While the whole squad has feelings about Ava Duvernay's new film A Wrinkle in Time, Susan and Mary bring you two perspectives out of four! Let us know what you thought of the film, or about your love for the novel in the comments below or on social media.
When I was a kid, I loved and feared Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time in equal measure. I loved Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin, but I loved the fantastic worlds they visited even more. I also had nightmares about IT, the giant brain that pulsated on Camazotz, infecting the entire planet with its insistence that choice makes people sad. Even as an adult, the image of a giant, throbbing brain unnerves me. I don’t like to think about it, which is probably the point of IT in the first place.
I’m not overly dedicated to L’Engle’s sequels to A Wrinkle in Time, though I’ve read them all at some point or another. The first novel feels complete to me, perhaps because one could argue that the main drama of the novel is that Meg gains confidence as she tessers around the universe. It never clicked with me as a child that Meg’s feelings about herself--her body, her personality, the whole deal--were somewhat universal to the experience of growing up as a girl.
Duvernay’s adaptation is hit or miss for me. Partly, that’s based on my experience in the theater itself. I went to an early afternoon showing and the place was packed with kids and adults, who clearly did not want to see the movie. Weirdly, my row was me and a ton of frat brothers. Hearing the kids talk throughout the movie, seeing the parents on their cell phones--it influenced how I viewed the film. More importantly, my familiarity with the book (and my recent rereading of Hope Larson’s wonderful graphic novel adaptation of the book) guided my expectations.
The film is sentimental, and it thrives on that sentimentality. Culture critics like Linda Holmes have praised the film for its use of character growth and “earned moments” of accomplishment. Holmes liked the movie, even though it featured a giant Oprah being...well...very Oprah. On the other hand, one of my favorite film critics, Emily Yoshida, announced on Twitter that she didn’t like the movie, but made clear that a public dislike of the film doesn’t mean she’s not invested in representation.
I fall somewhere in the middle of my two favorite women in film criticism. I did enjoy the movie, and the sentimentality of a giant Oprah worked on me, but only a little. As someone who works professionally to advocate for representation and body positivity, Meg’s journey resonates with me--as I think it resonates with a lot of women and young girls. Meg doesn’t like herself because she’s been trained to believe that the type of person she is can’t be desirable, which just isn’t true. As Meg gained confidence throughout the film, I cheered for her. I wanted her to succeed, and she does.
The film does feel sincere in the same way the book does. It has cut the Christianity and philosophy of L’Engle for pop culture (but inspiring pop culture--I really enjoyed the Hamilton reference), but the heart of the book is still there. Meg learns to feel better about herself by realizing her own strength and embracing her flaws, and that will always feel empowering to me. The film is about the power of love, and I do love love.
The most egregious missing piece of the film--and the only thing I took a huge issue with--was Aunt Beast. In the novel, Aunt Beast is a strange, eyeless being that nurses Meg back to health after she’s weakened on Camazotz. While revisiting the novel recently, I was amazed at how important Aunt Beast was in the novel. I barely remembered her from my childhood love of the book, and yet here she was, speaking the most important wisdom into my adult life. While the Mrs’s teach Meg to embrace her inner strength and believe in herself and her importance, Aunt Beast teaches Meg another important lesson: to take care of herself. Even though Meg wants to rush out into the world and save Charles Wallace, she can’t. She needs to rest. Aunt Beast sings to Meg, tells her stories, feeds her, and encourages her to rest. Aunt Beast takes care of her body and her mind. I work in a profession that encourages a constant state of stress (and I chose that, but that’s a whole other blog post), and the message Aunt Beast has to give means so much to me as an adult. Yes, our minds and our self confidence is crucial, but our bodies carry us through life and do so many wonderful things for us every day. It’s important to take care of them, too. Aunt Beast reminds us to relax, to eat something nourishing, and take a moment to heal the body in addition to the mind--because really, they’re both connected in a wonderful, and maybe even unfathomable way.
I liked this movie. I really did. If Young Mary could go back in time and watch it, I think she might feel a little more confident, a little bit like a Meg. The movie wants to impart a message to its young audience, and I respect that, yet it lacks the emotional depth of the novel. Maybe that was inevitable, considering it’s difficult to adapt movies from novels, but I think it could have been done. Overall, I’m left very torn about this film. The costumes are beautiful and there are some great performances, considering it’s a film marketed to children, but overall, I missed the rest of the message from the book, the one that helped me get through my childhood.
I did not read A Wrinkle in Time as a child. I don’t know how that’s possible, but that’s where I’m coming from in this review. I did, however, read it this past weekend before I saw the movie. Better late than never, yeah? I think so.
I’m glad I read it before seeing the film because I think without the book, I’d have enjoyed the movie less. I have mixed feelings about the film in general, however.
First of all, it looks really good. It’s colorful and pretty, and I was into Mrs. Whatsit’s costumes (but NOT Oprah’s glitter brows). There are some visually stunning scenes when Meg is out in the universe. But sometimes, that’s all there really was. Amidst the beautiful scenes, there were often missed opportunities for poignancy. In these unrealized moments, Disney erred too far on the side of sentimentality and seemed afraid to fully acknowledge the real complexities at the heart of Meg’s journey.
Speaking of a lack of complexity, poor Calvin (played by Levi Miller). This kid was given the world’s least interesting dialogue that more often than not just felt like filler. Like, well, someone has to talk right now, and it might as well be Calvin. Which led to him uttering lines like, “I smell food. Like good, roasted food.” What?
And what a colossal waste of Mindy Kaling’s talents. Mindy Kaling is a brilliant writer and a fine actor, but here she felt not only miscast, but also underutilized. In fact, Reese Witherspoon’s Mrs. Whatsit was really the only Mrs. who was used in any significant way in the film. Oprah was almost a stand-in.
Also, where the hell is Aunt Beast?! I cannot let go of this. Meg’s interaction with Aunt Beast was one of my favorite parts of the novel, and I was so looking forward to seeing how this character came to life on screen. BUT THERE IS NO AUNT BEAST. I’m still mad about it.
Another one of my favorite scenes in the book, when Meg meets The Man With Red Eyes, was really underwhelming in the film. That scene was actually pretty frightening in the novel, but the character (now called “Red”) was kind of clown-like, and that didn’t do a lot for me. Same goes for the IT. In the novel, the brain-without-a-body is the most unsettling thing Meg has ever seen. In the film, sadly, there is no brain. The IT is just a scary shadow. Except it’s not very scary.
All this said, there are some positive qualities to the film, and they almost all have to do with the conversations that the film might start. First of all, it’s hard to deny this film can be viewed as empowering for young girls, and especially young girls who are marginalized. Actress Dalila Ali Rajah wrote in the Advocate about the film’s focus on Meg’s hair and what this means for black women and girls. She says,
I was so poignantly aware of a black woman’s lens on this film when it came to the character’s hair — the details of which were so subtly woven in and beautifully handled. Meg realistically wet her hair first and sensibly put it up mid-adventure! . . . It's so incredibly important that in this film we are seen and that the film was directed through the lens of a black woman. I don’t know any little black girl who grew up in America that has not had a complex relationship with her hair.
As a white viewer, I think she’s right. For me, that was so subtle that it wasn’t something I focused on, though I did notice how much emphasis Calvin put on complimenting Meg’s hair.
Even as a white viewer, I did appreciate how diverse the cast was. If we’ve learned anything in recent years, it’s the representation matters – especially for children – and this film’s makers made a real effort to represent different types of people in its casting choices. (All the more reason I’m pissed that they squandered Mindy Kaling and Oprah.) But is just putting racially diverse actors on screen together enough? I don’t think it is.
I wish that the film was as empowering for children/teen girls as the novel is. The novel acknowledges real evil and does not flinch as Meg must face it and address her own faults. The film does this in such a superficial way that there is almost no triumphant payoff. It’s just like, “Well, Meg is braver now and knows she’s pretty.” That’s not enough for me. I wanted to see those moments where Meg had to really face herself, identify her shortcomings, and actively do something about them to defeat the IT. Kids are smart and complex humans, and they’re certainly adept enough to understand these battles without cheapening it the way this movie ultimately did.