When I was a child, I read Madeline L’Engle’s books to death. A Wrinkle in Time was one of my ultimate favorites, and I read it nearly as many times as I read A Ring of Endless Light (from her Austin series). There was this sense of magic despite the science nature of the Murray’s family’s approach to spacetime and tesseracts. There was also this incredible sense of love the Murry family had that bound them across time and space. As a kid, I wanted to wrap myself up in the book.
I related heavily to both Meg and Calvin, her friend from school. Calvin, in the book, came from a large family and was often the forgotten one, where his parents were too stressed, too overworked, too unable to give him the attention he needed. I related heavily to that. Although the movie isn’t clear if he has siblings, it shows the anger and control of an adult figure that puts intense pressure on him to conform to a certain ideal. I related to this too in away, for doesn’t society vehemently try to force us to conform to, what is often, toxic narratives of ourselves? I spent a lot of my childhood struggling to conform to people’s ideas of me, and it tore me up inside as I could never match up to who people wanted me to be.
In the book and in the movie, Calvin directly comments on how Meg’s family felt different, unique, and he recognizes the love that binds this family together right away. This love is what they all will need on their journey to face off against one of the most powerful evil in the universe in a desperate quest to find Meg’s father. Calvin’s support throughout Meg’s journey was wonderful to behold.
To be honest, I never liked Charles Wallace much in the book, but this movie version of him really captured the book version perfectly. His brilliance as a young genius, his confidence, his love for Meg, but also the faults that Charles Wallace has, that plays a crucial role in the plot. The boy who played Charles Wallace did a good job with what is undoubtedly a hard role to play. (See after the spoilers for more on Charles Wallace.)
When I went into the theater, I went in knowing this was primarily a children’s movie. I know that a lot of us expect children’s movies to be for all of the family — so that adults can enjoy it as well with little quips and segments that are oriented more toward the adult audience rather than the kids. This movie’s focus was purely on its truth and its younger audience. It spoke directly to them where they are. Thus, some scenes that feel a little elongated to an adult are just the right length to emphasize the movie’s most essential points about love and empathy and the antithesis of those emotions.
A Wrinkle in Time, under the wise direction of Ava Duvernay, has accomplished the impossible in my eyes. It captured the magic and the love and the deep abiding empathy for all of the characters as well as their healing journey — the heart of the book.
The book was about empathy and love, and the darkness (the IT, which is the evil that conforms us, that uses our trauma to control us and tear us down internally). This darkness so easily can turn us into toxic versions of ourselves, leeching the world of its love and empathy for each other. The stark difference between the darkness (the IT) and the celestial beings of Light (The three Mrss) really brought home this concept. All of us bear trauma of some sort, but the IT uses that trauma to control and tear us down, leaving us in more pain and anguish. By contrast, the Light lifts us up with love and empathy, listens to us, sees us as we are, and embraces us as we are, and thus provides a route for healing.
A Wrinkle In Time dove headfirst into the heart of the book and embraced it fully. In the most unforgettable and heart-rending way, Ava Duvernay’s masterpiece showed all of us that healing is possible. That we all deserve love and what a message to share to children of all ages!
(Forewarned: Spoilers from this point forward as I discuss Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace’s journey.)
I cried through the end of the movie as I very much related to Meg Murry (played by the wonderfully expressive Storm Reid). Throughout the movie, she struggles with how others’ perceive her, her suspicious approach to life, her inability to trust people around her, how she wanted to be someone else. She shows real signs of trauma from the loss of her father and from the intense bullying she has to deal with daily. She struggles with the question “do I deserve love?”
Calvin and Charles Wallace are her foil in this journey. Calvin sees her as she is and outright tells her she is smart and wonderful as she is. This layer of support is essential in the healing journey, and it helps bolster Meg throughout her journey. Charles Wallace loves her dearly as his sister, and is confident and trusting in his love, but he’s also young and impressionable.
All three of them are thrust into a journey that takes them far from home in the search for Meg’s and Charles Wallace’s father. Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace must face off with the greatest darkness — the IT — within the universe. How the movie captures this was brilliant done in my eyes, and the worlds they visit in their travels are gorgeously rendered, the characters met vividly portrayed, especially world of Camazotz — the home of the darkness (also called the IT), which was imbued with the same terror I had felt when reading those chapters as a child.
For the first half of this journey, the trio are guided by the celestial beings of the Light — Mrs. Which, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Whatsit. All three of the Mrss were wonderfully cast. Mrs. Which, the kind leader of the ethereal beings of light, is played by Ophrah Winfrey. Reese Witherspoon plays Mrs. Whatsit, the youngest of the light who is the quirkest and most playful, and Mandy Kaling does an epic job as Mrs. Who, the one who speaks almost exclusively with the words of others and holds quiet wisdom.
The beings of light are the oracles for our heroes’ journey, and they provide a strong thesis against the growing darkness with their love, their playfulness, their kindness, their trust, and their willingness to give and support those around them. All three have come because they heard the great cry for help in the universe, and they believe Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace can find Meg’s father and bring him home. They show the children the art of the tesseract — being able to find the frequency for which to travel through a wrinkle in time to other worlds. This magic of discovery is a beautiful moment in the film, but it is also the moment we see an important truth.
It is in the act of tessering that we see the struggle Meg faces internally first hand. She doesn’t tesser well, and Mrs. Which recognizes the reason why. On the world where the seer lives, she takes Meg aside and acknowledges Meg’s pain and trauma. To see this on screen humbled me and amazed me, yet at the same time, it was painful for I saw myself in Meg. To see this struggle acknowledged as real in a movie was nothing short of spectacular. Then, when Mrs. Which reminds Meg of that essential truth — that she is wonderful just as she is, I saw again the struggle people with trauma have. How are we wonderful? Are we not broken? Distrustful? Not good? Meg struggles to accept Mrs. Which’s words just as she struggles to accept Calvin’s kind words of support, Mrs. Who’s support, and Charles Wallace’s confidence in her.
At a critical juncture in their search, Mrs. Which, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Who inadvertently force a decision on Meg that changes the tone of the movie — just like it had in the book. When they find the truth of where Meg’s father is — how he is trapped in the IT on the world of Camazotz — the support and confidence fades into concern for safety. All three of the Light beings hesitate to bring the children into such danger, and so suggest the help of Meg and Charles Wallace’s mother. Why do this at such a critical juncture?
I am convinced that they did not do it because they lacked confidence in Meg’s ability to reach her father. No, they hesitated and wished to seek reinforcements because of their love, and their desire to protect the children. The three Light beings did not wish for them to experience the heart of the evil in the universe. Is this not like friends and family, watching those they love struggling with trauma, or abuse, or addictions, or other painful situations? They wish for a way to not let them experience that darkness, to not watch them be sucked into destruction. To seek a safer route to healing.
And yet, there are times when we must pass through those flames and forge ourselves anew.
This is the moment when Meg makes her decision. Her love of her father, her desperation to reach him now emboldens her to not give up. To not fall back, not when they’ve come this far. The growth she exhibits to reach this point was beautifully shown by Storm Reid’s strong performance. It left me breathless with fear and awe to see Meg accomplish the tesser on her own and to bring them all to the heart of darkness, to Camazotz.
Thus, the three celestial beings give Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin gifts on this world where darkness holds sway, where these beings of Light cannot survive for long. It is here, after the Light has faded away, that the three are confronted with the hardest and most painful situations. Up to this point, we have seen glimpses of the effects of this darkness on people — we see the impacts of their trauma, fear, and insecurities, and we also see those who are imbued with hate and spitefulness. Here on Camazotz, these scary attributes are amplified.
We see the terrifying conformity of children in a cul-de-sac all bouncing the balls in perfect unison. How all the mothers come out at the same time to call them to dinner, how they all act in perfect conformity. We see the manipulative and abusive control the IT has, and how IT uses our trauma against us.
These scenes showed with terrifying clarity a world nearly verbatim to how I pictured when reading the book. I was stunned and felt that same creeping terror that I had felt reading those chapters. Camazotz brutally showed how manipulative abuse and control creeps up and grabs hold, and it revealed the intrusive thoughts we all struggle with, especially those suffering from trauma.
The trio’s support of each other starts to falter. Calvin struggles against the desire to conform, especially as he is hungry and tired, but Meg distrusts everything she sees. She tries to lead them away from the terrifying attempts to control them. Charles Wallace is uncertain, no longer as confident.
And then came the scene where the IT snares Charles Wallace. Here is Charles Wallace who is brilliant for a kid, and up to this point, he’s been confident, trusting of Meg, and certain they’ll succeed. Yet, he never really knew his father like Meg did, so at the same time, Charles Wallace also deals with trauma, just of a different nature than Meg. Despite him being a super smart five year old, his emotional intelligence is still that of a five-year old.
The moment IT ensnares Charles Wallace is when he is wrapped up in fear and horror. All of them are hungry, tired, and alone despite being surrounded by people on this beach with food in front of them. Everything he tastes is sand, not food, and this frightens him. Being without the Light Mrss frightens him. Meg, who he had spent the movie uplifting, doesn’t know how to comfort him, and her words do little to alleviate his fear.
Instead the IT alleviates it. The IT draws Charles Wallace away from Meg, and now Charles Wallace is left with the lie that Meg is only here for her father. With this, his inner fear shatters that joyful confidence, and he becomes the voice of IT. Throughout these painful scenes, the words and venom Charles says is the intrusive thoughts we all battle. It hurt to see it so vividly.
His role as voice of IT is punctuated further when they find Dr. Murry. Dr. Murray is both sad and joyful at his daughter finding him, but also afraid for her. When he sees that his son has become the voice of IT, he, in his fear and desperation, chooses to give up on Charles Wallace and try to escape with at least one of his children. This is exactly what the IT had been whispering to Charles Wallace almost like a prophecy — that only the IT sees his true potential.
Meg won’t allow this. She won’t give up on her brother. She came here for all of them — her friend, her brother, and her father — to all leave with her. In Meg’s eyes, there is no other route to go. And thus, she ends up trapped inside the IT with Charles Wallace, while Calvin is snatched away from her by her own father. She has lost one of her main supports, and now her father had abandoned her again in his desperate escape. It’s this final confrontation in a true moment of despair that shook me to my core.
The scene when she faces Charles Wallace at the heart of IT looks like tendrils of neurons to me — how traumatic situations impacts our brains down to the very neurons. We see intimately the struggle with intrusive thoughts, painful emotions and memories, but we also see the lies trauma and abuse and hate tells us.
Meg knows her faults very well. Her intrusive thoughts have hounded her about how she isn’t good enough, how it’s her fault because of x and y reason, how she doesn’t deserve love. To hear Charles Wallace say her intrusive thoughts out loud was painful, but yet it at the same time the scene acknowledged this struggle. This is the first time I have ever seen trauma so accurately portrayed on screen before.
Meg faces off with the impact of her trauma, and she has the empathy to recognize that Charles Wallace was still there, but he too struggles with trauma. He too struggles with the intrusive thoughts, the trauma of abandonment, the fear that he won’t be recognized and loved as he is.
Meg confronts not only her own trauma and intrusive thoughts but also his own when she tells him that she loves him. She reminds him of all the things he did to show her love. She says that she won’t leave without him.
When IT presents what society might deem an “idealized version” of her, Meg finds the strength to reject that version. She stands tall and announces her faults as a counter to the intrusive thoughts said out loud by Charles Wallace. Yet another step forward on her healing journey. I am at the edge of my seat now, my breath taken away by the intensity of the moment. The film has been brilliantly and steadily building to this core moment — the heart that had captured millions of readers across the globe — and Storm Reid does not disappoint.
She faces Charles Wallace and the IT, and her truth bursts forth from her as the light of a hundred stars:
“I deserve to be loved!”
The It lashes out at those words, but the light has already burst out to free Charles Wallace. There, in that dark place, Meg and her brother find that love brings light to the darkness.
I wept because her answer is what I’ve been trying to convince myself my entire life. And here I was, seeing those words transform into a dazzlingly light that sweeps away the darkness, that heals our inner most selves and builds new neuron pathways from the light of love.
Meg’s journey through A Wrinkle in Time is so much more than just finding her father and bringing him home again. It is her journey of healing from her trauma, a journey that helps herself, her brother, her friend, and her family all heal from the trauma of loss, of abandonment.
It is a journey to bring light and love to all of the darkness that threatens to tear us apart and control us through fear, conformity, abuse, hate. A journey that shouts through the universe, “No, I reject that toxicity. I reject that control and fear. I know who I am! And I deserve to be loved as I am.” Because the truth is?
We all do.
Thank you for sharing these words! Having just seen the movie, I really appreciated what you had to say. My favorite part is that it captured the love of the book so well. I could really feel the caring and trust from the family and the characters. Really beautifully done. 🙂
I haven’t seen the movie, but have read the book as you know. Your essay was masterful and very insightful. I have long thought it a truth very rarely recognized that negative experiences and thoughts can impact the very threads of our brain. I also thought such experiences etc can make (and this is a very unscientific tern) ruts in our brain. Human caring can help smooth the ruts and heal the tangled threads (I use the term caring, because the word love so often connotes sexual activity) . I also fervently believe that we can ask our Lord God to fill us (or the person for whom we pray) with his healing love. God’s love, aided by human caring, can work miracles of healing of such trauma effecting the brain. Your description of that process as depicted through the book and movie was elegant and moving.
Thank you for sharing thoughts on the movie. It was very insightful and I would like to read the book again to prepare myself for watching the movie which I hope to do while still in theaters. I am much behind in movie watching as I am a Mom now. I really would like to see this movie, so I hope it works out. We all need healing to some degree in our lives.