‘A Wrinkle in Time’ Review: Book Vs Movie

When A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle was published in January 1962, it had been rejected twenty-six times by publishers. She tried to sell the book for 2 ½ years. Publishers weren’t sure what genre A Wrinkle in Time was or whether it was written for children or adults. Today it is classified as Young Adult Fiction and Science Fiction/Fantasy. In L’Engle’s journal, she wrote about rejection, “Each rejection, no matter how philosophically expected, is a wound. I won’t destroy my book for money for some editor who completely misses the point, which this one obviously did.” Farrar, Straus & Giroux published the book that went on to win The John Newberry Medal and Lewis Carol Shelf Awards. It has sold more than 10 million copies. It made the top 100 all-time banned books list. Many have felt that this novel is too religious and contains anti-Christian and supernatural elements. L’Engle considered herself a Christian and attended Episcopalian services and believed in universal salvation. “If I’ve ever written a book that says what I feel about God and the universe, this is it. This is my psalm of praise to life, my stand for life against death.” L’Engle also said, “It was also my affirmation of a universe in which I could take note of all the evil and unfairness and horror and yet believe in a loving Creator.”

When I first read A Wrinkle in Time in grade school, it was thrilling to me. It began with, “It was a dark and stormy night.” A trope by today’s literary standards, it hooked me. With a strong female heroine and misfit Meg Murry (about twelve years old) at the helm, it’s a story of good versus bad and the power of love. This theme of light versus dark would have been familiar to me as I was a Jehovah’s Witness and Bible reader since I was two years old. Dr. Murry, Meg’s scientist father has mysteriously gone missing while working on a secret government project. He left behind his wife (also a scientist), ten-year-old twin brothers Sandy and Dennys, five-year-old baby brother Charles Wallace (who is called that all through the book) and dog Fortinbras. No one in the Murry family has given up hope that one day their father will return. In the community and at school, rumors are going around that her father left them for another woman. “Surely her mother must know what people are saying, must be aware of the smugly vicious gossip.” The Murrys are a tight-knit loving family and Meg, and Charles Wallace seems to have their own type of language and are connected to each other. “How did Charles Wallace always know about her? How could he always tell? He never knew—or seemed to care—what Dennys or Sandy were thinking. It was his mother’s mind, and Meg’s that he probed with frightening accuracy.” On that night, we meet the character Mrs. Whatsit, who shows up late at night unannounced (but not unexpected) and tells them as she’s leaving, “there is such a thing as a tesseract.” Tesseracts are wrinkles in time and space (shortcuts if you will, but I wouldn’t have understood the concept back then). The fact that Mrs. Murray was okay with letting this strange woman (even if her five-year-old Charles Wallace vouches for her) into their home late at night is curious.  Mrs. Murray is surprised that Mrs. Whatsit knows about tessering; she and her husband had been studying this and experimenting with it.

Meg is not doing well at school, gets kicked out of class, is fighting with other kids and doesn’t like herself. “A delinquent, that’s what I am,” she thought grimly.” In many ways, I felt like an outsider.  I looked different; my father being Chinese and my mother white, I also couldn’t take part in school activities that included anything holiday related or sing the national anthem. When I ate pumpkin seeds because my teacher said it was ok but it was Halloween, I got punished by my mother. I was terrible at math (unlike Meg) and wasn’t the best student and a quiet, shy kid. When Mrs. Whatsit tells Meg that her gift is her faults, Meg says she is always trying to get rid of them. I tried to be a good Christian but as a kid, it was tough, so I got in trouble often.  Meg will save her father and all of them because what she views as faults are assets. L’Engle based Meg’s character on her own childhood; she viewed herself as awkward, gangly and a poor student.

When Meg and Charles Wallace go off to find Mrs. Whatsit at the haunted house to learn more about a tesseract, they meet Calvin O’Keefe, who is older (also popular and athletic) than Meg and goes to her school. Calvin has been called to meet Meg and Charles Wallace through a feeling. Calvin says, “When I get this feeling, this compulsion, I always do what it tells me. I can’t explain where it comes from or how I get it, and it doesn’t happen very often. But I obey it. And this afternoon I had a feeling that I must come over to the haunted house.” At first, it appears that he would play the role of protector but his gift according to Mrs. Whatsit is his ability to communicate with all kinds of people.  His family life isn’t great. His mother yells a lot and doesn’t take care of herself. He says that they don’t give a hoot about him, but he loves them anyway. I also saw myself in Calvin. Our home life was chaotic, and my mother dealt with mental health issues and alcoholism. I often felt alone, and a book like this was my escape. When Calvin tells Meg, “You don’t know how lucky you are to be loved,” it could have been me saying it.

When we come upon the eccentric Mrs.Who she communicates using other people’s words because it’s difficult for her to verbalize what she wants to say. She says things like, “Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait point. French. Pascal. “An ingenious way to add some of your writer’s favorite passages. Mrs. Who lets Meg and Charles Wallace know that she approves of Calvin and that Dr. Murry needs their help and they will be the only ones that can help him. When they meet the last of the celestial beings Mrs. Which, it is on the night of their departure and they all tesser off to the planet Uriel. Although she appears to look like a witch, Meg feels she can trust her completely. So, when Meg trusts someone, as a reader, I did too.

The children think that the mission is only about finding their father, but it’s deeper than that. Can they trust themselves, accept who they are and work together? When Mrs. Whatsit shows the children what darkness their father is trapped in, Meg wonders, “What could there be about a shadow that was so terrible that she knew that there had never been before or ever would be again, anything that would chill her with a fear beyond shuddering, beyond crying or screaming, beyond the possibility of comfort?” I was familiar with this story of evil. As Jehovah’s Witnesses, we knew of Satan’s existence and his demons and the upcoming battle of Armageddon. Satan walked the earth, looking to test God’s followers and tempt them. All Christians would be tested, even the children. I had seen Christians being fed to the lions in the Roman arena at the Musée Historique Canadien in Montreal. It gave me nightmares. When Meg begins to sob, I could relate to this fear. Meg knows that she may face her worst fears and push through them. Mrs. Whatsit tells them that is even though it will be hard, hope remains. Which made me think of, “Now, however, these three remain: faith, hope, love; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor.13:13 New World Translation).

The travelers are soon taken behind the shadow in Orion’s belt to visit the happy medium with the crystal ball. When they look into the crystal ball, the darkness, the black thing, the power of blackness is hovering over Earth. But the earth has not given in because Mrs. Which assures them that the darkness has been resisted by warriors of light such as Jesus, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Bach, Pasteur, Madame Curie, and Einstein. This was a point of contention for some Christians seeing Jesus on equal ground with imperfect humans.

When they arrive on Camazotz to find Meg and Charles Wallace’ father, Mrs. Whatsit tells them that they will do this on their own. Camazotz has given in to the darkness, and it’s a world that is enslaved by IT (a disembodied brain). Everything is identical in this world and conformist (think Stepford Wives). Mrs. Whatsit assures the children that they will be near them, watching them, but they will not be able to come to their aid. Meg will be given her gift of faults, Charles Wallace, the resilience of his childhood and Calvin the ability to communicate. Mrs. Who gives Meg her spectacles (without directions mind you) to be used as a last resort. The children must stick together. Mrs. Whatsit reminds them, “Only a fool is not afraid.”

Once the children get to the Central Intelligence Building, they meet an evil force; the man with the hypnotic red eyes (IT’s prime coordinator and IT’s main man). Meg doesn’t want Charles Wallace to look into the man’s eyes because she knows it will take his mind over. The man with the red eyes and IT want Charles Wallace and that is only way to find their father. The man says, “Why don’t you trust me enough to come in and find out what I am? I am peace and utter rest. I am freedom from responsibility. To come in to me is the last difficult decision you need ever make.”  Charles Wallace asks whether he can come out once he goes in and the man says of course you can. He promises to take them to their father. Charles Wallace reminds Meg, “We have to do what Mrs. Which sent us to do.” Once the red eyes and light bore into Charles, it appears he is lost forever. Meg shrieks, “That isn’t Charles! Charles is gone!”

Charles Wallace tries to convince Calvin and Meg to join him, but they continue to resist. The man with the red eyes tells them that Charles Wallace will take them to see their father perhaps hoping they will join up with IT. When they come upon Dr. Murry, he is in a transparent column, kept prisoner and trapped because he will not give in. Meg is unable to touch or talk to him. Meg remembers that she has Mrs. Who’s spectacles, so she uses them and finds herself in the cell with her father. As she pressed against her father all was forgotten except joy. I was very close to my father when I was growing up until my parents split. He was there for us in a way that my mother couldn’t be. When he left, I could have easily imagined him trapped somewhere on another planet by evil forces to endure his absence.

When Meg gives Dr. Murry the glasses, he escapes the column. Dr. Murry tries to talk to Charles Wallace but can’t reach him. Meg thought her father would know how to save them, but he doesn’t have a clue. L’Engle seems to touch on that childlike faith that cracks when we find out that our parents don’t know everything. When Charles Wallace says that they have to go to IT, there is no resistance from her father and they follow him. “Do something; Meg implored her father silently. Do something. Help. Save us.” It seems hopeless.

When they meet IT, it’s a terrifying sight. “A living brain. A brain that pulsed and quivered, that seized and commanded. IT was the most repellent thing she had ever seen, far more nauseating than anything she had ever imagined with her conscious mind, or that had ever tormented her in her most terrible nightmares.” IT was working hard on Meg, so she tried to fight back by yelling out nursery rhymes and the Declaration of Independence, the periodic table of elements. IT tried to tell her if she destroyed IT, she would be destroying Charles Wallace. Before IT can break them down, Dr. Murry tessers them away (It was too dangerous to take Charles Wallace away since he is trapped in IT’s mind) to safety.

They land on the planet Ixchel where Aunt Beast saves Meg’s life. Meg is paralyzed because The Black Thing was starting to get a hold on her. Meg is angry because Calvin got Dr. Murry to tesser them away from danger and left Charles Wallace behind. The beasts on this planet, have tentacles, heads, and indentations for faces and are gigantic. It’s a weird part of the book that gets omitted from the movie. When Meg asks Aunt Beast about whether those on their planet are fighting the Black Thing, they say yes and the good, the stars and light help them. The three W ladies have admitted they were stars so this makes Meg think that the beasts may know them.  Calvin calls them guardian angels and messengers of God.

As Meg recovers Mrs. Who, Which and Whatsit show up. They tell her that they can’t save Charles Wallace. Only Meg can.  She tells her father, “I wanted you to do it all for me. I wanted everything to be all easy and simple….So I tried to pretend it was all your fault…because I was scared, and I didn’t want to have to do anything myself.” Mrs. Whatsit tells Meg that they won’t let her go empty handed. She gives her love always. Mrs. Who tells her, “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are.”  Mrs. Which tells Meg that she has something that IT has not. But she must find it for herself and must do it alone Calvin cannot go or her father. It is not their journey. It’s up to Meg.

Meg thinks about Mrs. Which words on her way over Central Intelligence and IT. She is going to get Charles Wallace back. IT still tries to get Meg through Charles Wallace by taunting her with a final jab about Mrs. Whatsit saying that she hates Meg. She remembered that Mrs. Whatsit said she would love her always. That is what IT didn’t have. Love. She realized that all she had to do was love, Charles Wallace. She kept thinking Charles. Charles, I love you. My baby brother who always takes care of me. Come back to me, Charles Wallace, come away from IT, come back, come home. I love you, Charles. Oh, Charles Wallace, I love you.  She now was able to look at Charles Wallace and bring him back to her. The spell was broken by love. Meg had outwitted IT and saved Charles Wallace by trusting and believing in herself.  Meg feels darkness and cold then the feel of the earth. Meg, Charles Wallace, Calvin and Dr. Murry are all back home. Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which are there for a moment with them start to say good-by and then disappear with a gust of wind and are gone. As a kid, I loved the happy ending. Maybe things could work out for me too.

How good can a movie be when you’re constrained by time and not 190 pages? Making a movie out of A Wrinkle in Time was considered impossible at one time. Disney attempted this in 2003 as a television movie and it didn’t get great reviews and L’Engle was not a fan. “I expected it to be bad, and it is.”  

Rotten Tomatoes gives it 40%.  Before I went to see the movie, I was careful not to read any comments on the movie, so I could (more or less) make an unbiased review.

In the movie, Meg Murry (Storm Reid) is a kid that doesn’t fit in at school and with her peers. Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), her adopted six-year-old brother, doesn’t fit in either. Their scientist father (Chris Pine) has been missing for five years after he discovers a new planet and travels there.  The two team up with Calvin O’Keefe (Levi Miller), a boy at school and crush, and celestial beings, Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey) to find and save their father and defeat evil. There are some omissions from the book that are not obvious at first. Twins Sandy and Dennys are missing and their dog Fortinbras and Aunt Beast. The movie is more diverse in casting the characters, and there are little (if any) religious undertones. There are more detailed differences here: https://www.cosmopolitan.com/entertainment/movies/a19408730/wrinkle-in-time-book-vs-movie/

However, the costumes were amazing, the storyline was easy to follow, and the film was gorgeous. Some critics have said that Wrinkle in Time was written for children, not adults. The director Ava DuVernay said, “This film is for 8 to 12-year-olds. That’s the sweet spot for it. Hopefully, other people will go out and enjoy it, but that’s who I made it for.” So, did my inner kid show up during A Wrinkle in Time and watch the movie? She did and loved it.

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