A few weeks ago the movie A Wrinkle in Time was released to DVD. According to Catherine Hand, the producer, “We had to take the essence of the emotional story—e.g., why did this happen in the book?—and explore how to give it a new look but with the same meaning…We all loved the themes, the characters—the essence of the story. And I hope audiences will agree that we stayed true to that essence.”
Hand was friends with the author, Madeleine L’Engle, so I had hopes she would have honored her intent. But this is one audience member who would have to regretfully disagree. While she kept the same characters and plot as the book, she managed to completely co-opt the meaning.
Keeping the same characters
Meg, played by Storm Reid, the brilliant but unique young teen is floundering over the unexplained disappearance of her brilliant-scientist Dad four years earlier. She is losing interest in her studies and confidence in her appearance and self-worth. At school she answers the mean-girl bullies with uncharacteristic physicality.
Charles Wallace, Meg’s seriously precocious five-year old brother who, if you watched Star Trek Next Gen, is a total empath, able to see and feel deeply into others’ thoughts and feelings.
Mrs. Murray, Meg’s Mom, knock-out gorgeous biochemist who is holding down the family fort, but weeps over her husband’s absence when she thinks the kids aren’t looking.
Mr. Murray, Meg’s father, a physicist who worked on a secret project with NASA before he disappeared.
Keeping the same plot
Actually Mr Murray managed to “tesser” (access the right frequency of the universe to move through a wrinkle in time), only to become trapped on the planet Camazotz. There he battles the evil IT who is trying to assimilate his mind and heart into complete submission. The people of Camazotz live like mind-numbed robots. His cries for deliverance have been heard by…
Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which, played by Reese Witherspoon, Mindy, Kaling and Oprah, supernatural beings who appear to the children, help them “tesser” to Camazotz and give them gifts, intel and encouragement to rescue their Dad.
Keeping the characters and plot but changing the meaning
To discover the meaning in a story we can ask, “What is wrong?” And, “How can it be fixed?”
In both the book and the movie, without the love of her earthly father, Meg feels lost. Unloved. Hopeless. The three Mrs. come to help Meg, her brother and her friend Calvin fix what is wrong–rescue Mr. Murray, defeat the evil power of IT, and resist being assimilated themselves.
But the help you receive depends on the identity of the helpers. In the book the three Mrs. are described by the children as “Angels! Guardian Angels! Messengers! Messengers of God!”
When Calvin drops to his knees before them, Mrs. Who says, “Not to me, Calvin. Never to me. Stand up…’Let the wilderness and the cities thereof lift their voice…Let them give glory unto the Lord! (Isa 42).’”
In the book, when Mrs. Which is describing what is wrong and how it can be fixed, she describes a battle between the fighters for the light and the Powers of Darkness. “All through the universe it’s being fought, all through the cosmos, and my, but it’s a grand and exciting battle…some of our very best fighters have come right from your own planet.”
“Who?” the children ask. “You must know them,” she responds.
Mrs. Who drops a clue: “And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”
“Jesus,” Charles Wallace guesses.
“Why, of course Jesus,” she responds. To which she adds, “All your great artists…”
The children round out the list including Da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Shakespeare, Bach, Pasteur, Curie, Einstein, Schweitzer, Ghandi, Buddha, Beethoven Rembrandt, St Francis, Euclid, Copernicus…
As you might guess from this list of fighters, many Evangelicals have regretted that L’Engle lumped Jesus in equally with other warriors of light. While L’Engle said, “I can understand God only through one specific particular, the incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth,” her rather universalist references opened the door for others, including Hand and Oprah, to drive a trainload of New Age Pantheism into the movie.
In the movie the three Mrs. are described as “our guides come down.” Spirit guides are an integral part of New Age practice. Many who engage in meditation to access the “divine within” meet “angels of light” who lead them away from Christ and the Bible.
In the movie Jesus doesn’t even make the list of fighters for the light. But Nelson Mandela and Maya Angelou do.
And the movie strips the book of all quotes from Scripture. Including…
…her father telling Meg, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28).”
…Aunt Beast telling Meg, ” We are the called according to His purpose, and whom he calls, them He also justifies.” Of course we have help…Good, the stars, light, love…”We look not at the things which are seen but at the things which are not seen…which are…eternal” (2 Cor 4).
…”The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men…but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. (1 Cor 1).
Change the angels to “our guides come down,” strip out Sripture, and how have you changed the meaning?
You have removed the prime mover, the author of the Story of Life: In the book it’s the God of the Bible. The One to whom we owe honor and praise. The One who created, calls and helps us, working for the good of those who love him.
In the movie the prime mover becomes an impersonal “Universe,” invoked in Yoga positions, palms up, fingers touching. Mr Murray doesn’t quote Romans but says,” What if we’re not just in the universe, but the universe is in us?”
Mrs. Which (Oprah) says to Meg, “I am a part of the universe, just like you are.” “You don’t tesser well. And you won’t until you become one with the universe and yourself.” This is what is really wrong with Meg.
The meaning changes because the solution to the conflict changes
By erasing a personal God with agency, the movie shows that Meg alone has all she needs within herself to deliver her Father and Charles Wallace (who has gone over to the dark side). To defeat the evil power of IT she just needs to connect with the Divine within.
In the book she defeats IT by relying on the truth that she is loved. “Mrs. Whatsit said to remember that she loves me. That’s what I have to think about. Not about being afraid. Or not as smart as IT. Mrs. Whatsit loves me. That’s quite something, to be loved by someone like Mrs. Whatsit.”
As she tries to persuade Charles Wallace to leave the clutches of IT she becomes angry and so lost in hatred she also begins to be lost in IT.
“Mrs. Whatsit hates you,” IT says through Charles Wallace. A fatal mistake. Meg remembers, “Mrs. Whatsit loves me.” Love. She could extend the love of the messenger from God to Charles Wallace. So she cries out to her brother telling him all the ways he is so dear to her. Finally he falls sobbing into her arms.
In the movie, she focuses on how “she deserves to be loved by Charles Wallace” and how much she loves him. No need to draw her strength from the love of someone close to God. Just the realization that she is worthy of love. And she has enough strength fueled by anger to love her corrupted brother.
The song lyrics that play as the credits roll emphasize her transformation: She is a “child of the Universe.” “I believe in me!!” A rainbow tells her she can do anything.” I will. I can. I am. No fear.”
How opposite from the meaning of the gospel:
We are loved by a personal God who died for us so that we, who are foolish but forgiven, might love in his power, not our own.
In both the book and the movie the power of evil squeezes everyone into its mold. All become the same and lose their individuality. Ironically, the ultimate message of the movie is eerily similar: Become one with the Universe. Turn inside. Away from your individuality. Become one with the all.
But where is love in that invitation? Love yourself? Love your own divine spark? As Chesterton said, “Love desires personality.” Real love cherishes the other. Takes delight in the other individual’s presence, their laughter, their tears, their triumphs their fears. Just as the Lord Jesus delights in you. Cherishes me.
Hmmm…We have everything we need inside. Close your eyes. Look inside.
Or…We need Jesus. Open your eyes. Look at the cross. The One who created you loves you. Died for you.
Why would we need Jesus if we have everything we need inside?
If we have everything we need inside, why are we unhappy, bored, restless?
Can two opposites mean the same thing?
How can “the universe” understand the good? Choose the good? Love you? Does it have a mind, a will, emotions? Doesn’t that point to the very nature of a person? Not an impersonal force? New Age Pantheism doesn’t make sense.
L’Engle died in 2008. She said of A Wrinkle in Time, “I would like it to be made into a movie, but a good movie, not a bad one. I believe my books…And I’d rather not have them done than have them come out and say something I’m not saying, which is very easy in the world of Hollywood.” For Madeleine, Wrinkle was a deep affirmation of her faith and her hymn of praise to God. Producer Catherine Hand truly believes she honored her meaning. What do you think? (Please respond in the comments below…)
Note: For all Wrinkle’s stellar cast and special effects, the boldly Christian film I Can Only Imagine beat it in the opening weekend box office and Rotten Tomato ratings. Maybe because receiving God’s love in Christ is far more powerful than channeling the right frequency of the universe.
For more help on how to discern the worldviews of movies, check out last week’s post: Watching Movies from a Christian Worldview: 10 key questions to discuss