I fell in love with L’Engle’s writings in elementary school, fell deeper in love as I read beyond her juvenile fiction and into her journals, ponderings on Scripture, and her masterwork “Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art.” I spent a day hosting her as an English major in college and was overwhelmed by her grace, her staunch defense of her religious viewpoint (not exactly Evangelical, but not completely Liberal either–a happy Medium, much like the one Meg meets in “Wrinkle”), and the fact that after a long day of talking and writing and signing books, she signed every single book of hers that I owned (a stack of 20 at least).
L’Engle struggled for years with Hollywood trying to make a film of her book because she didn’t want to give up the rights for filmmakers to change the substance of the story or alter its themes. The trouble with the film version of “A Wrinkle in Time” is that it does all of that and more. By fundamentally altering the family structure (doesn’t matter what color they are, really, but what matters is that they made Meg the only biological child of the brilliant Murrys–eliminating her perfect younger twin brothers, and turning her prodigy youngest sibling Charles Wallace into an adopted kid) they change the heart of the story and the ultimate act of redemption that occurs at the end of the novel.
This key change ruins the Murry family. Charles Wallace’s relationship with Meg is a key part of the entire Murry family books–their almost supernatural connection only grows through two more novels, and it disappears in the film. Where we are told consistently that Charles is special, but are never shown why. The film also eliminates Meg’s perfect younger twin brothers, Sandy and Dennys, so she no longer has someone in her own family to compare herself to. This makes all the forces that cause her angst to come from outside the family dynamic, which is the opposite of where it comes from in the book. The power of the family dynamic and the way each of the Murrys contribute to it is part of the beauty of L’Engle’s writing. But of course, in this day and age, large families are anathema, so that has to go.
Because big stars were cast in the roles of the three “Mrs.”, instead of being supporting characters who exist to help Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace fight against the “Black Thing” (which is never called that in the film, in spite of the fact that L’Engle calls it that throughout the book), they take primary roles and are obviously featured everywhere one looks. The filmmakers also couldn’t make these stars disappear into makeup to appear the way L’Engle describes them, so they instead look like escapees from “Star Trek.” Regardless of whether or not the few references to Jesus and the Bible were removed, what matters is that great writers, artists, and philosophers were replaced by lines from Hamilton. (Don’t get me wrong, I love Hamilton, but it’s an unnecessary to remove one in favor of the other. Why not both?) L’Engle created the Mrs. to act as guardian angels, divine ones who do the work of “someone” greater (she never makes clear who) to stir humanity on to fight against the darkness.
Changing the settings of several key scenes (like making the Happy Medium a dude, the horrific vision of an office building where the children meet the Man With Red Eyes replaced by a beach scene), adding extraneous moments, and making the final confrontation with IT completely different than the ending of the novel only adds to the trouble with the film. In addition, the film removes the whole section with Aunt Beast. This section is pivotal in the plot, because it’s here where Meg learns to accept her father’s humanity, her place in the story of the fight, and even to heal some of her hurt. Without the Aunt Beast moment, Meg’s anger is so strong that she could never go back and fight IT.
Meg’s anger is always an issue (remember how hard it is for her to love Mr. Jenkins in the even better sequel, A Wind in the Door), and without that loving voice of Aunt Beast, she would have stayed so angry at her father–and to some extent Calvin–even the Mrs. might not have been able to get her to go.
In the book, IT tries to convince Meg that under it, everyone is alike so everything is great. Meg answers that “Like and equal are not the same.” The movie eliminates that line because in the name of progress and representation and empowerment, it DOES say that. To the filmmakers, this is exactly what they suggest. When we all believe and act alike, we can be equal. The film wants to celebrate skin color and diversity by saying, “See, this is how we fight against evil–we are all the same, so be a warrior and fight!”
L’Engle never wanted everyone to be alike. She relished differences and fighting for one’s foundational beliefs. She struggled with faith and belief and yet constantly found herself back at God’s love and grace as key. As a Christian, she could see the good in any kind of art that was done well, but as a Christian she would never excuse bad art just because it was “Christian.” She would also not excuse bad art just because it was full of representation or whatever else the filmmakers decided to put into this movie.
Honestly, if you want a visual version of the book, check out A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel by Hope Larson. It’s a near-perfect adaptation. Forget this hot mess of a movie. Like L’Engle, don’t excuse bad art just because it was made for the right reasons.