Wonderstruck and the Wonders of the Visual Sense

Wonderstruck, directed by Todd Haynes, perhaps it is one of those films in which the translation of the title to the Portuguese has not been happy. The film goes far beyond this idea that strong emotions leave the character, or even the audience, with shortness of breath. The original title, Wonderstruck, which means “hit by something amazing,” tells the story of Ben (Oakes Fegley), a child struck by lightning and loses his hearing. The film then becomes not just a strong, visual poem, but also one of the films that most exploit the sense of sight to those who can not hear. It’s one of the rare feature films that makes sign language connoisseurs understand the story more fully than those who pay attention to sounds.

The film starts with a very interesting effect. Ben, the protagonist, looks like an animation by painting in his nightmare. When he wakes up, things return to normal, but it is already established that the images in the film will not be common. However, it is not just the nightmares that gain this visual distinction. Ben’s story is not the only one that is part of Breathless. While Ben lives in the saturated color of the 1970s, Rose (Millicent Simmonds), a deaf little girl, lives in the 1920s black and white.

Lack of hearing is not the only characteristic common to both. Both Ben and Rose are desperate for something more. In Ben’s case, his divorced mother tries to hide any truth about her father. However, Ben sees in the mysterious father the promise of finding a different meaning for his life. After being struck by lightning, Ben runs away from home and travels to New York alone, in a city that, like any other metropolis, lacks many tools for those who can not hear (we must remember that Ben recently lost his hearing and does not speak the language of signs).

Unlike Ben, Rose seems to have been born deaf. However, the two live in a similar parallel. Like Ben, little Rose does not know the language of signs. With a hard dad who gives her a book for this language (it is not even clear that Rose knows the lyrics to understand the book), she also runs away from home and goes to New York in search of a mysterious actress.

The film is unconventional in the method in which its plot is developed. If in a conventional script the actions of characters cause obstacles that lead us to suspense and ask us how the protagonist will solve the problems, here the suspense is caused by the editing between the two characters. So, before showing what the outcome of any action taken by Ben, Breathless quickly changes focus and shows us the story of Rose.

And you have to understand this kind of strategy in the plot in order to enjoy the movie more fully. If we tried to see Breathless in a conventional way, the work quickly became boring and long. It is necessary to give to the images, as well as to the edition, a greater attention so that we can understand not only the plot and the characters, but also the way in which they were struck by this something surprising.

(article translated from the original in portuguese with Google Translate)

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