At the out set I should tell you that I read Madeleine L’Engle books over and over again as a kid. They resonated with me like nothing else. Instead of clueless parents and smart alecky but wisdom-free kids, there was an embrace of knowledge. I loved that people — not just the kids — were smart in her books and that families could concentrate on both sitting down to a meal together made from scratch AND discuss quantum physics, swimming with dolphins, mitochondria, whatever.
Also in Wrinkle in Time and the rest of the books in the series and the Austins series, there was a bit of an indictment of townies and the willfully uneducated in their continuing attempts at ensuring willful ignorance of all. In a Madeleine L’Engle book? It was always okay to be the smart kid. It was always okay to forge your own family in place of the one you were born into if your own was crap.
Her make believe and fantasy was never far-fetched — she didn’t need giant quests to find rings with faeries and trolls along the way or talking lions the way her contemporaries J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis did. All three were influenced by George MacDonald and helped shape the emergence of fantasy fiction even now.
L’Engle took the ordinary and she took science, and she explored light and darkness in that context.
But of the three Christian fantasy writers Tolkien, Lewis, and L’Engle, it remains L’Engle who is the one most complicated and difficult to translate to the big screen. Where the two male fantasy writers focused on creating exterior worlds, L’Engle focused on the interior worlds of self-doubt and self-loathing. She writes outsider children who grew up in outsider families with strong support — the parents aren’t clueless in a L’Engle novel — they know their kids as individuals. L’Engle’s fantasy always goes — like so many female novelists and memoir writers — inward. And how does one convey the inside out on film?
In that respect, Ava duVernay’s Wrinkle in Time succeeds a little bit. The character Meg (WHICH WAS SHORT FOR MARGARET NOT MEAGAN, YOU DOLTS), is unsure of herself and can’t find much good about herself — though in the end it’s her faults that save her. In the book however Meg’s intellect is championed. She doesn’t wow Calvin O’Keefe with her hair — -though that element was fine — she wows him with her bad ass math short cuts and skills. She’s been doing school as a dumb troublemaker — he’s mesmerized by finding out it’s all wrong and she’s brilliant in science and math.
In a culture where we often beat ourselves over the head in a ham fisted attempt to tell a story, that could have easily been done here and it wasn’t.
The twin middle children Sandy and Denny — the only two of the family who can chameleon enough in the public school setting to play sports and fit in with the townies, are conspicuous in their absence from the movie. In the books, Sandy and Denny are the smart kids who’ve learned how to play the game of being average in order to survive. They are the translators and the liaisons between the uber smart Murray family and the outside world where scientific logic and reasoning are not prized. L’Engle, you see, knows us too well not to give us the twins. She gives them to us so we can see how an American family cannot be wholey successful with an embrace of logic , reasoning and math — that Meg and Charles Wallace lack an ability to assimilate which accounts for the bullying they receive in schools as compared to the twins who receive none of the wrath of the town. The family isn’t singled out so much as its perceived weakest links are.
And Mrs. Murray loves her children equally and lets them express who they are and defends them from each other verbally. The mother is always on all children’s sides at once. And is a great cook. And is a scientist. And is beautiful. — An example of complexity and the capacity of mothers everywhere. There are small hints of this in the Ava duVernay version, but her Mrs. Murry isn’t given the challenge of both eccentric and ‘normal’ biological children to love in her story.
It is all this complexity that attracts the attention of Calvin O’Keefe in the first place. The most disappointing part of the new movie is Calvin going from a complex teen searching for his people and a way to rise up from his vacuous popularity and intentionally cruel and stunted family — to one of a pretty boy voyeur tagalong fetishizing a black girl’s hair.
The Calvin of the novel — not unlike the twins — has the ability to chameleon. He comes from a huge family, will be the first to graduate high school, is poverty stricken and lanky from possible lack of meals to sustain him. He’s the smart kid, sure, but he knows how to integrate and play sports and use the uneducated townie background to his advantage to be left alone. His poverty and his quest for finding a home — more people like himself that are intellectually inquisitive and open, represents just as much in the story. He’s an outsider on the inside to Meg’s outsider on the outside. But in the film he just represents missed opportunity for a more complex and interesting story. Instead we’re lead to believe he goes on adventure because he’s crushing hard on the outsider girl, end of story.
Calvin’s translation abilities help out tremendously when Meg finally finds her ineffectual and disappointing father.
This too was a missed opportunity. As written, L’Engle’s book reads of the American estranged father daughter experience. Daughter builds up heroic dad in his absence, be it from a bad tesseract or a divorce. Daughter searches and finds father. Daughter realizes fathers are limited in their ability to take control of their situation, and that they’ll have to fend for themselves to survive. This is where book Calvin comes in and walks the line between them and helps guide them back to each other.
I have other quibbles, of course. Ms. Who was always an opportunity to look up authors and quotes when I was a kid. The Disney version feels like a walk through repackaged classics in a Barnes and Nobles. The absence of the Aunt Beasts who served as a respite of healing before going back into the biggest fight of all, except for a two second mention seemed odd.
Perhaps my biggest face-palm of all was missed opportunity for STEAM plugs. I mean here you have a book that LITERALLY IS ABOUT THE INTERCONNECTION OF SCIENCE TECH ENGINEERING ARTS AND MATH and how it can save the world and ….nada.
Love saved the day against it but they sustained themselves against IT by square rooting pie because it would never have an even answer or rhythm. That’s just fucking cool and a great use of math in an emotional story.
You can always count on Disney to deliver the dumbed down.
The new movie has excellent casting and is down right beautiful to look at. And the essence of most of the female characters are duVernay’s gift to us — she’s excelling here and bringing what we expect from her.
But why Wrinkle gets 90 minutes but Hobbit got three movies when Wrinkle is a gazillion times more complex is baffling. In the attempt to modernize and to universalize an already modernized and universal story — too much remains lost.