“A Wrinkle in Time” Was Boring… because It Wasn’t Boring.

Note: This is not a “movie review” so much as it is a monologue about how I think the movie should never have been made. Ava DuVernay is a badass woman and a great director, and I have nothing but respect for the cast members.

The novel for children and young teens, A Wrinkle in Time is the book that has held the title of “my favorite” for longer than any other work of literature. Published in 1962 by Madeline L’Engle, I read the book in 2001, when I was 9 years old. The book was placed into my hands by my mother, a woman who valued my curiosity but was simultaneously annoyed by it. My developing brain was starting to come into awareness of itself, and it had a LOT of questions. “How do I know that what’s happening around me is really real?” “Why can’t I travel into the places in my dreams once I wake up?” “How do we know things about the universe if we haven’t actually visited every part of it?” “Why can’t I do magic?”…Sitting me down with the 40-year-old book was my mom’s way of providing semi-factual answers to my persistent and complex questions without having to commit much of her own time to trying to answer them. Thank you mom; I am forever grateful of that. The book is essentially a children’s introduction to quantum physics, and the possibilities encompassed in that concept’s reality. The idea that the answers to my questions were not far-fetched, just difficult to grasp (by even the smartest scientists!) made my awkward young self feel just a tad more confident in my intellectual capacity.

The book itself is simply about a 13-year-old Meg Murray and her adventure to find her father, a missing scientist who got trapped somewhere in the universe while trying to figure out how to travel throughout it. Meg, according to the book, is not a “cute” or “pretty” girl. She is curt, troubled, and has few friends. Her youngest brother, Charles Wallace, is also an oddball. He is physically rigid and unemotional, which have led many people outside of the family to assume that he is mentally delayed. The family, however, knows that Charles Wallace is a genius, and that his ability to read minds allows him to attain knowledge of nearly anything, but also leaves him jaded about people and society at a very young age. Meg and Charles Wallace have two other brothers, twins Sandy and Dennys. They are more “normal,” and don’t seem to have trouble finding friends or have any supernatural abilities. Despite their age difference, the social ostracism that Meg and Charles Wallace face outside the home make them the closest of the siblings. Calvin O’Keefe is Meg’s good (and arguably only) friend, and L’Engle wrote several books that focus on him and his family as well. In A Wrinkle in Time, only a handful of the O’Keefe’s are featured, as the book is mostly concerned with the bond between Meg and Calvin as they look for Meg’s father.

The book is, to be direct, rather boring and difficult to read. Like I stated earlier, it’s a kid’s book on quantum physics- not exactly the most interesting subject a 9-year-old could read about (especially when “Harry Potter” was transporting most other kids of the time to the magical world of Hogwarts). To understand what the heck was going on in A Wrinkle in Time, I had to learn that “good” and “evil” were concepts, not objective things. I had to learn that “time” was a concept, not an objective thing. I had to understand that space travel is made possible by the careful following of mathematical equations that allow the human body to  move through the substance of the universe, and that we haven’t figured out nearly enough math to get us very far before our physical bodies disintegrate. I had to learn that the answers to some questions do not come in neat packages like the ones I was used to being handed at that age, but rather they were piles of goop and nearly identifiable substances that I obtained after exhausting myself trying to reach them. The book basically broke my brain the first time I read it, and I now understand why it was hard for L’Engle to find a publisher for the book in the early ’60s, and has been a banned book on-and-off several times in this country and others.  There are a lot of people who don’t like it when you tell their kids that everything isn’t black-and-white like, but Madeline persisted and took her time telling us kids what was up with the universe. I often think that L’Engle expressed herself through Meg’s father- a man who got stuck in a dark place because society wasn’t ready for what he had for them…but I’m a blog writer, not a conspiracy theorist, so there’s that. Onto the movie commentary…

The title of this piece explains why I think that the movie version of my beloved story falls short; the book is boring, the movie is also boring, but in a different way. Before I proceed, it is worth noting that this is Disney’s 2nd attempt at making a movie rendition of A Wrinkle in Time. While the two movie versions are very different, they are boring for the same inherent reason: the world of Disney, and subsequently it’s movies, is all about the whimsical and fanciful. Everything is majestically fascinating, even if it is over-whelming and confusing. At the end of every encounter, Disney wants you to feel good, to feel happy, to feel deep down inside like you achieved something, even if that “something” is just feeling good. Disney has a few pretty obvious formulas for creating feel-good cinema. This is the one they pulled out for A Wrinkle in Time. Step 1: Introduce a cute, but awkward underdog protagonist and their friends/family to get you nice and attached to them. Step 2: Introduce enemies of the underdog to provide a counterweight and make you love the protagonist even more. Step 3: Introduce a problem that needs to be solved, probably by the protagonist (Sometimes Step 3 is Step 1). Step 4: Introduce a love interest for the protagonist so you can root for the protagonist to achieve their goal of solving the problem, but also root for the bonus of them falling in love with the person they’ve had sexual tension with the entire film. Step 5: Introduce magical or whimsical aides that help them along their journey (sometimes Steps 4 and 5 are switched). Step 6: Have the protagonist, supporting characters, love interest, and magical/whimsical aides go on a mission to fix the problem. Step 7: Have a happy ending where the problem is solved and the protagonist finally romantically connects with the love interest and gets what they deserve. I literally just described several of my Disney favorites, like Hercules, The Lion King, Mulan, The Little Mermaid, The Aristocats– oh my God, the list is endless.

This “feel good formula” is why A Wrinkle in Time should never have been made into a Disney movie (or really ANY movie) in the first place. Like I said, my first encounter with the book left me confused- you could almost say disturbed. Unlike the movies, the book had a fairly happy conclusion because the Murray’s got their dad back, but the true end was spoken of as yet to come because that’s how most books in a series end. Madeline L’Engle did not write A Wrinkle in Time so that the reader could flip the last page with a smile on their face and a song in their heart; she wrote it to expand children’s minds- and as we all know, expanding your mind is an uncomfortable process. To do all of the aforementioned things that I listed as basic requirements for understanding the book, a child must spend a good deal of time grappling with the world as they know it- unpacking it and re-assembling it until the book makes sense. Disney tried to throw the mysteries of the universe together in an hour and a half; this is why the movie(s) failed. Storm Reid, the actress who plays Meg Murray, is a beautiful young woman, and the Meg she plays is hardly less attractive than her counterparts. Movie Meg is reasonably frustrated as she is bullied in school by the “popular girls.”  L’Engle’s Meg, on the other hand, is an almost objectively ugly girl who has a bad attitude to the point of being disliked by some of her own siblings, and comes off as almost a bully herself. The majestic and magical “Ms.” characters in the movie are beautiful and comforting, while L’Engle’s Meg struggles so hard to understand the “Ms.”s conceptually, that they seem almost frightening for a while until Meg understands that they are “good guys”. In the movie, every time Meg is afraid or doubtful, she suffers for only a few minutes before the Ms.s come to her aid and uplift her physically and emotionally. This relief is often absent for L’Engle’s Meg, who spends a lot of time lost and afraid in pursuit of her father (is it a lot of time, or does it just seem like a lot of time? How long was she even actually away from Earth? Who knows?! That’s the point of introducing kids to the time/space continuum concept..). The movie used glitter, CGI and honestly amazing costumes to try and convince us that grappling with the mysteries of the void we occupy is easy and fun. The movie lied to children by telling them that once you figure out light and darkness, joy and suffering, it will be easy to control them in life. I could go on and on, but I think you get the point; in my opinion, A Wrinkle in Time literally cannot be a good Disney movie simply because the mission of the original story is in direct opposition to the mission of the Disney franchise. While I am not unconvinced that there is a cinematic way to express what L’Engle expressed on paper, I remain adamant that said movie will not be family-friendly, and will probably be at least 2 1/2 hours long. I also don’t think that anyone would ever go see that movie. So, long story short, if you want your child to encounter a good story about someone their age dealing with the intricacies of the universe, put them in front of the book, not the TV, and while you’re at it, check out a few more of my favorites by L’Engle like A Ring of Endless Light or A Swiftly Tilting Planet. Whatever you do, don’t waste your time on that movie…

 

Somethin' To Say Uncategorized

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