The story behind Julia Roberts' new movie, Wonder, has already had a worldwide impact before it even hit theaters. That's all due to the monumental popularity of the book which the movie is based on, by author R.J. Palacio. Palacio's novel — and the new movie based on it — tells the story of a young boy, Auggie Pullman (played by Jacob Tremblay), who has noticeable facial differences, as he enters mainstream school for the first time. But exactly what condition does Auggie have in Wonder? After her book was published in 2012, Palacio specified that Auggie has a severe form of a genetic condition called Treacher Collins syndrome.
Even though Palacio didn't base Auggie off of someone she knew personally, she learned a great deal about what might cause Auggie's facial differences. In a 2012 interview for a blog called Random Acts of Reading, Palacio explained, "I spent a few weeks researching genetics—specifically facial anomalies in children." Going on, the author said, "I decided not to get too specific about Auggie’s malady in the book, but in my head he has a severe form of Treacher-Collins syndrome complicated by some other unknown mysterious syndrome that makes his particular condition quite rare."
According to the Genetics Home Reference, an estimated one in 50,000 people have Treacher-Collins syndrome, so it's already rare on its own, but the mysterious syndrome which Palacio mentions compounds Auggie's exterior abnormality. As the movie explains, Auggie's condition is caused by a genetic mutation, and it can be expressed in various ways, though it always influences the development of facial bones and tissues. To focus on Auggie's uncommon appearance misses the point, though, as the film is all about people's hearts.
The film serves as a great example of why superficial differences shouldn't affect people's perceptions of others, and it drives home the age-old truth that everyone should be kind to one another. As you might have guessed, the incredibly touching story is a real tear-jerker, and it migh even affect your life in greater ways than you'd imagine.
Once the book, Wonder, came out, it immediately found its place on the The New York Times' bestseller list for over 150 weeks, and then it sparked an anti-bullying movement called Choose Kind. The movement includes a classroom challenge for third to sixth grade teachers to implement for their students, and since Wonder is a children's novel, it's taught in schools, sometimes by Palacio herself. Now, with the movie coming out, its stars, like Daveed Diggs of Hamilton fame, are spreading the message of kindness themselves with the hashtag #ChooseKind.
Considering how heartfelt Auggie's story is, it's no wonder that Julia Roberts immediately fell in love with it. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, the actor, who plays Auggie's mom, explained, "I think the biggest message of the movie is that every minute of every day, we have this option to be the best version of ourselves, to make a choice that’s just a little sweeter, just a little kinder, just a little bit more positive."
It's not only Auggie's bravery to enter a new situation while feeling like an outsider that makes the movie so profound, but the way that his family and community helps him along the way will also make your heart sing while watching Wonder. Just as the book initially sparked a kindness movement, the movie will likely inspire its audiences to stop themselves when judging others based on their appearances.
While Auggie's story is an extreme case of how a rare genetic condition could influence the way people treat him, Wonder's hopeful message can — and probably will — influence anyone it reaches.