In one of A Wrinkle In Time‘s establishing scenes, Chris Pine’s Dr. Alex Murry stands on a stage, flanked by his wife, Dr. Kate Murry (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), explaining to a gathering of scientists that the bonds between the electrons that make up our bodies are the same as the bonds between the electrons that make up entire galaxies. That you are the universe and the universe is you, and if we can just “find the right frequency,” we’ll be able to create a “wrinkle in time,” allowing us to travel “91 billion light years” using “nothing but our minds.”
The doctors Murry are rightly laughed out of the room. When they get home, Kate is furious at Alex for not explaining it better. But Alex Murry, it turns out, is right about the space travel. And yet the movie’s explanation for how he travels those 91 billion light years never gets any clearer than Alex’s initial, laughable presentation. In fact, forget the how, the movie never bothers explaining where, or even why he wants to go. The closest it gets to the how is Dr. Murry in a flashback saying, out loud, and to himself, “Love, that’s the frequency!” The closest it gets to the why is Dr. Murry telling his daughter “I wanted to shake hands with the universe… when the hand I should’ve been holding was yours.”
I simply cannot… deal with this level of meaningless platitude.
The film began (after commercials for Disney Channel kids and American Idol) with a personalized message from director Ava DuVernay. She said she hoped that her movie would make us feel like our 11, 12, 13-year-old selves, and be a beacon of hope in these divisive times. I was immediately worried. Nine times out of 10, someone exhorting you to be more childlike, to be more innocent, to focus more on the positive, is full of shit. “Don’t be so negative” is the mantra of smarm. But I was a huge fan of Selma, a movie that made some bold and unexpected creative choices in a normally excruciatingly conventional genre, so I gave her the benefit of the doubt.
As the movie went on, much as I tried to do like she said, I couldn’t shake the feeling that 12-year-old me, 11-year-old me, any me old enough for me to remember me, really, would’ve hated this movie. We open with Alex doing some kind of science experiment with our protagonist, Meg (Storm Reid), before telling her she’s about to have a baby brother. Flash forward four years and Meg is an unhappy pre-teen living with her mother and her precocious brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) in what looks like upper-middle-class Los Angeles.
It’s never explained why Charles Wallace has two first names, but apparently he’s a gifted student, and also wears sweater vests over oxford shirts to school, has a perfect newscaster part in his hair, and seems to deliver every line in an over-caffeinated half-shriek. People are always telling Meg to be more like Charles-Wallace, which is weird because Charles-Wallace is incredibly annoying. But A Wrinkle In Time values “positivity” over anything else.
One of the best things about Lady Bird was that the teens looked like teens. Lady Bird had stringy hair and skin that was a little greasy and everyone generally looked like they hadn’t figured it out yet. That’s one of the defining features of childhood, not having it figured out yet. Like every Disney Channel sitcom from the late aughts, the kids in A Wrinkle In Time all look like they have professional stylists. They’re not kids, but adults’ weirdly fetishized notions of kids. And DuVernay is always shooting them with claustrophobic intimacy, heroic shots of their clear eyes nobly scanning horizons.
Meanwhile, Meg’s father, the aforementioned Dr. Murry, has disappeared, presumably on some astral journey. Meg is still crushed over his absence, and naturally, the school bully chooses that wound to pour salt in, to the point of leaving a note on her locker that says “I wish it was you that disappeared.”