Movies: A Wrinkle in Time

I remember reading A Wrinkle in Time as a child, and liking it, but I don’t remember anything else about it – or at least I didn’t until the past week. My husband discovered our older son, Zach, had never read it, and suggested he do so. Then he also discovered that there had been a TV adaptation of the novel, made in 2003, and that it was available on DVD. I got it from the library, and we watched it last night.

I wondered, as I watched the movie, exactly what it was I had liked about the book. It’s not that the movie was bad, I just didn’t find it all that great. And since I could barely remember the book, it wasn’t because I was comparing the movie to the book. Admittedly, being made for TV rather than the movie theater, it had a much lower budget and therefore, one assumes, lower “production values.” Perhaps it’s partly because I did know how the story ended, but I just didn’t find myself all that emotionally involved in the story or the characters. And I certainly didn’t find myself replaying certain scenes in my mind afterward, as I do after a powerfully affecting movie.

I suppose it’s telling that Madeleine L’Engle didn’t think much of the movie either. Asked in an interview whether it met her expectations, her response was “Oh, yes. I expected it to be bad, and it is.” She doesn’t elaborate on what made it bad, so I don’t know whether it had to do with removing the overtly Christian aspects of the story, modernizing the story (at one point we Meg’s mom doing an internet search on “tesseract”), or the overall treatment of characters and plot.

When I first read the story as a girl, the Christian elements would neither have bothered nor surprised me. I grew up in a liberal church – not the same denomination as L’Engle (she was Episcopalian), but with probably similar views on God, life, and the Bible. She distinguished between truth and fact, and regarding the Bible said this:

So what do I believe about Scripture? I believe that it is true. What is true is alive and capable of movement and growth. Scripture is full of paradox and contradiction, but it is true, and if we fallible human creatures look regularly and humbly at the great pages and people of Scripture, if we are willing to accept truth, rather than rigidly infallible statements, we will be given life, and life more abundantly.

Zach has commented on the “New-Agey” aspects of the novel. The term New Age did not become widespread until the mid-1970’s, and I don’t remember hearing it until the early 1980’s, but my mother’s eclectic mix of religious beliefs included some of those ideas. No doubt when I encountered them in A Wrinkle in Time I thought nothing of it, as they fit in easily enough with the liberal form of the Christian faith I was familiar with from my father’s church.  

It wasn’t until I became a fundamentalist Christian (and left my father’s church for the independent baptistic church where I was converted) at age 14 that I began to read specifically “Christian books.” I don’t think I reread A Wrinkle in Time after that, so I have no idea what I would have thought of it. I do remember eagerly purchasing and reading L’Engle’s Walking on Water to learn her views on faith and art – and being very disappointed.

As an adult I read a few of her other books, the ones that dealt with the same characters as in A Wrinkle in Time but which I had never read when I was younger. But after reading Walking on Water I wasn’t inclined to read anything else by her. Looking at some quotes by her, now, however, perhaps I have missed some wise insights by not reading more of her work.

When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… To be alive is to be vulnerable.

As a child, I hated feeling vulnerable. I did my best to act as though things didn’t bother me, and wished I could achieve the stoic ideal I imagined. I doubt I thought I would no longer be vulnerable as an adult – my mother was obvious evidence of an adult who was always feeling hurt by other people and by circumstances. Most adults seemed to deal with life much better than she did, and I hoped I would be one of them, but wasn’t sure how I would reach that point. It was difficult, as a young adult, to realize that letting myself be more vulnerable was part of becoming the mature adult I wanted to be.

Inspiration usually comes during work, rather than before it.
I’ve never been much good at coming up with ideas except by writing. I don’t know if this is what L’Engle had in mind with that quote, but I’ve never been able to plan out ahead of time the gist of what I want to say and the main points I want to make. Until I start typing (and I’ve always thought better with my fingers on a keyboard and my thoughts taking shape in black and white in front of me – writing with pen or pencil just doesn’t do it for me), I have little idea what to say. Once I start writing, the ideas start to flow – often in a different direction from whatever vague ideas I thought I had previously.

We do have to use our minds as far as they will take us, yet acknowledging that they cannot take us all the way.

One thing that I particularly noticed, watching the movie, was that while L’Engle made it clear that high intelligence wasn’t what saved the day for Meg and those she loved, she didn’t feel a need to make that point by using less intelligent people to be the heroes. Having a fairly high IQ, I tend to be annoyed at stories that pair high IQ with character defects such as arrogance and lack of compassion, while the average-IQ hero has a heart of gold. I’m sure there are plenty of arrogant, unfeeling, highly intelligent people, but there’s no lack of people with less than stellar IQ’s and the same character defects. In A Wrinkle in Time the incredibly bright young child Charles Wallace is (temporarily) won over by an evil (and wholly heartless) intelligence, but it is his youth more than his high IQ that makes him so vulnerable.

I guess I’ll just have to read A Wrinkle in Time again, and see what I think of it now. And then perhaps some other books by L’Engle.

One Response to Movies: A Wrinkle in Time

  1. David says:

    Interesting discussion. I haven’t seen the movie, but have been informed by friends that it’s best to forget that it exists! Recently I reread and reviewed the book, having only vaguely remembered it from my childhood, and was very impressed. It’s an exceptionally well-written and unique tale. Your comment about the intelligence of the characters is also right on.

    The religious messages are both inspiring and worrying for me. I’m a biblical Christian, and did not like that the book equated Jesus with other “great men” throughout history. It’s important to be aware of how L’Engle’s statements in the book and out may conflict with Scripture (and I’m not too encouraged by her quotes above). However, I think there is much good in the book about the majesty and sovereignty of God, and about the glories of holiness. Were I to only appreciate books that fit my exact theological beliefs, I would miss much that God is trying to teach me.

    I read the following two books in her Time Quintet, and liked them very much, although the religious elements become less and less biblical. I welcome you to visit my reviews and, once you read the books, let me know what you think of them!

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