A WRINKLE IN TIME, US, 2018. Starring Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling,, Deric McCabe, Chris Pine, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Zach Galifiniakis, Michael Peña, Andre Holland, David Oyelowo. Directed by Ava DuVernay. 109 minutes. Rated PG (Mild fantasy themes and sense peril).
A Wrinkle in Time is based on a popular novel by Madeleine L’Engele. It was filmed in 2004 as a Canadian miniseries.
This is a story with physics, maths, fantasy, mysticism – with the original novel having aspects of religion. These are not explicitly present in this screenplay although there are elements of religious symbolism.
The book has been very popular for decades but the film version, released by Disney, has not been kindly reviewed – and skimming through the bloggers’comments on the IMDb, there is practically no one who liked the film, many boasting of walking out, using the word “disappointing”…
If you come to the film without having the background of the book, you will indeed find it rather strange. But, it is a fantasy and is to be interpreted as such.
Meg (Storm Reid) is devoted to her scientist father (Chris Pine) who works with his academic wife (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). And Meg is very intelligent. Then we see her at school, the victim of quite obnoxious bullying, sad because it is the fourth anniversary of her father’s disappearance (and the bullies saying that she should do the same). At home, Meg now has a little brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), aged six, and even more intelligent than Meg. He has a strong and articulate presence.
Then the film turns into fantasy with three women, called the three Mrs (Whatsit, Which, Who) arriving with strange messages, basically urging Meg and Charles Wallace to search for their father. Conducting experiments, and wanting to shake hands, as he said, with the universe, he is now lost in the universe. A pleasant youngster from school, Calvin (Australian Levi Miller) is also in the house and joins in the journey.
And here comes one of the great oddities of the film: costume design and make up for the three Mrs. At times, they look as if they have come from an op shop and not been too discriminating in what they wear, or how make up as been applied (odd-coloured lips and bejewelled faces). And, one of them, Mrs Which appears at first in a rather gigantic form – but later comes to normal size. And the three Mrs are portrayed by Oprah Winfrey (as the giant Mrs), Mindy Cabling as the more ordinary Mrs and Reese Witherspoon, still something of an apprentice and appearing as rather ditzy.
Then it is a move through the wrinkling time, space travelling to other planets, time travelling, under the guidance of the Mrs until their capacity for “Tessaring” (the ability to move through the wrinkles) begins to fade. Then the three are on their own, relying on Meg’s determination and Charles Wallace with his insights and abilities.
It is here that something of the religious dimension does come in. There is a pervading evil presence in the universe. It is described as “It”. It is very much like a satanic presence, is one diabolical pervading of the universe, tempting and testing the youngsters, and taking possession of Charles Wallace. Which means that the three Mrs are like something of a Providence or of guarding Angels. But, it is up to the children to confront and destroy the evil It.
So, there is quite a range of adventures, some friendly planets, some frightening planets which grow instant high trees and provide cliffs, an odd version of a “little boxes” suburb where children and their mothers are automatons. And the Darkness of the It.
The children’s being reunited with their father is not without a great deal of turmoil, and his having to admit that he had abandoned his family to search for the meaning of the universe. However, goodness pervades as well as happiness – and even the bullying girl next-door neighbour changing heart.
The film does have a lot of ingredients – and a pity that so many people were not drawn into it but, in fact, were repelled. Perhaps a wrinkle in filmmaking judgement.
Disney Released March 29th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.