When travelling lately, I prefer watching inflight movies that are either based on real life events or are inspirational in some way. I was therefore thrilled to come across a movie called “Wonder” on an Emirates flight from Lusaka to Dubai.
The true-life story of August Pullman, a boy born with a facial deformity. Having undergone multiple surgeries to reconstruct his face, he had an unusual looking face. His mother home-schooled him till fourth grade, at which point she decided it was time for him to get out and face the real world, much to the anxiety of the father, who was inevitably worried about how other children would react to him.
As one would expect, the other kids at school mostly stared, taunted, avoided and ridiculed him. A handful accepted him and eventually befriended him. His intelligence was perhaps what saved him as he excelled in class.
But what a spirit this boy had. Through all the pain and hard times he kept his spirits up. Of course, there was the bad days when he cried and felt defeated. I was wondering throughout the movie – if that were me, would I take it the same way or would I give up on life?
I will not give any spoilers from here on, but it is a movie about the human spirit and our ability to handle pain and the hardships of life, much of which we have no control over.
I also loved that the movie went beyond just the perspective of Auggie, as he was called, to also show how his birth and life affected those around him, some aspects positively and some negatively.
It is a real tear-jerker and for nearly half the movie I had a lump on my throat through all the emotional scenes. There was the laughter and the anger too at times. Overall a great movie.
It got me thinking about a lot of things. My own childhood for one. I could relate to the little boy who, though brilliant, could not quite fit in a lot of times, but found his own way to shine.
I also thought how good it was that Auggie was both in the US, where he could get the surgery he needed for his face. A child born with such a deformity in Africa would not live even a few days. I doubt anyone would have even attempted surgery on him. Nature would have been left to take its course. Not only for lack of expertise, but also for lack of systems to support such expertise.
If he had lived beyond that and got those surgeries, he would have had to deal with African prejudices. Most likely he would have been labelled a witch. He would have been lucky if the entire neighbourhood did not blame their misfortunes on him and try to kill him. Dealing with bullies at school would have been the least of his worries. But then again, who would have even allowed him to go to school in such settings?
So, you have to ask the question – how many children in Africa face these hardships every day due to some disability or other? How many have never lived to tell their stories? How many have simply been forgotten?
But most of all I thought about the human spirit and what is good in us. We have the ability to transcend our prejudices, to look beyond the physical and appreciate what we really are; special souls, each one unique.
That spirit is most often amazing in those who are the victims of our prejudices and biases. Those who are “misfits” and different to most of us. Despite the torment, constant stares and rejection, such people are often the most loving, caring and strongest individuals you will come across.
That is special. That takes strength of character and personality. That is what Auggie has. That is what he is – a light in the darkness.