Some sporadic thoughts about A Wrinkle in Time

So did you see A Wrinkle in Time? You should do that, if you haven’t. I’m not going to tell the joke about you going and doing that, because it would take a while, but if you haven’t, consider it something to do. I wanted to write something about the film and the book, since I basically grew up on the latter. In a couple of odd ways, the film is actually better.

OK, so obviously here be spoilers.

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For real.

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OK, cool. The basic story of A Wrinkle in Time is that Meg’s dad, a scientist, goes missing. Her mom, also a scientist, has to take care of the entire family. Meg’s little brother, Charles Wallace, is a very 1970s depiction of what it’s like to be a child genius (this summary is only of things that are true in both versions, but that is, just as I said it). Charles Wallace (who is one of those people who always get addressed by their whole name, like Stephen Stills) knows three witches, who are actually “soldiers” in a war against pure evil raging across the galaxy (and universe?). They recruit Meg and also a kid named Calvin to go rescue Meg’s dad, who is held captive by an alien who is also the pure evil. They do so.

If that sounds like I’m making fun of the story, I guess I am a little bit. I do love it, but it also sure does say there’s such things as “pure evil” and total good and so on, so forth. This will be important later.

Now, what did the movie change that actually matters? Well, it made a lot of changes to Meg’s family. The parents are an interracial couple, which does not change the story at all but adds a lot of important overtones about acceptance in society. For instance, all the teachers and students are particularly nasty about how Mr. Meg’s Dad is gone, which is certainly, in the film, due in part to the race of the characters. Since Meg’s Dad is white, people sort of assume he just fucked off. It helpfully deals with an issue in the original book, which is that there’s no reason why the townspeople, who have known Meg’s Dad all his life, would assume he’s so shitty as to just fuck off.

The family is also missing a couple of members… Sandy and Dennys are twins and are in between Meg and Charles Wallace. They are also Very Normal. They garden and do sports things and don’t talk about math all the time. We are informed that they’re just as smart as everyone else, but they’re better at hiding it, because that is definitely a thing teenagers are able to do, right?

Meg and co. do not tumble back and forth between planets once the climax begins. This removes some of the very important thematic stuff, which the movie has to stuff back in a little awkwardly. If you haven’t read the book you may have wondered why the Happy Medium points out “Mrs. Beast.” That’s because she’s this decade’s Tom Bombadil. She is a beloved character from the book who is very important thematically and has the bad luck to be in a scene that isn’t “filmic” enough. In this case, after everyone leaves Charles Wallace behind on Camazotz, Meg is very sick and very pissed off. Mrs. Beast nurses her back to health, and Meg finally lets go of all the crap she’s been carrying around. This provides a well-timed opportunity for Meg to realize her father is but mortal, with an arc and stages of grief and everything. The movie packs all this into a few minutes, which is certainly a corner it painted itself into, but what are you gonna do?

The movie also sort of guts Calvin’s character, which is fine but disappointing to the literature nerd (me). Calvin is very much not important for most of the rest of the books, though he sort of kind of is in the next one? So this is basically fine.

What is the same that should definitely have been changed? Well, in the movie it’s even more awkward and weird when the witches talk about great Earthlings who have been champions of justice, because, uh, there wasn’t as much worldbuilding so what the hell? I’m told there are already sequels in the works (I guess Sandy and Dennys’ story isn’t on the schedule though), so throwing some of that in helps to prep for the next one maybe? But, honestly, the stuff with Mr. Jenkins does that way better. If you wondered why the hell Mr. Jenkins is featured after Meg is no longer actually in school, it’s because there’s a sequel. I’ll leave that alone for now.

Here’s what I liked about the movie: it actually expanded most of the characters, including Meg, Charles Wallace, and Meg’s Dad. Chris Pine was amazing (as was everyone, I just really like Chris Pine in this — I think I like it better than his Star Trek performances). Everyone has talked about the visuals with good reason: they are great. The depictions of tesseracts and the weird shit on Camazotz are both great. I particularly like the invisible walls and steps.

Here’s what I did not like about the movie: it did not come up with a theoretical backbone for the world. It removed one, but didn’t put in the other.

If you haven’t read the books in a long time, or have not at all, you may be surprised to learn they were deeply Christian. They were, however, a weird kind of Christian. For instance, L’Engle wrote about what’s called “a slow Fall,” in which the world gets less and less holy over time. So, in the time of Noah, people can just chat up angels, while in Meg’s time they can’t. That’s, you know, sort of not surprising, but L’Engle’s ideas about how the “slow Fall” would work drive the books.

L’Engle did try to have it all ways: she includes both Christ and Buddha as warriors of light in the cosmic battle, along with a few writers and scientists. She also insisted on scientific explanations, and at one point in a sequel depicts the Big Bang but it’s also God making the universe — and Charles Wallace can see it both ways.

The Christian stuff is, frankly, pretty weird and skeevy. It’s what makes the bad guys BAD and the good guys GOOD, with no other explanations necessary. A Wrinkle in Time actually has the least amount of it, which is why it’s the book that works the best — there’s some stuff in there about conformity and “safety” as things that lead to evil, while expressing oneself without limits and hatred leads to real goodness. That stuff’s good. That’s the stuff that’s still in the film. But the theological backbone is really important to everything else, and it’s just not in there. The issue is there’s nothing else there either.

Why the hell would I say the movie is better in some ways? Well, the character development is (mostly) stronger (alas, Meg’s Mom, you’re still as underdeveloped as ever, maybe more so). Camazotz is more than just a 1950s suburb, though honestly I kinda like that, but then I grew up in the 1980s, when that was still a thing in some places (as opposed to now, when people just want it to be a thing). And the updating of Mrs. Who’s quotations is nice; they’re more multicultural. If you were a space alien using literature to communicate, would you really stick to white dudes exclusively? The film does still give pride of place to Shakespeare, with two quotations to everyone else’s one (that’s the same as in the book). I don’t think it absolutely had to be Shakespeare, but L’Engle did it that way, and it was a nice way to acknowledge her interests while making things a little more current.

These have just been my thoughts about the movie, thrown at a wall, so to speak. I intend to write a little more, in a focused way, about the story.

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