The other night we went to see the new movie A Wrinkle in Time. I was eager to see it, because the book by Madeleine L’Engle has been a favorite since I first read it as a freshman in college. The movie was good—you should all go see it. It is warm and uplifting. Storm Reid as Meg Murray is pretty much perfect. Oprah Winfrey as Mrs. Which and Reese Witherspoon as Mrs. Whatsit are delightful.
But, leaving the theater, I felt something missing. So I went home and stayed up late rereading the book. I discovered what is, at the heart, missing from the movie: God.
If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, here’s the basic plot: Meg’s scientist father has disappeared while doing top secret work. An eccentric trio of visitors from outer space appear; Meg, her precocious little brother Charles Wallace, and her friend Calvin go with them to rescue the father. They end up on the planet Camazotz, which has been taken over by the Darkness, by "It." The father is imprisoned there, and Charles Wallace is captured in the course of the adventure. Meg is able to rescue both her father and brother, and they all return to earth.
The movie follows the plot pretty closely. What it misses is the real reason Meg is able to complete the rescue.
In the book, we get the first indication of that power early on, when the three visitors – called Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which--take the children to the planet Uriel to explain the battle they are to enter. There they experience the transcendent beauty and peace of the place, where angelic creatures are singing “Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise from the end of the earth.”
Only after hearing God’s praise are the children allowed to see the Shadow “that was so terrible” that it “chill[ed] her with a fear that was beyond shuddering, beyond crying or screaming, beyond the possibility of comfort?”
Though neither is named directly, the power of light and the power of darkness are clearly God and Satan.
Mrs. Which explains the shadow is “Eevill. Itt iss thee Ppowers of Ddarrkknesss!” When the Mrses encourage the children by listing those who have fought against the shadow, the first warrior spoken of is Jesus, “The light [that] shineth in the darkness.”
On Camazotz, where the Shadow reigns, everyone is the same. “We are all happy because we are all alike.” Just as Satan’s plan was to force everyone to do his will, the Shadow allows for no agency.
None of these references is in the movie. It is out of fashion to believe in either God or Satan.
But in the book we get the clear contrast of the two great powers.
The Mrses are not just eccentric and powerful beings; they are “Angels!. . .Guardian angels! . . . Messengers of God!” When Calvin names the beings as such, at the time of greatest need, they immediately arrive to aid the children.
At this climax of the book (which is completely left out of the movie), in contrast to the mend-bending, mind-numbing power of the Shadow/Satan, these angels give Meg a choice. Only she can save her little brother, but she is the one who must decide to do it.
“I can’t go!” Meg cried. “I can’t! You know I can’t”
“Ddidd annybbodyy asskk yyou tto?”
“All right I’ll go!” Meg sobbed. “I know you want me to go!”
“We want nothing from you that you do without grace. . .or that you do without understanding.”
Meg’s tears stopped as abruptly as they had started. “But I do understand. . . . That it has to be me.”
Then Meg returns into the shadow, back to Camazotz, to rescue her brother. But first she is given powerful gifts, and all the gifts are the same: Mrs. Whatsit explains, “I give you my love, never forget that”; Mrs. Who offers a charge to remember “God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty”; and Mrs. Which reminds Meg, “Yyou hhave ssomethinngg that ITT Hhass not. . . Bbutt yyou mussst fffinndd itt fforr yyoursrssellff.”
Then Meg walks into the darkness and finds her baby brother completely overcome by the Shadow, “eyes slowly twirling, his jaw slack.” But she finds her gift: it is love and she speaks it. “Charles, I love you. You are my darling and my dear and the light of my life and the treasure of my heart. I love you. I love you. I love you.”
And love, through the grace of God, saves Charles.
This is the place in the book where I always cry. Because the power of light, the power of God, the power of love is so much greater than the power of darkness. And we, foolish and weak as we are, we can always love, and through loving, share in the power of God and bring salvation.
And this is what I missed in the movie. Though Meg speaks the words of love for Charles, the movie seems to be more about empowering Meg than about the power of love through the grace of God. I was happy as Meg triumphantly returned home, filled with confidence she lacked before. But my soul was not touched as the book touches it.
So go see the movie. It’s good. But be sure to read the book. It’s better.