Is The Wonder Based on a True Story? Real-Life Events Explained

The Wonder

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There has been a lot of talk about the upcoming Netflix movie starring the brilliant Florence Pugh, The Wonder. Directed by Sebastián Lelio and based on a book by Emma Donoghue whose work we’ve already seen on the big screen – The Room, starring Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. The movie follows a nurse, Lib Wright, who has been set on a task to uncover the truth about a local girl that has not been eating for four months at that point. The girl claims to have survived this long only with her faith and the belief of other worshippers who think of her as a potential saint. Furthermore, we are going to see whether The Wonder is based on a true story and if so, to what degree.

The movie which was based on Donoghue’s book was based on real-life cases of multiple young girls fasting for different religious reasons from the sixteenth century up until the twentieth century. The writer Emma Donoghue prides herself in the extensive research she does before writing her books. She finds her inspiration in the real and then builds her fictional world around it.

Now that we’ve established the answer, we should look into the details of this case to show how exactly Donoghue incorporated real-life cases into her story. If you are intrigued so far, stay with us and keep reading!

Is The Wonder based on a true story?

Now that we’ve got your curiosity settled with our short answer, let’s take a look at what initially inspired the writer Emma Donoghue to write this book. Donoghue is an Irish writer who immigrated to Canada when she was young. So far she has had a lot of success starting with her book Room which eventually went on to win an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

This brought a lot of positive attention to her work so it’s no surprise that we’re seeing another one of her books making it onto the big screen once again. The director for this upcoming project is Sebastián Lelio who said how he immediately connected with the two main characters, the nurse Lib and the miracle-girl Anna.

He describes their relationship as a very interesting look at what happens when two beliefs clash. The nurse comes from a scientific background and the girl is from a religious one. He goes on to explain that he sees a connection with today’s conflicts. And how far will someone go with their beliefs even if they stray away from the already set realities.

Donoghue spoke at the Free Library Library of Philadelphia about how her story was based on fifty different real-life cases of young girls fasting for religious reasons. She explains how the topic of fasting was relevant in Ireland, especially after the Great Famine that affected hundreds of thousands of people all over the country.

It lasted for seven years, from 1845 to 1852, and the story she wrote was set in 1859. This was one of the many elements she accounted for when writing this book. The initial stories that drew her in were all the different stories that talk about young girls who starved themselves to gain a certain celebrity status within their religions.

She mentions how relevant the topic still is and how it affects young girls and their mental well-being. The first thing that would come to mind is definitely eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia which are unfortunately still quite relevant. When asked about some of the cases she says at the time of her attending the conversation about the book, she read about a case of a young girl in India dying after a fast that lasted for 68 days.


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This happened in 2016 when a 13-year-old girl from Hyderabad fasted for nearly ten weeks before she passed away. The family claims that Aradhana was admitted to the hospital two days after completing her fast where she died of cardiac arrest but the death certificate says that the girl was brought dead.

All of this happened during the Jain rituals during the holy period of Chaturmas. The rituals alone, in the way of today’s interpretations, don’t promote extreme fasting but there are older Jain rituals that are practiced by monks and nuns. Specifically, the act of ritual starvation is seen as the monk’s ultimate act of nonattendance, by which he lets go of the body for the sake of his soul.

The article says that at least 600 people attended Aradhana’s funeral, not in protest but in praise. After some questions were raised the family responded that the people criticizing them were the same people that came to their jewelry store to take pictures with Aradhana.

There was a member of the community that said this: ‘It has been a practice for people to undertake severe penance when they give up even food and water. They are glorified, lauded, and honored at community meetings by the religious elders. They are also showered with gifts. But in this case, it was a minor and that is my objection…”. She finally adds:  ”This is suicide if not murder.”

This further goes to Donoghue’s point of the older traditions still following us to this day. Seeing that this was one of the many examples Donoghue has given, it definitely makes the topic at hand that much more important.

The book implements these key elements of starvation and it is seen as a scale for pureness. The story of a nurse that was sent out on a task to a small village in Ireland. And what she found was a young girl starving herself for her religion but ultimately because of the societal pressures of a poor community with a very difficult life that takes comfort in the spiritual.

When is The Wonder going to premiere?

If the story behind this project and the book interest you, you should look out for the official release date. The Wonder had its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival on September 2 and was released in select cinemas on November 2, before its streaming release on November 16 by Netflix.

This movie stars the amazing Florence Pugh as Lib Wright, Kila Lord Cassidy as Anna, Tom Burke as William Byrne, and Elaine Cassidy as Rosaleen. Fun fact about the second lead in this film, Kila Lord Cassidy, this is going to be her first feature role and she plays alongside her mother Elaine Cassidy who is playing the role of her mother in the film as well.

The Wonder (2022)

Something to enjoy while you’re waiting for the movie is Donoghue’s new book that came out in August this year called Haven. It is set in seventh-century Ireland, a scholar and priest called Artt had a dream telling him to leave the sinful world behind. We follow two monks, young Trian and old Cormac while they row down the river Shannon in search of an isolated spot on which to build a monastery.

Drifting out into the Atlantic, the three men find an impossibly steep, bare island inhabited by tens of thousands of birds, and claim it for God. In such a place, among other things they constantly have to worry about survival.

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