Wonderstruck is a film directed by Todd Haynes, starring Oakes Fegley, Julianne Moore, Michelle Williams, and Millicent Simmonds. The film tells the stories of two children, Ben (Fegley) and Rose (Simmonds), from different time eras, whose lives are eerily parallel. They are both deaf runaways, looking for a parent in the electrifying, terrifying New York City. Williams makes a small appearance as Ben’s deceased mother, Elaine. She captures a woman with an ample amount of mystery to her, the audience only knowing that she is alone in raising her child, she has a habit at pulling at her ponytail, and likes to wear a floral robe. Julianne Moore plays Lillian Mayhew, a renowned actress in the twenties–beautiful and youthful, only manifested in black and white, to emulate the time period.
Haynes meticulously uses shots and camera angles to show off the grandiose of the Big Apple. The film is visually stunning. In the parts where the film is set in the 1920s, everything is displayed in black and white, allowing the city’s antiquated beauty to shine through. With high angle shots of Rose walking into the theater to watch the latest Lillian Mayhew flick, the viewer sees the bustling streets of the city, and can immediately grasp the feeling of this place at this time. There is no sound, as Rose is deaf, only old-timey music, making it easy to focus on all that the visuals enable the viewer to see. In the parts where the film is set in the 1960s, the images are colorful and chaotic, creating a harsh distinction with the alternate time period. The camera amongst the crowded streets of the city, makes the audience feel as small and lost as Ben does. Speech is sometimes muted, as Ben is also deaf, and upbeat, jazzy music starts, letting the audience feel fully immersed in the atmosphere of time. Hayne terrifically illustrates two eras in the same city, getting the audience to jump back and forth with ease, whilst being fully indulged in the visual artistry of the film.
Since the film revolves around characters who cannot hear, the audience is only satisfied by what they can see. There is only music, camera movement, and the opticals. This leads to many moments of the movie to be boring. Since the audience is just looking at what is happening, especially when the setting is the 1920s, scenes feel like they drag and lose their excitement. When set in the 1960s, there is more dialogue, as the audience can hear what others say, it is only Ben who can’t, scenes are more stimulating, yet still somewhat dull. In every scene, there feels like there is something. There should be…more, just more. The appeal of the visuals can only grab onto watchers’ attentions for so long. The plot is intriguing and grows more and more wild and unexpected, but the twists are handed to the audience in such a subdued fashion. It doesn’t hit hard and make the viewer feel the way that they should.
However, the ending is really what saves the film. It ties everything together in a whimsical, fantastical, touching way. The ending is a collection of moments that answer all questions and gives the audience a sense of fulfillment. The viewer feels comfortable leaving the characters and the story where it is. The cessation of the film is tremendously moving and will make it rather difficult for the audience to remember that they were ever previously uninterested. Certainly expect to shed a tear.