A Wrinkle in Time is a gloriously bright, fun quest in which three children go looking for two of their father and end up becoming part of the unending fight against real evil. While many reviews have claimed that this movie is incomprehensible, not faithful to the book, or filled with unrelatable, unlikable characters, upon actually watching this film (as someone who was a huge fan of the books as a child), I found none of these things to be true. In fact, this movie is a wonderful, entertaining adaptation that had me crying at several points.
I sympathized with and adored Meg, I laughed with Calvin, and I feared for Charles Wallace. Mr. Murray’s relationship with his wife is deep and touching, and we can see the depth of their love for each other and for their children. This movie is a beautiful offering to young women, particularly young black women, as well as the smart young men who get erased from media too often in favor of stereotypically aggressive forms of masculinity. I walked out of the theatre feeling energized and moved, and hoping, (intensely) that the studio gets on board with making A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet to follow up.
Spoilers below the cut!
There is Such Thing as a Tesseract
A Wrinkle in Time draws the best elements from its source material and leaves the weak elements behind. Though I’ve read reviews that complained that it strayed too far from the book, this objection is very strange in that all of the major characters are present, and the movie follows the structure off the movie very precisely. There are only two major elements that I can think of that got cut:
The twins, Sandy and Dennys, got cut. This makes sense because frankly, they have no major importance in four out of five books of the Time Quintet apart from being the “normal” children in a family of science geniuses, and frankly, it would be jarring tonally to have two boys so utterly unaffected by their father’s disappearance in this movie alongside their traumatized sister and brother. I also don’t really understand why they are so well adjusted in the books. The second big cut is a small plot cul-de-sac from the book titled “Aunt Beast” in which Mr. Murray tessers (badly) Meg, Calvin, and himself to a nearby planet in an attempt to save them from IT, leaving Charles Wallace behind. While I loved Aunt Beast herself, the chapter is unnecessary. It just exists for additional exposition and to push Meg into doing what she was going to do anyway: Go to fight IT and save Charles Wallace by herself.
Self-aware of this second cut, the movie has the Happy Medium spot Aunt Beast in a cameo as he’s looking for Meg’s father. I enjoyed that because it allowed us to see how they would’ve animated the species without having to add 15-30 extra minutes to the runtime just to explain something Meg is going to do before she does it.
What is added, however, brings real value to the plot of the movie. Much of the book has the children moving from one location to another without much explanation or reason. When they are left on Camazotz by themselves, the reason the Misses can’t be with them is unclear. (They mention it is not “their way” to help directly, but that’s a cop-out.) Why Calvin wants to follow Meg and Charles Wallace in the book is also unclear, for the most part, aside from his sixth sense that he’s needed. Why Meg struggles with tessering, why she is having so much trouble at school, also vague. Even worse, the book just ENDS, without the emotional resolution necessary when a father who has been gone for YEARS suddenly and inexplicably returns.
The movie fills in these gaps, gives us the emotional and narrative glue necessary to understand that the Misses simply cannot exist in such a dark place (and this resolves when the light begins to return). Meg’s willfulness directs the tessering, and her insecurity which will play into the darkness later makes sense as a major contributor. And if you watch Calvin O’Keefe looking on Meg with absolute adoration for even a second, you’ll know why he would follow Meg to any corner of the universe. You know why he’s so diplomatic when the complications of his family life are noted.
Even more so, you get to see the material effect of the darkness on the planet Earth in ways that are only hinted at in the book. This is tremendously powerful and important to the movie. It determines the stakes; not just the children’s father is in jeopardy, but rather the entire universe and it manifests in common ways that we can recognize.
When we come to the end, there is actual resolution. No, not all evil has been defeated, but Meg and Charles Wallace have put a good dent in it and given Earth a change. No such assurance occurs in the book. Meg declares her love for Charles Wallace and then they are home. After reading the book I felt let down. I wanted more between Mr. Murray and his wife, and especially between Mr. Murray and Meg, who has good reason to be angry with him in spite of her being glad he’s back. Even if it wasn’t his fault that he was captured for so long, he did get caught up in something he wasn’t prepared for, and that Charles Wallace almost got left behind. These little details are SO IMPORTANT, and the movie made sure to protect the heart of the film in spite of its dazzling special effects.
Finally, toward the end, the visual representation of IT has changed. In the book, it is simply a huge brain. To our imagining today, this would be odd and hokey. Instead, the movie chose to portray IT as the INSIDE of a brain, with dendrites curving and twining around, tree-like and threatening as Meg and Charles Wallace fight out their final battle. This visual is amazing and draws the humor and silliness out of those final scenes, which would not have aged well. Like removing the giant squid from the end of Watchmen, this change probably saved the ending of a film that bases its logic on a very simple concept:
The Wound is Where the Light Enters (Rumi)
Meg Murray’s flaws are multiple: She doesn’t like herself, she is stubborn, she is distrustful, she is a very wounded and conflicted individual. But she loves her family deeply. All of these things make her incredibly strong as a character. If you cannot sympathize with a teenage girl, who doesn’t like herself most days, who both lost her father and is bullied for it, then you are too calloused to understand that Meg’s pain is important to her strength.
She is wounded, but she can use this pain to become better, stronger. The Misses lead the children forward, but Meg cannot be forced to go anywhere. Her stubbornness takes her to Camazotz, her distrustfulness protects her from IT, and her skepticism helps her find her father. When she is finally able to tesser on her own, it is beautiful.
Additionally, it is so important that as she is declaring how much she loves Charles Wallace—and he LOVES HER TOO—she acknowledges that she is worthy of love. This is a lesson that both she and Calvin need, and one that children watching all need to hear. You are worthy of love.
Even if you’re stubborn. Even if you’re a problem. Even if people don’t think you are good enough. Even if you are wounded. You still deserve to be loved.
This finessed handling of the material, woven through Meg’s common experience as a teenage girl and compounded by the disappearance of her father and the feelings of abandonment, makes the movie all the more cohesive.
In the end, Meg has already made her journey inside and out. She had to go around the universe to transform herself and gets a genuine apology from her father. But Calvin needs this lesson, too. He very clearly admires Meg before he even comes up to speak to her, and he’s quietly floored by the feeling of love in the Murray house. In the end, after pushing Meg to understand that she is special, he comes to the conclusion that he needs to talk to his father. We don’t know if this talk will have the result Calvin wants, but he’s gained the courage to fight for himself. He learned that from Meg.
He’s also, you know, hilarious. Being starving in the middle of a mission and stuffing SAND-wiches (haha) in his face: Total mood. Same, bro. I can’t think when I’m hungry either.
We walk away from this family hopeful. From the wise commands of Mrs. Which, we know that Meg and Charles Wallace plan to return to Earth as warriors for the light. It is clear that the darkness that threatens us is still there, but strong, stubborn warriors are still fighting and will continue to do so.
Coming out right now, this movie is an especially important story to tell. Things feel strange; we feel surrounded by awful things; we get worn out from fighting. But you just have to be like Meg: Stand for what you believe in, love with all of your heart, and never give up even when people are being dragged away.