Wander, Explained

April Mullen’s ‘Wander’ is an undoubtedly ambitious noir-thriller and a very unusual one at that. Featuring a cerebral and paranoid Aaron Eckhart (Arthur) backed by a suave but suspicious Tommy Lee Jones (Jimmy), the story plunges the viewer into the vortex of a conspiracy theory that has a direct link with the protagonist’s own past.

The story follows Arthur through a web of mystery as it unfolds in the titular township in the American hinterlands, but the viewer can never be fully convinced with the proportions of the mystery due to Arthur’s own seemingly unstable mental state. However, the finality of the film ostensibly substantiates Arthur’s conspiracy claim. In a film that revolves around a fanatical and boisterous conspiracy theory, the truth gets distorted in a cacophony of lies and deceit, and the hero must risk his life to bring the truth to light. While the ending tries to hastily bestow upon the story an overarching conclusive note, there remain many questions that need to be answered. If you are wondering whether Arthur’s story is true or not, let us follow you through in your thought. SPOILERS AHEAD.

Wander Plot Synopsis

Conspiracy buff, private investigator, and radio show host Arthur Bretnik aka Atlas Major lives in the “Middle of Nowhere.” Haunted by the death of his family in a traumatic car accident, Arthur is not a mentally stable man per se. He is accompanied by Jimmy, his patronizing sidekick. One day, during the radio show, Arthur gets a call from one Elena Guzman, asking for help regarding her daughter’s murder. Arthur somehow connects it to his family’s accident and embarks upon the investigation.

The case leads him down a rabbit hole that reinstates his faith in a master network with a hidden agenda of creating a master race that is causing all the inexplicable murders. Jimmy comes to the garage where the scientific experimentations take place, discovering the “Fox Hole” that leads him to an underground chamber. But here is an unreliable and fickle-minded narrator who cannot really be trusted, and even Arthur himself begins to doubt himself at one point in the film.

But there is a reversal – Elena Guzman is actually an immigrant named Sofia Lopez, and before Elena’s death, she reveals that Jimmy is not to be trusted. Arthur is easily manipulated, and he trusts Jimmy enough to take him to the Fox Hole. But things go south as Jimmy wakes up in a crime scene with too many bodies. Has Arthur killed those men? Or is it part of a bigger and sinister plot orchestrated by powerful people? In a world where truth is manufactured, the viewers are dissuaded from taking sides until the very last moments.

Wander Ending: Is Arthur a Reliable Narrator? What is the Oryon Project?

The conspiracy theorist in Arthur stresses from the beginning the involvement of a covert organization. He senses that the deaths of his wife and daughter are related to the death of Zoe Guzman as soon as he takes up the case. Arthur goes to the mysterious outlandish township of Wander which seemingly hides a ghastly conspiracy underneath its apparent tranquillity. There seems to be something sinister at play from the moment Arthur enters the town. He is stopped by police named Santiago, who seems to know Arthur’s name. After enquiring about the purpose of Arthur’s visit (and Arthur can’t answer convincingly), the sheriff suspiciously lets him go.

Arthur goes to the morgue to find multiple bodies killed in the same manner, with a hole in their chest. He comes to overhear a conversation between the police officer and another woman and eventually is led to a garage, which is seemingly the front of the Oryon Project. The garage leads Arthur to the Fox Hole where experiments take place. The woman in the morgue mentions one Canton, and in due course, the audience comes to know that Canton is Victor Canton, a scientist based out of Wander who has invented the heart implant chip technology. The chip collects anatomical and geographical data from its host, and as it asserts control over a person’s central nervous system, it can even kill a person.

Arthur also notices that while the chip victims come from different ages, gender, and ethnic groups, they are all immigrants. There seems to be a bigger picture to all this. As the conspiracy goes, a covert group of rich and powerful people is seeking to gain control over the immigrants to create a master society. In essence, the chip is a tool to exercise complete dominance. In the interrogation scene, he claims that they have implanted a chip in him as well. However, Shelley and her FBI friend do not believe it due to their prior knowledge of Arthur’s delusions, and he is sent to a mental institution. In the final moments, Arthur cuts his chest open with a pen and the camera focuses on Arthur as he burst into hysterical laughter. As the camera pans to his hand, we see him holding a chip. In its pinnacle, the film subscribes to Arthur’s version of reality about the existence of the Oryon project.

Is Jimmy Dead? Are Jimmy and Elsa Connected to Illuminati?

We are told about a hidden organization orchestrating the murders of immigrants, but the identity of the organization is never disclosed. In a film where nobody reveals their true identity, making sense becomes increasingly difficult. As the muddy waters of misinformation and cover-up mislead the audience into thinking that Arthur is responsible for the murders, the story urges the audience to suspend their disbelief. “They” want the police to think that Arthur committed the murders in a fit of delusion.

“They” are the ones who implant the decapitated body of Jimmy in the trunk of his own car. But if there is no face to look at, how would the police be sure that the body belongs to Jimmy? Well, in a later scene in the film, it turns out that Jimmy is alive. Validating the warning of Shelley and late Sofia Lopez, Jimmy is complicit with the covert organization. Jimmy and Elsa visit Arthur in the prison to divulge that he has been the “patsy” in their cover-up plot. Jimmy is an easy target due to his poor mental health, and the narrative of an unreliable narrator such as Arthur will never be fully convincing to the police. Even we cannot trust Arthur completely until the very final moment.

The sinister plot of the story seems to have been modeled after the web of conspiracies involving the mythical covert organization called the Illuminati. While nobody believes Arthur, he seems to be convinced of the involvement of the Illuminati in the Oryon Project. In the mobile home of Arthur, Shelley comes across a wall display where amidst a plethora of photographs and documents lie the symbol of the Illuminati. The hush-hush nature of the film regarding the association is explicit and deliberate. In the confrontation scene, Victor hints at the existence of an overarching reality governing their lives. Before shooting Victor, Arthur urges him to “say it” when But befitting in the manners of cult confidentiality, Victor does not say the name of the organization. The organization’s alleged attempt to create new world order by subduing the immigrant class fits the description of the conspiracy theory surrounding the secret society of the Illuminati.

Who Are Shelley and Tanya? Is Victor Responsible for the Death of Arthur’s Daughter?

Shelley’s relation with Arthur is not explicit. She has an FBI boyfriend named Nick and yet looks after Arthur. It seems as if Shelley is a daughter figure. We meet Tanya in the early moments in the film – as she sits in a wheelchair, Arthur feeds her gently. In a later scene where Elsa tries to convince Arthur to get his revenge on Victor, she utters the name of Tanya. Tanya seems to be Arthur’s wife who has been paralyzed by the horrific accident that happened two years ago. The accident has also taken the life of their child Cleo, as is inferred from the story.

However, is Elsa telling the truth about Victor’s involvement in the tragedy? Or is she manipulating Arthur so that the organization can find a perfect candidate to blame the inexplicable deaths of Wander? This is the only question that leads to further speculations and calculations, and it seems that Victor was perhaps not involved in the death of his daughter after all. Elsa uses Arthur’s own tragic life story to motivate him to murder Victor while shooting the police personnel herself.

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