Ava DuVernay’s highly anticipated adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time has received mixed reviews, but it excels as a depiction of the strength children possess and the power they have to exercise change.
Kids get called a lot of things, but chief among them is that inevitable, disdainful word, “naïve.” We assume that kids are naïve to the ways of the world – they don’t, or perhaps can’t, understand. Society inherently conflates childhood with a lack of knowledge about the world and all the things in it.
From a rather prescriptive point of view, this is true. However, this perspective is limited, and is far more of a reflection of how we want to treat children as opposed to how they actually need to be treated.
DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time presents a world in which children are given the benefit of the doubt. That is to say, it shows what might happen if we didn’t underestimate the power and knowledge of children. The film gives children the freedom to be heroes, transporting them to a new world where the rules that have traditionally dictated their lives no longer exist.
At the very start of the film, we are introduced to Meg. We see her with her father, conducting a science experiment in their garage. The beauty of this scene is not in what they are doing, but how they are doing it; Meg’s father, Mr. Murray played by Chris Pine, treats Meg with respect.
He is as fascinated by her own intellect as she is with his; he both admires and challenges her knowledge, never condescending or underestimating her abilities.
That this is the first scene in the film is significant because it’s in direct contrast with what we see in the scenes following Mr. Murray’s disappearance. When the film jumps ahead four years – four years after Mr. Murray’s disappearance – things are much different.
The adults in Meg’s life are critical and reprimanding, no longer patient with or interested in fostering Meg’s intellect. This is primarily the result of Meg’s change in attitude following her father’s disappearance. Meg is surrounded by adults whose patience has run out. They treat Meg as a child, both her sadness and naivety are weaknesses that they attempt to fix.
The arrival of the Mrs.’ changes the momentum of the film for two reasons. The first of which is that the Mrs’ afford the children with a deep respect that other adults do not. Unlike the adults on earth, the Mrs.’ do not see the children as weak. They regard them as equals, as autonomous individuals with their own unique powers.
They challenge the kids to reach higher, to push themselves, to see beyond the limits that have been placed on them, to be heroes. That all of this is given to a protagonist that is neither male nor white makes the film’s message all the more groundbreaking.
More than this, however, the Mrs.’ open up a new world to the kids, one in which they are not considered weak or inferior for being children, one where their naivety is a strength not a weakness. Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin leave a world in which knowledge and experience govern power and enter one where light and love determine strength.
This is quite a radical notion, and undoubtedly rather difficult for some older, more cynical audiences to accept. A Wrinkle in Time refuses to abide by traditional power hierarchies – it values love over knowledge, courage over experience.
These notions are undoubtedly quite earnest, but A Wrinkle in Time is never – not for a single second – absent the necessary authenticity to sell it. DuVernay’s characters, particularly the children and especially Meg, are afforded the space to feel their pain and work through it together.
The film is first and foremost an exploration of the balance between light and dark, strength and weakness, on both an interpersonal and intrapersonal level. There is something deeply profound about this, especially for what is categorically a “kids movie.”
In order to give the characters time for this personal exploration, A Wrinkle in Time makes a slight concession by reducing the more adventurous elements in the film and replaces them with an extensive emotional landscape. This is an inversion of what we are accustomed to seeing in these kids of films.
Rather than transpose a thin layer of pathos atop the film’s action and adventure elements, the film presents its character’s internal struggles as equal to the story’s adventure. Ultimately, this pays off by delivering a deeply felt climax, one where the words “I love you” feel new and radical.
To see a movie that gives children the freedom to exercise power over themselves and their world remains a powerful notion that challenges traditional power structures both in film and in the real world. At a time of such massive socio-political turmoil, A Wrinkle in Time advocates freely and without reservation for believing and trusting in the power of the next generation.
This is especially resonant given the current debate on gun control in the United States. On March 14, a month after 17 people were killed in Parkland, students across America staged a national walkout from their schools to protest Congress’ inaction against gun violence.
This gun control debate was re-energized last month after Parkland, not by Congress, parents, or anti-gun lobbyists, but by students. These students, whose lives are put in danger every single day by just going to school, are fighting back against massive institutions who have done nothing to protect them. Time and time again, adults have done nothing in the wake of these tragedies but that hasn’t stopped kids from standing up. Their resilience is inspiring and aligns poignantly with the DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time.
Near the end of the film, as Meg and her companions are about to venture onward alone to save her father, the Mrs’s give the kids gifts to take on their journey. Mrs. Whatsit, played by Reese Witherspoon, walks up to Meg and gives her a discerning look before saying, “Meg, I give you your faults.”
Meg is confused and frustrated by this so-called gift, but this moment embodies the film’s stirring take on the innate power of kids. A Wrinkle in Time posits that the things Meg hates about herself are, in fact, the very things she needs to defeat the darkness. DuVernay has crafted a resounding call to action, one with the power to inspire kids and adults alike.