Jul 8, 2020
A Wrinkle in Time (2018)
In 2018, Disney put out a big-budgeted version of Madeleine L’Engle’s book A Wrinkle in Time. The studio had previously released a made-for-TV version of the book in 2003, but this adaptation had not only a larger budget, but features stars such as Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, and Mindy Kaling. In addition, it was directed by Ava DuVernay, who won acclaim for the drama Selma and the documentary 13th.
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Teenager Meg Murry (Storm Reid) has become more downtrodden and combative in the four years since the disappearance of her father Alex (Chris Pine), a respected NASA scientist who was studying ways to instantly travel from one part of the universe to the other. While her mother Kate (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a scientist herself, is starting to believe Alex will never return, Meg’s younger brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) remains upbeat and optimistic. He even chews out teachers gossiping about Meg, resulting in him getting sent to the principal’s office along with Meg, who starts a fight with fellow classmate Veronica (Rowan Blanchard) for insulting Charles.
One night, Meg and Kate are startled when they encounter a woman (Reese Witherspoon) chatting with Charles in their living room. His mom and sister are understandably freaked out, but Charles assures them that their visitor is friendly. Introducing herself as Mrs. Whatsit, the visitor expresses slight misgivings about Meg’s suspicious nature, although Charles reassures her. Whatsit gleefully departs after informing the trio that tesseracts, the method of travel Alex was looking into, are indeed real.
As they walk home the next day, Meg and Charles are joined by her friend Calvin (Levi Miller). They come to a seemingly abandoned home, and ignoring Meg’s warnings, Charles races inside. Following after him, Meg and Calvin meet the occupant of the house, Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), who’s knitting and surrounded by books. Which may explain why she only speaks in quotes from figures throughout history. But Who is soon sleeping (and with a fast little guy like Charles, who can blame her?) and her three guests depart.
Calvin has dinner with the Murry family, which is where we learn that Alex’s research was met with ridicule by many, and some think he simply left his family. Calvin offers Meg a shoulder to cry on, although Meg isn’t exactly feeling better when Veronica, who lives next door, sees her chatting with Calvin.
That’s when Mrs. Whatsit, accompanied by Mrs. Who, surprises them by seemingly hopping over the fence and saying that they should all go look for Meg’s dad. Charles comes out, ready to go, after he greets Whatsit and Who with hugs. A voice announces that she’s pleased everyone is ready. Meg and Calvin are astonished to see the voice belongs to the more god-like Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey). Who, Whatsit, and Which explain that they believe Alex in fact tesseracted to another part of the universe, and they want to help Meg find him. After some initial hesitation, Meg agrees to join them along with Charles and Calvin. We then see the backyard wrinkling (hence the story’s title) as everyone walks toward the wrinkle.
All six tesseract to a planet called Uriel, which Whatsit describes as her favorite spot in the universe. The Misses encourage the three kids to look around and take in the gorgeous scenery. Whatsit also suggests to Meg that she should ask the plant life if they’ve seen her dad. With the Misses translating, the plants state that her dad Alex was on their world. The group set off to search, with Whatsit providing transportation by transforming herself into a creature that looks like lettuce.
Well, at least she’s hotter than this veggie creature:
The kids are clearly enjoying their flight, until Calvin slips and falls and has to be rescued by those plants. At the same time, they see a dark planet in the sky, which Which calls Camazotz and describes as the home of a purely evil energy called the IT. The Misses tell the kids that they must get help from another being like them named Happy Medium (Zach Galifianakis), who resides on the planet Orion. They tesseract there and Which gives Meg encouragement while they make their way through the Mordor-esque environment.
Once there, they meet with Happy, whose suspicious tone suggests he’s anything but. They all hold hands, and Which gives exposition about the IT, which spreads negative energy throughout the universe including Earth, which is illustrated with glimpses of the teachers at the kids’ school being jealous of their current principal (Andre Holland), as well as Calvin’s dad expressing disapproval of him.
This leads to Meg discovering that her dad is now trapped on Camazotz. The Misses state that they must return to Earth and plan their next move. However, Meg’s insistence to find her dad causes their tesser to be redirected to Camazotz. This in turn causes the Misses’ power to weaken, which is illustrated by Who speaking with her own words, and basically telling the kids they’re now on their own (wonderful!). Before they depart, Who gives them her glasses, Whatsit tells Meg that her faults can be a gift, and Which instructs the kids to never separate.
But after the magical trio depart, Meg and Calvin are separated from Charles because of a violent tornado. But they’re soon reunited after Meg uses a hollow log as a means for the storm to slingshot her and Calvin over a cliff wall. The kids then find themselves in an ominous-looking neighborhood where kids are simply bouncing basketballs in their driveways. One of the ladies of this neighborhood invites our trio to dinner, but Meg says thanks but no thanks, and she bolts away with Calvin and Charles.
After the houses start folding up Inception-style, they find themselves at a crowded beach. A man pops up calling himself Red (Michael Peña) and informing them he knows where Alex is. After Calvin and Charles accept Red’s offer of food, Charles expresses his dislike for it, saying it tastes like sand. This leads to Red hypnotizing him and taking him away.
Meg and Calvin chase after them and end up in a bizarre-looking room, which Charles calls Central Central Intelligence. Red collapses on the floor like a marionette while Charles, now possessed by the IT, torments his sister and friend. With Who’s glasses, Meg realizes her dad is being kept in a secret room. She enters that room and the two have an emotional reunion. This is cut short when the possessed Charles uses his mind powers to drag both of them to confront the IT. Alex manages to somehow open up a tesseract to escape, but Meg doesn’t want to leave without Charles.
With Alex and Calvin now gone, Meg confronts the IT, who tempts/torments her with a version of herself that she finds more ideal. But Meg expresses both her love for her true self and for Charles. This frees him from the IT’s influence and the IT vanishes. The Misses reappear, commending the siblings, and then Meg tessers them home. The film ends with Calvin thanking Meg before going home with renewed confidence. Meg thanks the Misses as she, Charles, and Kate welcome Alex home.
This is certainly an ambitious film with great intentions. There’s plenty of heart, the production values are top-notch, and the cast is great. And considering the high regard Oprah is held in by many, one could call her perfect casting.
Where the movie falters is the lack of explanation for the act of tessering, which is basically beaming without a transporter. I’m certainly all for spiritual overtones, especially in a fantasy film. But because the film makes it clear that Alex and Kate are scientists, and that it was their research that set the story into motion, this is a case where some scientific explanation would actually enhance the story. There’s also the little matter of how Alex will explain his reemergence to the rest of the world. Sure, his wife and kids know that he went to the other side of the universe, but I have a hard time imagining that his colleagues will simply buy into that. This is ironic, as many big-budget flicks usually overdo the scientific/mechanical aspects at the expense of any emotional moments. With A Wrinkle in Time, the opposite is true.
While the three Misses were not surprisingly prominent on the promotional materials, the story wisely keeps the focus on Meg and Charles. It’s this emphasis on character that makes the movie watchable.