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Watch This Review

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Movie Review

When Ben found the old book about New York's Museum of Natural History among his mother's things, it was an eye-opening revelation.

First of all, there were the pictures.

The hand-drawn sketch of a so-called "Cabinet of Wonders" from way back in the 1920s was utterly captivating to him. The massive cabinet packed with sculptures and taxidermy and other exotic antiques caught his eye because, well, it almost reminded him of his own room: every space and shelf packed with treasured collectables.

Second, there was the bookmark.

Ever since his mother died in that terrible car accident, Ben had felt lost and alone. But the bookmark he found tucked away in that dusty old tome gave him a sense that just maybe he still had a relational connection … somewhere.

"Elaine, I'll wait for you. Danny," was scribbled out on the back of that bookmark. Could Danny be his dad? Could this be a cryptic message from the father that 12-year-old Ben never knew a solitary thing about? Could there be a man somewhere out there in New York City who might like to meet his son as much as that son would like to meet him?

Third, there was the accident.

Just after Ben found that book on a stormy night in 1977, he picked up the phone to call the number printed on the bookmark. That's when a lightning strike zapped him via the phone line. Ben was rushed to the hospital by his worried Aunt and woke up with no hearing.

But that freak accident also meant that Ben suddenly gained access to a bus station just across the street from the hospital. It was a bus station that could transport him to New York City, to that museum, to a book store, and hopefully, to a dad.

What Ben didn't know was that 50 years earlier, in 1927, a young girl named Rose had run away on a similar journey of her own. She was seeking out a parent as well. She was deaf, too. And she would be equally astonished by New York's Museum of Natural History and its Cabinet of Wonders.

Most importantly, Ben couldn't possibly guess that he and that young girl from 50 years before were connected. They were tied together by a secret neither of them knew about … one that could only be discovered if they somehow managed to meet.

Positive Elements

Ben keeps a notecard, given to him by his mother, that reads: "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." This Oscar Wilde quote becomes something of a theme throughout Wonderstruck. In the context of this movie, it suggests that we all share a common humbleness, but through our connection with others—family and friends—we can gaze up upon the beautiful things of life.

Part of that process for Ben is becoming friends with a boy named Jamie. Jamie teaches him sign language, shows him things of wonder in the museum and helps him eventually find the answers he's seeking.

Rose makes a similar connection with her older brother, who finds a school of the deaf for her and helps her learn how she, a hearing-impaired girl in the 1920s, can fit into the world around her.

Spiritual Content


Sexual Content

During a sweltering New York City summer, we see some shirtless guys and women in revealing clothing (including a few in clingy tube tops that expose their midriffs).

Ben's mother obviously gave birth to him out of wedlock. And though it's implied she fell in love with Ben's father—a man from her past—she repeatedly deflects Ben's questions about him.

Violent Content

Lightning strikes a telephone pole outside Ben's house, and it zaps the phone Ben is using. He's knocked out cold and subsequently loses his hearing. Rose is almost hit by a horse-drawn cart. She jumps back and falls to the ground. We see a newspaper clipping that reports that Ben's mom was killed in a car accident. And we hear of a young man who died due to a genetically linked heart disease.

Crude or Profane Language

One use of "oh my god."

Drug and Alcohol Content

Ben's mother smokes, as does Rose's mom. Ben's teen cousin lights up, too, after she explores his deceased mother's bedroom and finds cigarettes among her belongings.

Other Negative Elements

A thief snatches Ben's wallet and steals all his money. Both Ben and Rose disobey their guardians, running away to seek out a missing parent. Rose rips a page from a magazine in a local shop and steals it. Ben's new bud, Jamie, lies to his father about staying at a friend's house, then roams the halls of a museum with Ben after hours.


Based on a 2011 illustrated novel by Brian Selznick, Wonderstruck is a movie that requires some patience. Its slowly paced story unfolds like it would if you were actually reading it page by page. Its back-and-forth-in-time tale of two young protagonists—separated by 50 years but tied together by their lack of hearing and a special secret—can feel almost painfully unfocused if you don't encourage yourself to sit back, enjoy the nicely crafted period-piece visuals, and bob along with the flow of the film's quietly flowing narrative.

Here's what I mean by all that: Even though Wonderstruck's storyline feels as if it were designed for young viewers—like the book it's based on—this is not your typical kids' movie. There are no explosions, fantasy flights or cartoon characters to be found anywhere. And some of the implied relationships and off-screen adult choices can, frankly, feel a bit too mature for the youngest set.

But for the right, thoughtful audience, there's a simple and at times richly communicated message here about family, friendship and our search for something beyond ourselves. It's a cinematic "Cabinet of Wonders" all on its own, but one that takes a bit of time to appreciate.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

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Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes



Readability Age Range





Millicent Simmonds as Rose; Julianne Moore as Lillian Mayhew/Older Rose; Oakes Fegley as Ben; Michelle Williams as Elaine; Jaden Michael as Jamie; Tom Noonan as Older Walter


Todd Haynes ( )


Amazon Studios



Record Label



In Theaters

October 20, 2017

On Video

May 22, 2018

Year Published



Bob Hoose

Content Caution

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