A Wrinkle in Time has been one of my favorite books for years. Decades, even. I love that book. I love awkward Meg Murry and all her (relatable) flaws, I love the genuine, open-hearted Calvin, I love the odd and excessively smart Charles Wallace. I love the weird fantastic nature of the story and the theme of accepting yourself and others and everything that comes with that. So I was excited/apprehensive to see this book adapted to film. I went to go see it a couple weeks ago, and guys—
I have thoughts.
Fair warning: this will be VERY spoilery for both the book and the movie. So. If you don’t want to know what happens in one or the other or both…maybe give this one a skip and come back to it later.
Go ahead. I’ll understand.
Oh, you’re still here? You’re okay with spoilers? I hope so, because they’re about to happen. Like….right now.
First of all I have to say that overall this was not a bad movie. It was fine. It was fine! It was entertaining and quite pretty and the acting was mostly decent. I want to make it clear that I didn’t hate this movie.
But…I also didn’t like it. And I’m going to tell you why.
Distracting Visual Choices
So this is a weird one, because I get it. I get why they did it, and in some ways I actually like that they did. It’s a bold move, it’s fun, it’s pretty to look at. But man was I distracted by it while I was watching this movie.
I love beautiful movies and interesting costumes. But I love it even more when they blend seamlessly into the film to the point where you almost don’t realize how much you’re appreciating them. These costume choices were weird and cool, for sure, but I was constantly aware of them to the point that it was drawing me out of the story, and for that reason I personally think that the movie would have been better with a bit….less.
Drama For the Sake of Drama
This was probably my biggest problem with this movie. There were at least two long, drawn out scenes that were not in the book, and as far as I can tell were only included to add some “action” to the story.
The first one I noticed was what I not-so-fondly call the “cabbage dragon” scene. Mrs. Whatsit turns into a flying leaf creature to take Meg and co. on a little ride to see the “It,” and Calvin falls off. In the next few, endless minutes, (or at least it felt like it at the time) Mrs. Cabbagedragon zooms through the air in a panic as he falls and falls and falls….and he lands safely on some flowers. On to the next scene they go!
It was an entirely useless scene. No one’s character is developed, the plot and story aren’t affected at all….nothing happens. He falls and is fine, and they move on. You could remove that scene completely from the movie and nothing would change, which is a pretty good sign that it isn’t necessary (and a good tip for reviewing your own writing—make your scenes matter!).
The same thing happens when they arrive on Camazotz — there’s an “intense” sequence where Meg and Calvin have to outrun a bizarre death tornado before they get on with the real problem of finding her dad. One could argue that at least this scene shows off Meg’s intelligence (though I have some thoughts on that too), but as this is pretty late in the movie, that character trait should have already been firmly established anyway.
Both of these scenes, and probably some others that I’m forgetting, really made me feel like there wasn’t a lot of trust in the audience. This film is intended for children, so perhaps they felt that it would be too boring without these action scenes, or that the ones that originally existed in the book either couldn’t be translated to screen (understandable) or were not exciting enough. But children (and adults) can enjoy more than we give them credit for, and it does no service to the audience or the film to add empty drama for the sake of pumping up the action.
And Speaking of Camazotz…
Camazotz is creepy. It’s been completely overtaken by the “It,” and as a reader you might expect our young heroes to get there and have to deal with really obvious evil, right? Monsters, murderers, death tornadoes (ahem)….something along those lines. But the truly creepy thing that Madeleine L’Engle did when she wrote Camazotz was that she subverted those expectations by making it perfect. Or should I say, she made it “perfect.” Everyone is the same. There is no room for deviation, no room for individuality, no room for flaws. It ties in perfectly with what I consider to be one of the strongest themes of the book, which is that our differences are what make us special, and our flaws can often be our biggest strengths.
This is still included in the movie (and I actually think the scene in the “perfect” neighborhood was done really well!) but it was overshadowed, and thus made less effective, by the inclusion of the tornado-of-doom scene that happened 5 minutes earlier. The tornado scene turned Camazotz into a planet that was evil in the predictable way instead of a planet that was evil in that unsettling, sameness way. Bummer.
An Muddled End
I feel like the ending reflects what the whole movie suffered from. It’s almost right. The emotional beats are almost there. The themes are almost clear. But for some reason it just doesn’t quite get there.
The book makes it pretty clear that Meg is victorious in the end because she lets go of the things she’s good at—math/science, logic, shutting people out and being angry with the world—and embraces what she hates about herself. Her stubbornness, her awkwardness, and her love for her unusual family are what eventually defeat the “It” and bring Charles Wallace back to her.
The ending almost shows this, but I found myself really struggling to see it clearly. The special effects might have played a part in distracting from the point of the climactic scene, but overall I felt like the film once again failed to trust the audience and instead pushed the moments when we were supposed to feel emotion instead of letting the emotion come naturally from the power of story. The rest of the movie doesn’t do much to show us that Meg doesn’t trust herself, or that the usually intuitive Charles Wallace is taken by the It because of his life-long over-confidence. It does a lot of telling us these things, in forced emotional ways, and then hopes that will be enough for the audience to believe it.
But There Were Some Things I Did Like!
I’ve blabbed on enough already, so I’ll sum these up really quickly. In fact, here’s a handy list of the things I thought this movie did well.
- The vibe! It felt spot on to me, as someone who’s read the book. Everything was a little strange, a little unsettling, and a lot fantastic, just like the experience I get every time I read it.
- Calvin…kinda. I love book Calvin. He is so open! He constantly tells Meg how awesome she is, how much he loves her family and her life, and he is really straightforward about it. This is absolutely adorable in the novel and makes for a pretty cute little lovey subplot. But it does come across a little on the creepy/weird side in the movie. To be fair I think this is mostly because people aren’t used to seeing someone who is comfortable really emotionally vulnerable, so it’s strange to experience. So Calvin in the movie was still a win for me.
- The boldness with visuals. I mentioned already that they didn’t work for me, but I love that they were willing to try it and I feel like it was very close to working with the feel of the movie. Plus, it really was pretty.
- Chris Pine. That’s all.
- Addressing current issues. I actually liked that the movie addressed topics like adoption, bullying, and eating disorders. It took a story with generally universal themes and made it directly relevant to what children and teenagers struggle with today. I really respect the willingness of the cast and crew to bring those things into the story delicately but honestly.
- Meg’s last tesser. It was the one purposefully emotional moment in the movie that I actually felt a bit of the intended emotion while watching. I enjoyed the slow-mo of it and how magical tessering became for Meg—and, consequently, for us—when she learned to accept herself. Yay, Meg!
Anyway, those are my thoughts on the A Wrinkle in Time film. I recognize that they are heavily influenced by the fact that I read and grew up with the book, so take my opinion with a grain of salt. Like I said, this movie wasn’t terrible! I fully expect there to be people who loved it, and I can totally see why. Go for it! Love it! I’m so into that, because—of course!—I really believe it’s important to love what we love no matter what anyone else thinks.
So let me know—did you love the movie? Do you agree with my thoughts? I’d love to have a discussion, and who knows….maybe you’ll change my mind about some things! 🙂