Wonderstruck

2017 Film, directed by Todd Haynes

Todd Haynes’ new film, ‘Wonderstruck’ is set simultaneously in 1927 and 1977. There are two stories about two children, Rose and Ben, searching for family, running away from home and, in the case of Rose, kneeling touchingly at the water’s edge and sending her note of despair away on an origami boat (for more paper folding, see later). Of course their stories coincide at the end – albeit with charming storytelling and impressive acting from Millicent Simmonds and Oakes Fegley .

Shot in black and white for the 20s, and technicolour for the 70s, the combination of these styles with appropriate costume and largely relevant music, make for no confusion about which part of the narrative we are following, and establish a clear ambience. In addition, as it shifts back and forth from era to era, we learn about the kids’ home life, hobbies and relationships, and begin to guess what the connections between them might be.

The poignant scenes of the misunderstood and vulnerable young ones roaming busy streets, of old cinema and theatre, antique book store, and museums galore (which unfortunately are reminiscent of Night at the Museum with some identical shots), are all arresting but somehow predictable; beautiful and yet obvious.

Both characters are deaf and much is made of this – Rose in her silence, with a stern father shouting, is secretly longing for her film-star mama (most authentic silent film until you recognise Julianne Moore!). Her narrative mimics little Ben’s, newly bereaved after his own mother dies in a car accident, and who is then struck by lightening no less.

The score is variously pop and classical, interspersed with quiet. There is an astronomical theme hence several renditions of 2001, A Space Odyssey (Also Sprach Zarathusra), and quite a bit of David Bowie with the final credits running out on ‘Can you hear?’

Repeated use of newspaper cuttings; scribbled messages on feint-lined pads; sign language; lip-reading for the audience; gesture and mime – with even a very brief appearance by a Marcel Marceau street performer – are enlisted to get the message across. The final denouement is enticingly told with animation and collage alongside a magnificent paper landscape of New York.

There is very little left to the imagination, countless clues are easily spotted by the keen-eyed (how many left-handed women can you see?), but Wonderstruck has lush sets and is richly dressed.

Zaragoza blog including paper museum, EMOZ (see below)

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Exhibit of paper folding, EMOZ, Spain. Apologies: artist’s name unknown.
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Victorian pop-up book, part of the historical collection EMOZ, Spain.

Museum of Paper, Zaragoza, Spain