On Damsels, Crones, and Heroines—a review of A Wrinkle in Time
I was apprehensive about the new movie; I’ve loved the book almost my entire life, and, when I saw the trailers, there was almost nothing I recognized. Still, I was bound to see it. At the very least, it seemed to be well cast and visually interesting.
It was both those things. The little girl who played Meg could hardly have been better, and the boys were good, too. The little fellow who played Charles Wallace was a charmer! And there was a bit more of the book in the movie plot than I’d expected. Still, the movie is not the book. I’m not sure I could even call it an interpretation of the book. As fine as the young actors are, as good as the effects are, the story was altered too much.
I could try to compare and contrast book and movie, point for point, as has been done for the earlier movie, But I’m not sure I could; I’ve only seen the movie once. Instead, I’m going to focus on three key words and show how they are changed in the film. The words are damsel, crone, and heroine. I’ll then take a look at the spirituality of book and movie through the lenses of these words. (Yes, I know. Words don’t have lenses. But damsels, crones, and heroines do.)
Damsel? I can almost hear you asking. You don’t mean Meg, do you? She’s not a damsel!
Indeed she’s not! A Wrinkle in Time, the book, is refreshingly damsel-free. Book Meg is young, uncertain, prickly, and vulnerable. She wails, cries, lashes out, and says self-deprecating things about her looks and abilities. But she’s also a fighter. That’s one of the first things we learn about her. She beats up an older boy who’s made fun of her little brother. In addition, she’s smart, loyal, and brave.
Storm Reid got these qualities of Meg’s across brilliantly in the movie, in spite of the way her spiritual journey is curtailed (more on this later). But there is a damsel in the film. His name is Calvin O’Keefe.
In the book, Calvin is 14, an excellent student, a star athlete, and a gentle, self-aware soul. Mrs. Who does say of him (as she does in the film) that he wasn’t her idea, but she thinks he’s a good one. Though not as brilliant as Meg and Charles Wallace, Calvin’s also gifted, and the Mrs. W strengthen his particular gift. That gift is the ability to communicate.
Interestingly, in the theater behind us when we saw the movie on opening day were three older ladies who had never read the book. One of them was a teacher of the deaf. They all said they thought the pacing of the film was off, and that it could have spent more time on certain themes it brought up, such as communication! So right! It could.
Those women were thinking of the idea of communicating to the flowers—a scene that is nowhere in the book. In the book, as we fans know, Dr. Alex Murry is imprisoned by the Darkness in a transparent pillar. He can’t see out, but the children can see in. Meg manages to rescue her father by using Mrs. Who’s spectacles, which let her rearrange matter. But Calvin also tries to communicate with Dr. Murry. A little later, he almost succeeds in reaching little Charles Wallace, who has voluntarily gone into IT, and he quotes Shakespeare while he does. The text Calvin quotes is Prospero’s speech to Ariel in The Tempest, where the magician reminds the spirit how it was trapped in a cloven pine. Finally, Calvin’s the one who comes closest to explaining the Mrs W to the inhabitants of Ixchel.
Calvin’s role in the movie could hardly be more different. There is a cloven pine—literally--but it’s not a prison Calvin tries to free people from. Instead, it’s a means for Meg to save Calvin. The children huddle into the tree and let a maelstrom hurl them over some sort of wall. Needless to say, this scene is nowhere in the book.
Also absent from the book is the scene when Calvin falls off Mrs Whatsit’s back on the planet Uriel. (To be fair, the Darkness flings him off, but still.) Mrs Who has to rouse the flowers to rescue him. In both these scenes, Calvin is a damsel. He is there simply to be rescued, and that’s his only function in the plot of the movie.
Now to that ambiguous word, crone. It usually denotes a witch, and Mrs Which takes dry pleasure in appearing as a stereotypical witch. Needless to say, she doesn’t do so in the movie. In the book, the two younger beings, Mrs Who and Mrs Whatsit, basically dress like bag ladies. And, to the children, they look old. In fact, they are. Being former stars, they are billions of years old, but Mrs Whatsit is many orders of magnitude younger than Mrs Which. Still, when she manifests as a human being, she is grey-haired and wrinkled.
These very ordinary-looking old ladies have been replaced, in the movie, by attractive and glamourously dressed women. In the book, Meg realizes what the Mrs W look like has nothing to do with what they truly are. This insight is weakened in the movie. Also, Oprah, the oldest of the Mrs W in the film, is still only in her 60s. That’s hardly elderly in modern America. I would have liked to see some respect given to old age and the wisdom that can come with it. I would have liked to see the Mrs W played by old women. Basically, there are no crones in the movie. To me, that’s a loss.
Meg’s heroine’s journey has been altered, as well. I was heartbroken that the scenes on Ixchel were left out. Dr. Murry, desperately fleeing IT, lands there with the two older children. They’ve had to leave Charles Wallace behind in the clutches of IT. Meg has been injured by the Darkness, which is bitterly cold, but the people of Ixchel come to her aid. These people are blind. They are also frightening-looking to the traumatized humans, but are gentle, generous, and wise souls.
It’s on Ixchel that Meg expresses her rage and disappointment that her father, the adult and the scientist, is helpless to put things right. It’s on Ixchel that she then apologizes to him—as he does to her—and states her understanding of what she must do. She must go back to the darkened planet, Camazotz, alone. And she does it.
I’ve said before that there is nothing in the new movie even half as terrifying and inspirational as Meg’s long, lonely walk to IT. Here, we see the little girl display a quality I’ve written about before as the height of courage. It’s integrity. She understands what she’s doing, and why she’s doing it. She’s terrified, but she doesn’t let her fear stop her. Body, mind, heart and soul are united in her actions.
And, before she goes, the Mrs. W give her gifts. Mrs Whatsit gives her her love; Mrs Who the beautiful quote from Corinthians (which I would have liked to have heard in its entirety, but which was left out), and Mrs Which tells the child she has something the apparently all-powerful IT doesn’t’ have, and that thing is her only weapon.
Why couldn’t the filmmakers have left this in? Instead, we basically see Meg’s emotions rewarded. She breaks away from her father by herself. She never has to apologize to him, nor come to the difficult, adult understanding that grown-ups can’t always save the children they love and don’t always have the answers, however much they may wish they did. All she has to do, it seems, is be herself.
Which—well, in a way, that’s in the book, too. But the Disney version privileges impulse and emotion over integrity. And it’s a loss.
There is much more that I could say about the movie. There were some lovely things in it, and some ideas from the book, but in the end, I really don’t think it told the same story. I’ve tried to explain why. As always, comments and critiques are welcome.