotten where the plot went.
    Watching, I was struck by the degree to which the double-deafness felt like a plot or even stylistic contrivance. When the lights went up I heard multiple people in the audience wonder aloud whether the apparent lightning strike at the end of the film had returned Ben’s hearing. That such a thing was even imaginable also underscored, for me, the odd-note struck how Ben’s existence as a newly hearing impaired kid was handled.

  2. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    I got a little confused when he meets his new friend at the Natural History Museum, lightning strikes, and then it seems for a bit like Ben had recovered his hearing. But in fact we’re hearing what the new friend (Jamie) is hearing. In all I thought the confluence between hearing and deafness was really well done.

  3. I do adore Haynes (his 2002 FAR FROM HEAVEN is my #1 favorite film of the new millenium and CAROL is magnificent) and like the vast majority thought Martin Scorsese’s wondrous HUGO was first-rate but I found the script here emotionally distant. I’ll watch it again, but the first viewing was only passable.

  4. Susan Finney7 says:

    I haven’t seen nor read Wonderstruck, but will comment on your line “And because social norms allow a movie to subject you to itself in a way that a book cannot, it was pretty much torture”. Perfect. This can happen in the classroom when we subject students to video. It can be a good experience, or torture!

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