The Movie Version of “A Wrinkle in Time” Was Markedly Less Feminist than the Book
Meg Murray, the heroine of my childhood, was made small in this cinematic adaption. This was particularly jarring given the way the movie was promoted as an opportunity for young girls of color to see themselves saving the universe. Instead, we all saw a young girl who couldn’t tesser properly because she didn’t think she was beautiful, who ended her brother’s violence through love, and who quickly forgave her self-absorbed father. The worst part? None of this was in the book.
As I walked out of the movie, I wondered why the screenwriters traded the book’s message of Meg Murray realizing her power for one where she came to accept the way she looks. In the book, Meg is described as awkward and is characterized as someone who feels uncomfortable in her body. However, the book did not lay this out as an obstacle to overcome or central to the plot. It treated it more as a natural part of growing up and the discomfort of being a teenager.
In the book, Meg’s challenges with tessering, or traveling through space and time, were not about her self-esteem issues. It was just something that didn’t come as easily to her. The book gave her the space to be imperfect for no other reason than that she’s human. The movie’s focus on her appearance felt belabored and, frankly, insulting. Why choose to make the most superficial thing about a young girl so pivotal to her success?
In a similar vein, I cringed watching the movie when I realized that a young girl could see this movie and take away the message that the way to save the universe is by telling a boy who is hurting you that you will love him in spite of him hurting you and, in doing so, save him. As if we don’t give young girls enough messages that they need to sacrifice themselves. In the book, Charles Wallace does not physically hurt Meg at any point. Furthermore, he is not taken by the darkness. Instead, he arrogantly and willfully chooses to go to it because he believes that he can overpower it.
The movie did accurately illustrate that Meg saves Charles Wallace with her love, but the movie undermined the power of love by requiring Meg to convince Charles Wallace of her love. In the book, she simply needed to realize that what she has that “It” does not is love. Upon this realization and focusing her love on her brother, she’s able to save him in the book. Her love is enough. I watched the movie fearing young girls would leave it thinking if they can find just the right words to convince a boy they love him, they can stop the boy’s violence. This was not only upsetting, but felt dangerous.
Finally, Meg’s agency and bravery in saving Charles Wallace was removed in the film because she only stayed to save him by resisting her father trying to remove them. In the book, her father successfully removes Calvin and Meg to another planet where Meg is healed after being hurt through the journey. The Mrs. arrive and tell them that Meg has to be the one to return given her closeness to Charles Wallace. In the book, Meg’s father protests and offers to go in her place. In the book, Meg chooses to save the universe. This agency and the choice is important because it illustrates that it is our choices when we are called to action that make us heroic.
Furthermore, Meg does not have to forgive her father for leaving in the book. He leaves by accident in the book — a mistake as he was exploring the concept of the tesseract. In the movie, however, he chooses to leave because he wanted to “shake hands with the universe”. Upon returning and his apology, Meg immediately forgives him. She is not given the time or space to be angry. This was not only unrealistic, but an odd message to send young girls as society at large grapples with the ways women’s anger and pain has been silenced. I believe that one way we stop every generation from having to go through a #MeToo movement is by raising young girls to know we are entitled to our rage even, and perhaps especially, when those who love us hurt us.
To be sure, as an avid reader and lover of books, any film adaptation would struggle to please me. I did not enjoy the rewrite of the Happy Medium being depicted as a man. Similarly, I had qualms with what a small role Meg Murray’s mother, Dr. Murray, had and that her work was made to look small and less impressive than her husband’s. I missed Meg’s twin brothers from the movie. I also didn’t find Mrs. Which’s modern quotes particularly charming. Still, all of these were small points that are easily understood as wanting to add balance, focus, and some updating to a feature film.
The choices that made Meg Murray small are not so easily understood. For a film that was meant to depict a young girl as a hero, it certainly contained more patriarchal tropes than the book. Meg’s feelings about her appearance as a focal point, Charles Wallace’s violence, and the impetus to have her quickly forgive her father felt hurtful. They dishonored the brave girl with messy hair and glasses who I, as a young girl with messy hair and glasses, loved.
I hope that young girls today read the book and meet the Madeline L’Engle’s Meg Murray — the one that I met. She was an awkward girl whose looks and her feelings about them were the least interesting thing about her. She was a girl who saved her brother with her love. She was heroic because she chose to be. Young girls deserve to know that they too can make that choice.