By Karen Gordon
It’s a female empowerment movie that says love triumphs over evil and light trumps darkness. It says that the many teenage girls who believe they’re not good enough can find their strength and beauty, even through their flaws.
It’s a story of redemption, and universal workers of light. And although it is a fantasy film, full of magic, it’s also about math and science and the wonders of exploring the laboratory as well as the heart and soul.
For all that, it’s also a story of fathers and daughters, a theme not explored enough in movies.
Based on Madeleine L'Engle’s groundbreaking 1962 novel, the movie focuses on 14 year old Meg Murry, (Storm Reid) the adored daughter of two scientists, Mrs. Murry (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Mr. Murry (Chris Pine).
We first meet Meg when she’s 10 years old. For fun, Meg and her dad play games he invents, using math and science. It turns out, it’s an extension of her father’s obsession with finding a way to travel in space by wrinkling time.
Then one day Mr. Murry disappears without an explanation. The family is forced to carry on - Mom, Meg and her gifted little brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) who seems to have an ability to read Meg’s wants and needs before Meg knows them herself. When she can’t sleep, she goes downstairs to find her little brother waiting for her, warming some milk to sooth her. The love in the Murry home is palpable.
Even still, the mysterious absence of Mr. Murray has blown a gaping hole in the family, especially for Meg, whose grief and shame have crept in to fill the space left by her beloved father.
Worse, the gossip around town is that he abandoned his family, which is fodder for the cool girls who bully her. Wounded and feeling like a fatally flawed outsider, Meg acts out at school, which, of course, makes her feel worse.
Then, on the fourth anniversary of Mr. Murry’s disappearance, a strange woman in a white gown shows up at the house. Charles Wallace introduces her as Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) and the two seem to communicate telepathically.
The next day Charles Wallace leads Meg and her high school friend Calvin (Levi Miller) to meet two of Mrs. Whatsits friends, Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), who speaks only by quoting famous thinkers from around the world, and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), the wisest of this trio and its apparent leader.
Mrs. Which talks like, well, Oprah Winfrey. They’re Universal Light workers who tell Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin that Mr. Murry is alive somewhere in the Universe. And they’ve come to help the children find him – that is, if they’re willing to travel to other planets to find him.
Meg is the least sure of the three but the idea of finding her father shores up her courage, and she takes Oprah—oops, Mrs. Which’s hand and follows fearless Charles Wallace and their friend Calvin into the great unknown.
They land on a planet where things are strange and beautiful, but soon it becomes clear that the children will have to go the rest of the way to find Mr. Murry without the protection of the three women, and towards a creeping darkness that is absorbing the light.
Meg is deeply unsure of herself. Each of the women gives the worried Meg a gift to help her. But she’s not at all reassured when Mrs. Whatsit gives her the gift of her flaws. Then Meg, Charles and Calvin head off into a very dangerous unknown.
This is, of course the archetypical wounded hero. That Madeleine L’Engle gave that role to a 14-year-old girl in 1962 made her novel both ahead of its time when it was published, and perfect for ours, where seismic cultural shifts are moving to level the gender playing field.
Meg is a character for our time. Her flaws and insecurities are her own and she is somewhat daunted by them. She’s not a princess in search of a prince, or aiming to placate whoever she runs into. Whatever is going on in her thoughts, outwardly she holds her own.
Much has been made of the diversity of this production, from the choice of Ava DuVernay as director, (with this film she becomes the first African American woman to direct a live action movie with a budget of more than 100 million dollars), to the casting of Meg as bi-racial, and the diversity of the trio of light workers, Oprah, Witherspoon and Kaling.
And while that may make the movie a landmark, the truth is that, as a viewer, the complexion of the cast looks like normal life. If anything, it should remind Hollywood and beyond. that this mix - white, black, brown, female, male, unusual, ordinary and gifted - is what the world looks like now.
A Wrinkle in Time is a fantasy film aimed at a young audience. There aren’t jokes written in to appeal to adults. The movie has a beautiful open quality. The kids in the film have wise parents, but they go off and find their own wisdom. They’re the heroes and they find their strength by being vulnerable and then courageous.
Though not explicit, the adults in the film have forgotten whatever magic they might have once had, but the younger characters haven’t lost their capacity to be open to potential wonders.
For young viewers of all shapes and sizes, the message is clear. Meg has deep doubts. She knows she’s flawed and worries that those faults could overwhelm her and cause her to fail herself and others. To that worry Mrs. Who, quotes Gandhi to her: “The wound is where the Light enters you.”
In DuVernay’s movie, love fills the wound - universal love, love of family, and ultimately love of self. L’Engle, DuVernay and young Meg all seem to say that love is the way to heal the world, and that, in the end, love will win the day.
Not a bad message to instill in young minds.
A Wrinkle in Time. Directed by Ava Duvernay. Starring Storm Reid, Mindy Khaling and Oprah Winfrey. Opens wide Friday, March 9.
Click HERE to watch an interview by Original-Cin’s Bonnie Laufer with child actor Derek McCabe, who plays Charles Wallace in A Wrinkle in Time.