Maybe it’s just the title that’s quizzical, but somehow American movie goers seem more than a little confused about Disney’s new movie released last weekend. A Wrinkle in Time, which cost $100 million to produce and starred big names like Reese Witherspoon and Oprah Winfrey, didn’t get much love at the movies, coming in behind another Disney movie, Black Panther, that’s riding a month long wave at the top of the box office.
The movie is the second Disney adaptation of the 1962 novel “A Wrinkle In Time, by author Madeleine L’Engle. The first adaptation by Disney aired on ABC in 2004 and starred Alfre Woodard and Alison Elliott. That production was a big Disney flop, leading us to question why Disney would try again?
Somehow the success of “A Wrinkle in Time,” the book, doesn’t seem to be transfer well to film. As a novel, A Wrinkle in Time has been a mainstay of middle school English curricula for decades. As of its 50th anniversary in 2012, Wrinkle had sold more than 10 million copies worldwide.
What’s it about?
A Wrinkle in Time begins with the mother of all literary clichés: “It was a dark and stormy night.” But what follows is wholly original. Reportedly, the idea for the book came to L’Engle during a family camping trip when the names of three old-as-time ethereal beings—Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Which and Mrs. Who—“popped” into her mind.
The central figure and super hero of the book is Meg Murry, an outcast who struggles in school. Her scientist parents’ genes for brilliance aren’t quite expressed in her yet, and she’s also angsty, angry and troubled by the injustices around her.
The story is driven by Meg’s search for her father. With the help of the Mrs. (Who, Which and Whatsit), her younger brother and a hunky classmate named Calvin, Meg goes looking for her father by beaming to planets with names like Ixchel and Uriel. She learns of an evil Dark Thing descending over a world called Camazotz, where humans’ minds are plugged into a disembodied brain that controls them. On Camazotz, the children are carbon copies who bounce their bouncy balls in eerie unison. In the end, Meg learns that she has had the tools—critical thinking and boundless love—required to save her father all along.
The Time Wrinkle
In the movie, the three Mrs. reveal to Meg and friends that the universe contains “tesseracts,” which allow them to cover tens of light years of distance instantly via a process called “Tessering.” Tessering also happens to be the way Meg’s father traveled so far away from Earth.
In the novel, tessering is the real wrinkle in time from the title. Mrs. Whatsit explains that if we understand space to be three-dimensional, and time represents a fourth dimension, then the tesseract is a fifth-dimensional bridge between two points in time and space. She uses the image of an ant walking on a flat string. The ant can get from one end of the string to the other by walking its length — but if you fold the string and bring the ends together, the ant can reach the end much more quickly and easily.
Actually, the concept of tessering has some real scientific roots. However, in the movie tessering fairly simple, the idea is that you use your mind to fold the fabric of space together to bridge two faraway points. In other words, tessering creates a so-called Einstein-Rosen Bridge, also known as a “wormhole,” a concept predicted by Albert Einstein as part of his theory of general relativity. In the real world, “tesseract” refers to something else in other circumstances. It specifically describes a shape: a visual representation of a cube existing in the three spacial dimensions and the fourth dimension of time. It’s weird to describe, but a tesseract sort of looks like a cube within a cube, made up of many cubes.
Probably the most likely place people have recently heard the term “tesseract” is from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In those films, a blue cube that first popped up in “Captain America: The First Avenger,” later revealed to be an infinity stone, is called a tesseract. It was first used to power the super-strong weapons of the Nazi group HYDRA. And later, the tesseract was used by bad guy Loki in “The Avengers” to open — wait for it — a wormhole that let an army of aliens through to attack New York.
After its publication, Wrinkle was controversial. It’s still one of the most frequently banned American books, in the company of censored classics The Catcher in the Rye (profanity) and Charlotte’s Web (talking animals). Most objections were made on the grounds that it was un-Christian. While L’Engle was a Christian and the book gives reverence to Jesus, it also equates him with historical geniuses like da Vinci and Gandhi. The book promotes, according to critics, witchcraft, the supernatural and a “new age” approach to spirituality.