Essays · Movies

Why Todd Haynes’ ‘Wonderstruck’ is a Movie for Everyone

If you have a heart or just love good cinematography, you’ll want to watch ‘Wonderstruck.’
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By  · Published on March 6th, 2018

You might’ve thought you could relax now that the Oscars are over, but you’re wrong. There are still so many great movies that weren’t recognized by the Academy that you need to watch! Lucky for you, Todd Haynes, director of gems like Carol, I’m Not There, and Far From Heaven, made the perfect film for just about any audience, Wonderstruck. It’s also free to stream if you have Amazon Prime (if you don’t by now, shame on you). If that wasn’t enough for you to check it out, below are 6 reasons why Wonderstruck should be the next film you stream at home.

1. It’s a heart-warming story about purpose and family that someone at any age can love.

Author Brian Selznick adapted his own children’s book “The Invention of Hugo Cabinet” for Wonderstruck‘s script, but the story isn’t just for kids. Two dueling stories of two deaf children with 50 years in between them play out in the movie. Rose, a very young silent movie fan in the 1920s, runs away to New York City to find her favorite silent film star. Ben, recently involved in an accident that leaves him deaf, escapes to New York City in the 1970s in hopes of finding his father. Both are put into their own wild adventures trying to find their purpose in an unforgettable city. They come together in an emotional ending, but more on that later. It’s whimsical enough for kids to enjoy and deep enough for adults to bawl at the ending.

2. Taking from two eras, it has double the style.

Each story embodies the filmmaking styles of their time. Rose’s scenes are in gorgeous black and white, using lighting to create the enormity of the city, and the world Rose doesn’t understand. It’s not simply without color; it takes from filmmaking of the era, making Rose’s scenes feel just as magical as the silent films she watches in the theater.


In contrast, Ben’s scenes are bursting with color thanks to his 1970s setting. His dream sequences are jarring and experimental but fit with his story perfectly. When he enters New York City, the camera follows him down the streets filled with strangers in a way that gives us a sense of how the city feels all in a few shots. It’s beautiful, but in an entirely different way than Rose’s scenes. Haynes somehow masters not one but two styles in Wonderstruck, making it a dream for anyone who loves solid cinematography.

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3. The music is superb.

Since half of the film is in silent film style and our main character of the other half can’t hear either, there is very little dialogue throughout. This leaves room for amazing accompanying music, both the score and the soundtrack. Just like the visual style, the score for Rose’s story is as great as any silent film score, speaking for the characters without words and building a wonderful atmosphere for the visuals to bounce off of. The soundtrack in Ben’s scenes uses legendary 1970s rock like David Bowie, who fits perfectly with this magical tale. Below is a sample of the delightful score by Carter Burwell in a scene that follows Rose through the museum.

4. It’s a gift for any classic movie fan.

Todd Haynes uses a style reminiscent of classic films in half of the movie, but he also shows the magic that movies can hold through Rose’s story. Showcasing one of the most historic events in movie history, the erection of sound filmmaking, Haynes shows the impact movies have on Rose and everyone who loves movies. It’s obvious in the style, story, and direction that Haynes appreciates classic film, which he speaks at length about for TCM. He was inspired by several classic movies, including Night of the Hunter and King Vidor’s silent film The Crowd. For any fan of old movies, Wonderstruck will fill that void with something new thanks to its lovely silent movie theater scenes and story centered around a passion for the stars.

5. It has a killer cast.

Top-billed are the seasoned actresses Michelle Williams and Julianne Moore, but the children in the cast carry most of the movie. Williams is only in a few scenes and Moore only briefly until the end. Their moments are memorable despite that, but the talented young actors Oakes Fegley and Millicent Simmonds show them up at a much younger age. It’s hard to believe this was Simmonds first ever screen performance, which was even more difficult without any dialogue. The kids bring the emotion of the film and put on performances that are hopefully just the start of their careers.

6. That ending.

Don’t worry, I won’t spoil it for you. As you watch Wonderstruck, you’ll wonder what these stories happening decades apart have to do with each other. Writer Brian Selznick has a heartfelt monologue waiting for you at the end, complete with a cute diorama that shows you while you listen to the story in between your tears. It makes everything leading up to the end mean so much. It’s one of the most heartfelt endings ever, so buckle up!

Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck is streamable through Amazon Video.

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Emily Kubincanek is a Senior Contributor for Film School Rejects and resident classic Hollywood fan. When she's not writing about old films, she works as a librarian and film archivist. You can find her tweeting about Cary Grant and hockey here: @emilykub_