Mind, movies

They wrote their sonnet well

[This post contains spoilers. And some illustrations I did after feeling inspired and renewed from A Wrinkle in Time!]

“Life, with its rules, its obligations, and its freedoms, is like a sonnet: You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself,” thus said Mrs. Whatsit.

I think it may be the best quote that could describe how I see Director Ava DuVernay’s Disney’s movie adaptation (and adaptations in general) of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, first published in 1962. But before I delve more into what I think about the film, I just want to share how I first knew about the beloved author.

Younger Arli. Elementary school. Probably 11 or 12 years old. Reader of K-Zone, a popular magazine kids my age liked to read because of its articles on movies, games, and books. 

I read a short summary of A Wrinkle in Time from the magazine, and since then, it has stuck with me over time. It was only in high school or early college – I cannot pinpoint anymore – that I got to read it. Since then, it made an impact on me. But after years, I didn’t get to read it a second time anymore, for I do not know where my old copy was. My secondhand book had Mrs. Whatsit in her form in Uriel. She was a magnificent half-man half-horse with fantastic wings on the cover.

But when I knew late in 2017 that an adaptation was about to be released in 2018, I had to reread the book! I bought the Trilogy (A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet) summer of 2017, but I only got to read Wrinkle again this February. I finished it weeks before the adaptation was to come out here in the Philippines.

After reading Wrinkle, I dove next to the second and third book and finished them relatively fast compared to my previous reading sprees last year. (I used to read around 40-50 books yearly when I was in high school and college, but the number decreased to 4-5 when I started working!) It was my first time to read the other books under the Time Quintet, apart from the first book.

However, before I got to read A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet, I loved my second L’Engle book: A Circle of Quiet. That was the book that led me to realize how incredible of a writer, storyteller, and human being was Ms Madeleine L’Engle, and like her, I want to not put any periods or dots after Mr, Ms, and Mrs. 😉

I got introduced to her other works, because I got to read excerpts and quotes from a good friend, Ate Kathy, in her blog. While reading, I wanted to get to know L’Engle more and read more of her works, because I loved how she wrote. So that was how it all grew from my first encounter with Wrinkle in K-Zone.

Then came Glimpses of Grace which is a collection of excerpts from L’Engle’s works; it was meant to be read daily, for there was an excerpt to read and reflect on for each day of the year. From there, I discovered more of her books. This led me to Meet the Austins. I’ve read Books 1 and 2, and I hope to be able to buy the next ones soon!

When I reread Wrinkle weeks ago, how I imagined the characters, their home, and the planets, came back to me, as if I was reading it for the first time again. Because I wanted to show my love for it, I made a quick colored sketch where the characters are flying over the planet Uriel.

Uriel

Madeleine, through her life, stories, and writings, led me to wanting to know and love God more, to appreciate science, to consider how the wonders and mysteries of the universe and everything else can point me to an understanding of how the Creator loves, to ask deep and brave questions and to not be afraid of the answers, and to remain humble in who we are and what we can do.

I can only hope to be a storyteller as courageous, honest, truthful, loving, inventive, soulful, and lovely as she was and how much regard she has for love, life, uniqueness, light, relationships, interconnectedness, and the universe.

I appreciated Wrinkle more today, especially the lessons. How light will always win (always!), how we can triumph over evil and darkness only with love not with anger or the same darkness, how we all need each other, how a person is not free if his freedom to decide for himself and to speak is silenced, how equality and likeness are different, how we must take on journeys by ourselves (but not necessarily alone for memories and love are in us), and how there is such a grander story cascading throughout this universe, where language is not through words but through feeling, seeing is not through the eyes but with heart and soul, and loving is not through what the person is like but as a person is.

A Wrinkle in Time is my favorite children’s book (and I say this with the adamant conviction that just because it’s a children’s book does not mean it is not deep or it does not contain mature concepts), and Madeleine L’Engle, my favorite author.

She, like a good-natured, lovely, and wise friend, has awakened a deeper sense of purposeful and meaningful writing and storytelling within me through her stories. She is the kind of writer I aspire to be like for the possibilities she opened up for me in words and worlds.

When I was only beginning to get familiarized with her works a few years ago, I was saddened to know that she had passed away in 2007. I wish that I had known her in person, but through the books she has authored, I think we have become friends already. She helped me clear my doubts. She helped me strengthen my faith more than any writer has. I was surprised that there were lines and themes I did not understand before when I was younger that I only understood today upon re-reading this classic as a young adult. It was absolutely refreshing. I loved Wrinkle and L’Engle more after coming back to the book years after.

As a young child reading it for the first time, I appreciated Wrinkle for the adventure.

As a 25-year-old girl transitioning to a young woman re-reading it, I appreciated it for the spiritual themes it has, the relationships of the characters, and the science fiction. (Is it really sci-fi?)

Murry O'Keefe

As one of the millions of lovers of the book and L’Engle and one who watched the movie adaptation, I appreciated it for its important message, one that is critical today. I found myself crying at some parts of the film, and interestingly but not surprisingly, at the opening credits too. Madeleine and A Wrinkle in Time matter to me a lot.

[Spoilers start here.]

Before I tackle the things I liked about the movie, there were a few that concerned me as my Dad and I went out of the movie theater last night. I wanted to love it fully, but I found myself having mixed feelings.

The climax where Meg was left in Camazotz with IT-Charles Wallace.

The whole sequence (although I did like the addition of Meg having to face her supposed-to-be better IT-self) felt a little too hurried for me, regardless of tessering to Ixiel was not included in the film. The pacing was hurried, but I’ll just share a bit about what happened in the book.

Mr. Murry tessered himself, Calvin, and Meg away to save themselves. I do not know why this and Ixiel and Aunt Beast weren’t included, but for me, it was an essential part in the development of the events and Meg’s character. She had no courage to bring her brother back by herself; she felt and thought that if her Father came back, everything would be alright, because he would be the one to make it okay. IT almost got her. That’s why in Ixiel, she was angry, confused, and disappointed, and she directed this to her Dad who was supposed to make things better. She couldn’t believe that they had left Charles Wallace. Aunt Beast, tender and loving, helped ease the anger that Meg felt.

But being the one who was closest to her youngest brother (Sandy, Dennys, where were you? In the book, the Murrys also had twins: Sandy and Dennys),  she of course had to be the one to return to Camazotz to save Charles Wallace. It was through this part that pushed her to go back to the dark planet alone.

There’s also the part where Meg wasn’t given a very important gift from the Mrs.

Love.

Upon entering Camazotz, Mrs Who gave Meg her spectacles. Mrs Whatsit gave her her faults. As a final gift, Mrs Whatsit was supposed to specifically give her love when they were in Ixiel, just before Meg was to return for Charles Wallace.

At the climax, we heard the Mrs’ voices giving Meg gifts in the background, and we saw Meg struggling. It was the gift of faults that pushed Meg to know how to bring her brother back. Although knowing our faults, seeing and using them as our strength, and even in spite of them we are loved was a good take, I just feel that it would have been stronger if it was love in the first place that made Meg realize how to fight IT.

What doesn’t IT have that Meg had?

The love that the Mrs gave to her.

Her family’s love.

The real Charles Wallace’s love.

I felt that that would have been a more powerful and persuasive catalyst for Meg to yell out her love for her brother and herself.

I also noticed that some parts I saw on one of the trailers (i.e. Meg talking about a tesseract or a wrinkle in time with a string and an ant) weren’t in the film. It just bothers me when that happens.

Anyway, in regards to things I liked about the film, I have to commend that the choice of actors and their performances were superb. I love Storm Reid as Meg and Levi Miller as Calvin O’Keefe. They had on-screen chemistry, and my Dad and I thought about how adorable and smart Deric McCabe was in playing Charles Wallace. I also appreciate that they gave more context for Chris Pine’s and Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s characters’ relationship with each other. (Having read A Wind in the Door, I liked that they mentioned too that Mrs Murry liked the microscopic, while Mr Murry the cosmic!)

Reese Witherspoon, Oprah Winfrey, and Mindy Kaling were fantastic as the Mrs, but I just felt like I wanted Mrs Whatsit to be nicer to Meg. However, she not believing in Meg so much was instrumental in supporting the information that Meg had to be comfortable in who she was and the goodness that she was capable of doing.

The visuals, no question, were stunning. The music accompanying their running about in Uriel for the first time, along with the sceneries, had me wanting to be there too.

In Uriel with the Flowers

Did joy like that, before darkness came into the world, exist? This I asked when I saw the purity and newness of Uriel on screen.

The production design, makeup, and costumes were noteworthy, fun, eye-catching, and memorable as well. I can only wonder how difficult it would be to move around in the Mrs’ costumes though!

There were also some quirks I noticed like Mrs Whatsit saying “What a dark and stormy night” when Charles Wallace first let her inside their home. (“It was a dark and stormy night” is the starting sentence of Wrinkle.) And the “Wild nights are my glory!” when she stepped outside after being gently asked to leave the Murry’s house. It was just nice to hear those things from the book in the movie.

It’s not a perfect adaptation, and I think that there will never be a perfect adaptation, but I can agree with what others who have read the book have said: the heart is there. The essence is there. Meaning, it stayed true to the book and its message of love and light, but not completely and not the way we expected it to. Their creative liberties and the way they chose how to write this sonnet complemented the book. They experimented more on the story, its potential to include many an important theme in the present, and what sphere of reality it can use to invite other people to watch the film. Wrinkle’s overarching theme of beautiful unconditional and strong love was a good foundation to build upon and use as a format to speak about today’s pressing issues. Speaking of format, maybe the Wrinkle movie without the direct mention of spiritual themes was understandable; some themes or topics are too vast or deep or needing time (kairos, maybe?) to reflect on in a two-hour-long movie. The format and timing for a story play a big role in discussing certain themes like the ones in A Wrinkle in Time, but I wished that Mrs Who did quote “Light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.”

A Wrinkle in Time was for me and for everyone Meg Murry and L’Engle have touched through the story, its heart, and its timeless message of love and hope. After moments of careful thought and evaluation of my feelings, I realized an important thing about this adaptation and adaptations in general:

Stories can change and grow depending on the time they are needed to serve a particular purpose.

They expand to fit what the world needs at a certain time, or if not the world, a target group of people that needs to hear the story. At the time when Wrinkle was published and I noticed that there were similar themes in The Moon by Night (Meet the Austins #2), L’Engle’s characters about the possibilities of a nuclear war happening. The same in A Swiftly Tilting Planet; war was one of the major conflicts.

For me, the most significant moral in A Wrinkle in Time was love and light over darkness.

There’s also our fight against conformity; Camazotz’ IT stood for conformity, for sameness not oneness or equality, for making things convenient and easy by completely removing individuals’ sense of worth, individuality, free will, and freedom. Without their power to choose, there is no freedom.

In addition, there are the spiritual themes that run underneath and over and beyond. In all honesty, when the Mrs were enumerating Earth’s warriors at the end of the movie, I was waiting for one of them to mention Jesus, but His name was not mentioned. I do not know why this wasn’t included, but maybe because it may not bode well with the overall message of this adaptation. Not because it’s bad per se, but there may be too many themes going on already to throw at the viewer, thus creating the risk of becoming overwhelmingly heavy.

Going back to Mrs. Whatsit’s quote in the beginning, there is a possible metaphor. Life was the source material (L’Engle’s book), the sonnet was DuVernay’s. She, the cast, and crew had their own visions and ways to bring Wrinkle to the big screen.

Adapting is, in biology, is when organisms get better suited with their surroundings. In this case, the movie had to serve a relevant issue in our modern time. It had to adapt. It had to answer or support pressing issues today.

Feminism. Black lives. Black girls. Children’s well-being and hopes. The youth. Empowerment. Representation. Inclusion.

Although the overall impression I got from the moral of the movie was not love and light conquering darkness and it had little to discuss about conformity, it did talk of a specific kind of love this time rather than general – knowing and accepting our faults and still loving the one that carries them.

And of course, the love for our youth, particularly Black girls. It leads us to ask questions like who are the people that society is not treating with dignity, with respect, with acknowledgment? What are the prevailing issues we need to talk about diplomatically, sensitively, lovingly? Who are the ones being affected so much by these matters?

Meg, impatient, often angry, wanting to fit. Weren’t we all like her? Aren’t we all like her at times?

Although the movie did not take after L’Engle’s physical description of Meg, I was happy and excited with the choice. I like what Ava DuVernay did for Wrinkle to empower the youth. Storm Reid for me was perfectly Meg: she played our stubborn and doubtful and frustrated and insecure protagonist excellently.

I love Madeleine, her books, her characters, but I knew that the way I saw would be of course different from the way others would see. I cannot be selfish either; stories, like what I wrote earlier, have to grow, to adapt, to mean something new for others.

Wrinkle, the story, and Meg weren’t exclusive to me, a long-time reader of the book. Meg wasn’t mine to begin with. I wasn’t the only Meg. I’m not even the author! I had to be giving and unselfish in letting and appreciating how others envisioned L’Engle’s original work and how it could work to spread awareness on socially relevant matters today. This modern world’s Meg has to speak to and enable a new generation of Meg Murry’s, the same way that the book did for us who read it when we were younger.

For a young talented Black girl to play our smart and loving heroine gives the inspiration to other young Black girls to say, “I am her. I see myself in her. I can be like her. I can be me. I can have my faults and still be loved. I am loved for who I am.”

Right now, the Meg’s of the modern time need someone or something whom they could relate to, that answers the questions that they have and validates their identity and worth and dreams in their place, and where they could witness a Black girl who can do something seemingly impossible and one of which is to wrinkle time and space to bring her father back home.

Tessering Meg

This movie’s Meg spoke to myself too, besides I being able to relate to grappling with self-worth and insecurities.

This now is more about what I could do.

I was just about to finish high school. Shortly before graduation, some of us were gathered under a lone mango tree in the middle of our school grounds.

A Science teacher of ours asked me what course I was going to take in college, and he remarked non-verbatim, ‘It’s not Chemistry, is it?’

I wasn’t good in Chemistry.

The memory stuck with me until now, reminding me that not so good grades will not help me in understanding Chemistry, that I could not understand Science the way my peers did.

But then L’Engle, a woman, through her books, made me understand science more and how I could mix it with faith. But then Mrs. Murry, a brilliant scientist, showed me that a woman can make remarkable discoveries in the field. But then Meg, with all her faults, taught me again how girls and women can be good at subjects that may be deemed that boys and men only like.

Years after, I find myself appreciating science again and wanting to understand how it is related to Creation and faith and the grand design of love in this universe.

This is truly one of the things that I loved about the film. It built on the original, expanded on it more, it spoke of inclusion and celebrating oneness with each other no matter how different we are in race, in skin, in beliefs, in upbringing, and though it’s not entirely the same as the details in the book, it still taught ultimately valuable lessons. The Wrinkle movie is still the Wrinkle book in my heart.

It may have not completely satisfied my hopes and expectations about the book, but anyway, this wasn’t about satisfaction. I’ve already had that pleasure when I read the book for the first time, first seeing the characters and the story unfold in my own mind’s imagination. If we are to be people of inclusion, of invitation, of encouragement, then we are to be welcoming, broad-minded, and appreciative too in seeing our favorite books and characters come alive and played in a way that we do not expect or is not totally accurate to the book’s details.

The movie has reached its target group. It served its purpose today. It spoke. It represented. It taught. It affirmed. It included. It mattered to those who specifically needed this adaptation’s message.

“A book, too, can be a star, a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe,” said Madeleine L’Engle said in her Newbery Medal Acceptance Speech, August 1963.

With all the ‘faults’ and the favorite things I mentioned, DuVernay, with everybody behind the movie, wrote their sonnet well.

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