[SPOILERS for A Wrinkle in Time, if you haven’t read the book already]
A Wrinkle in Time, the film adaptation of the novel by the same name, suffered in a few ways that are normally fatal: the dialogue hit viewers right over the head – it was plain awful by any adult standards; there was a love interest who was entirely useless except for the fact of his being a love interest; there was even the occasional overacting. Yet, I love this movie. Not only that, but the more time that passes, the more I love it.
Other authors have suggested that folks like me, who read A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle at the appropriate age would feel a kinship with this movie that would confuse others. This is certainly true – children’s fiction of that era dealt with notions of good and evil in a particular, recognizable way that is comforting in these troubling times. Yet, this does not account for the whole of it by a long shot.
There was another element to that movie that not only was common among children’s literature of the time but also true of people – a way of talking about feelings that did not need any larger justification beyond their own existence to be recognized. The protagonist, Meg, is angry and sad because her father disappeared four years ago. She causes a lot of problems for the people who love her, because she is unhappy with herself and unhappy with her life. But while we recognize the reasons why she is mean and uncooperative, her actions are not depicted as sympathetic. In fact from a purely sympathetic perspective, her brother Charles Wallace and her mother appear in a much better light: their missteps, even when they make them, are always in service to others, they’re always clear attempts at doing the right thing. Not so with Meg.
Yet Meg is unapologetic. She doesn’t claim (and the movie doesn’t claim on her behalf) legitimacy within any sort of political context. She doesn’t “get to be” angry because she’s black, or a girl, or from a “broken home.” She gets to be angry because she’s angry. That’s it. Get over it. As a protagonist in a children’s movie fighting evil, Meg is an antihero. She’s not in this thing to save the universe.
In another climate, this might be unremarkable or perhaps — as I found the book when I read it as a kid — even disappointing. But as it stands there is something unusual about the emotional honesty in this movie, and that honesty carries the film. I take the motto, “be a warrior,” to be more than just “be the change you want to see in the world,” I see it as also “be the antihero you need to be in the world.” Don’t put any effort into justifying who and what you are via some social-moral principle. Redirect that energy into settling into yourself. Not, it turns out, an easy task. Beyond the difficulty in the effort itself, there’s the difficulty in defending the effort, because people who cannot sit well with themselves cannot let other people sit well with themselves either. I think this is how emotional self-deception is propagated, and this is the reason why. As soon as we say “it’s okay to have the feelings you have just because you have them,” the administration of peoples’ insides falls apart as a structure, leaving in its rubble people who aren’t ready to advocate for themselves on the basis of themselves.
“I give you the gift of your faults.” Perhaps the most relevant quote from the movie, A Wrinkle in Time gives viewers permission to remember what it is like to have jurisdiction over their insides. See this one, and don’t be too judgmental because you need to remember. We all do.