Movie Review: ‘Wonder’ (2017)

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Today I accompanied my school’s Middle Year students on a trip to the cinema to see ‘Wonder’, a new film based on the bestselling book by the same name about a boy who has facial differences.Jacob Tremblay plays August Pullman, alongside Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson who play his parents. The stage is set when the Pullmans decide that Auggie should start 5th Grade in a mainstream school, having been homeschooled by his mother until then. Mandy Patinkin plays a very wise and empathetic school Principal, Mr Tushman.

What a sad world we live in when a kid gets less attention walking through the city or a park wearing a space helmet than he does when wearing his own face. It’s human nature, I know, but that doesn’t make it okay. This film challenges that “default setting” in a very compelling way.

Auggie’s teacher, Mr Brown, challenges the kids to ask themselves: What sort of person am I?
This movie challenges every audience member to ask themselves the same question. How do I deal with difference? What does my face tell them? What kind of friend am I? What monuments do my deeds leave?

The audience feels sympathetic to Auggie long before they see his face. When he says, “I know I’ll never be an ordinary kid ordinary kids don’t make others run away from playgrounds” it’s like a punch in the stomach that leaves you winded.

As the movie rolls on, we also see that the “regular” kids like Auggie’s sister, Via, have their own challenges with acceptance and friendship, even without the extra challenges that some kids face. Over and over, this film reminds me again just how cruel kids— and people in general— can be, in so many ways.

The journey of discovering who is real and who is not is often painful and traumatic. Together, Auggie and Via realise that they are each other’s best friends, and lean to rely on each other for the support and love that they need to get through each day.

The development of genuine friendship reminds us that looking past the surface to really see someone is what makes a crucial difference to anyone, but especially those who are so aware of that surface. There is also a painful reminder that even the nice kids can make mistakes when they focus on appearances instead of who someone really is.

This movie delivers so many powerful lessons about accepting others and even more about accepting ourselves. In both cases, we need to learn to live according to the precept established by Mr Brown in Auggie’s first lesson in 5th Grade: “When you have.a choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”

It sounds simple— perhaps too simple. But is it?

The hardest part may be in finding the willingness to step out of our comfort zones and open our own minds to each other and the possibilities that our differences bring.

Everyone old enough to understand the difference between kindness and judgement should see this film.

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Two-sday Surprises.

Sometimes, a small surprise can mean a whole lot more than its face value might suggest.

This morning didn’t seem any different than most when I left the house to head to work, but it proved to hold two lovely surprises.

The first surprise came in the form of a shop assistant who remembered me as her teacher from a number of years ago, and happily recalled the things she had studied and learned with me. An adult now, and with a different hair colour, I had not recognised her, but she knew me straight away.

It was nice to hear that she thought the books we read and the lessons we drew from them were valuable, and that history classes were interesting. It was wonderful to see that she had grown up into a confident, friendly and polite young woman with a lovely personality.

Of all the fond memories she recalled, though, one in particular had a profound effect on me: “You were the one teacher I ever had who showed me that it was okay to just be me, because that’s who I was meant to be. It’s something I have never forgotten.”

Wow! What a privilege to hear a former student say those words. I have struggled for many years with self acceptance, and as a teen I knew full well the agony of not fitting in with a particular crowd. Even then, I had the strength of will to resist peer pressure and not buy into many of the pitfalls that offered themselves to me at bargain prices and opportune moments. But that didn’t mean I was free of the wish to be someone or somewhere else – a desire that has recurred several times since.

Yet, somehow along the way, I managed to communicate something valuable about self acceptance to at least one teen in a similar situation.

I wonder if that knowledge would appease or satisfy those who think I push too many boundaries. Being part of a fairly conservative school, church and family, I take both pleasure and pride in not exactly looking conservative. I don’t intentionally break the rules, but I don’t mind testing their limits. My opinions often differ, and my willingness to assert them can make others uncomfortable. I don’t see that as a problem, though. There is merit in challenging people to see different perspectives and to accept differences. I’d like to think that people might become so used to my differences that I will need to think of something new to do to keep them on their toes.

My second surprise was a note on my desk from ex-students who had a reunion on Saturday night. I attended the reunion: it was a lovely evening of catching up and reminiscing. I didn’t realise, though, that they had left me a love letter on their tour of the school. How gorgeous that they still know how to make their English teacher happy and proud.

ANZAC Day, 2015.

Hundreds of people attended the ANZAC Day memorial service at the cenotaph in Cobden for the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing. There were thousands at the dawn service in Warrnambool and hundreds of thousands at the dawn service in Melbourne. The grey clouds and steady rain did not deter them: instead, it seemed appropriate for a time of sombre reflection.

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In Cobden, the path to the cenotaph was lined by a guard of honour consisting of our Scouts and Girl Guides.

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A lone piper played in tribute to the fallen and in honour of the returned servicemen who were present.

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Hearing the New Zealand ode spoken in Maori was very powerful, even though most people there couldn’t understand a word of it. The speaker’s love for his country and thankfulness for the ANZACs and all those who served after them was evident through the emotion in his voice.

The Australian ode was spoken equally powerfully.It was impossible to remain unmoved by all the feelings of love for my country, gratitude for those who have served and the freedoms we still have because of them, and sadness for the loss of life on both sides. I made no effort to hide several tears that spilled down my cheek when they played The Last Post and during the period of silent observance before they played the Reveille.

When they played the instrumental version of the Australian national anthem there was no invitation to sing, but half the crowd sang anyway. I would have loved it if everyone joined in, but I guess the “I’m not singing in public” sentiment is still strong among many people.

It was beautiful to meet a little boy, Euan, who was incredibly proud to be wearing his great-grandfather’s war medals. I watched him stand attentively and proudly through the whole ceremony. He had obviously been made aware by his parents of the importance of the medals and the reason for the commemoration, because he took it all very seriously.

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I am so thankful that remembering those who served their country and their fellow Australians, New Zealanders and allies, often at the expense of their own lives, is so important to so many.

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“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”

Lest We Forget.

How will you be remembered?

The first time I remember hearing that someone famous had died was Elvis Presley in 1977.  I was ten, and had already learned to love his music. I watched Elvis movies on TV on Sunday afternoons. I sang along with his songs. I cried when I saw on TV that he had passed away. 

I remember quite vividly the time I was watching TV and the newsreader told me that John Lennon had been shot and killed. Again, I loved his music and the magic of lyrics that touched my soul, even as a thirteen year old. I always was into poetry, lyrical or otherwise.

I remember when Princess Grace of Monaco died in a car crash in 1982. I was shocked, and felt deeply for her family, especially her daughter Stephanie who was in the car with her when it happened. I knew of her as the elegant and sophisticated First Lady of Monaco, but I had also loved her in ‘High Society’ and other movies. 

That same year, a friend of mine was killed while riding his bike to visit his new workplace. He was hit by a drunk driver. He was just a regular guy. He was funny and sweet. He had so much talent and his life as a young adult was just opening up for him. His horizons were bright. He was gone far too suddenly, too soon. 
The grieving among his friends and family was intense. There were no news bulletins, magazine stories or headlines. Social media didn’t even exist. But there was a large church packed full of people who loved him and wished with all our hearts that he hadn’t been taken.

There were things we all wished we had said. Moments that we had allowed to slip by without acknowledgement or appreciation. We would never get another chance. 

This was my first experience of death among my friends. It was followed by several others over the next few years. All of them were young men – healthy, talented, funny guys who were genuinely loved by their family and friends.  Even now, I think of each of them when reminders pop up in conversations, on Facebook, in places we used to know. 

I remember being in the car, on the way to church, when I heard on the radio that Lady Diana, Princess of Wales, had been killed in a car crash in Paris. I was incredibly sad – more so for her sons and her family than anyone else. I watched her funeral on TV. I watched Charles and his boys as they walked slowly in the procession to Westminster Abbey.  The image of the wreath of flowers from William and Harry on her coffin, with a note that simply said, “Mummy”, broke my heart. That was when I really wept. 

It is completely understandable that people get upset when a beloved movie star, singer or other celebrity dies. 
Someone they admire, respect or aspire to be like has passed away. Their unique blend of personality, talent and beauty, be that physical, intellectual or spiritual) has been lost to those who remain behind. 

Last night the news was that Paul Walker, star of various movies, had died as the passenger in a car that hit a pole and burst into flames. The driver, his friend, was also killed. 

There has been a huge outpouring of grief on social media for Paul Walker, but what of his friend?
There were two men who died in that crash. 
Most likely, there were numerous other young men who were injured or killed in car crashes this past weekend alone. They were important, too. They were someone’s sons, brothers, cousins, friends, boyfriends, employees, students, teammates. Surely their lives are just as valuable as the celebrity?

Many families grieve every week for these reasons.

It can happen to anyone.  It can happen to anyone’s family and friends.
Young men in cars are more likely than anyone else to be injured or killed on a weekend.  

Life is so fragile, even though most of us tend to live as though we are invincible. 

In your grieving for those who have achieved fame for their talent or beauty, please think about and acknowledge the others who remain faceless and nameless to most of us.  They are no less important.  Their families also need prayer, support, condolence and encouragement.

It’s really important that we learn to use our grief as a reminder to make sure that our family and friends know we love them and appreciate them. Create positive, lasting memories so that there will always be a legacy of love when someone is gone. The memories and love are invaluable.

Our legacy of memories and love to our family and loved ones is far, far more important than fame.