Ironing Out the Wrinkles in the Movie

Madeleine L’Engle wrote A Wrinkle in Time, and her manuscript received twenty-six rejection letters before it was finally published. Her book received the Newbery Medal a year later and has been on bookstore shelves for more than fifty years. More than ten million copies are in print, and the recent Disney movie release will surely raise that number. At least I hope people will buy the book. It is the only way they will know the true story.

The movie isn’t receiving great reviews, and it probably shouldn’t. The movie doesn’t represent the truth that L’Engle was trying to tell when she wrote her children’s book. Her dad was gassed in World War I, and the once successful businessman became a depressed survivor of war. He placed his daughter in a boarding school and basically abandoned her there. She was an adult before she came to understand his depression. As a child, she suffered as a victim of it.

The book is in many ways a depiction of her life story. L’Engle wrote about the book in her journal, saying, “If I’ve ever written a book that says what I feel about God and the universe, this is it. This is my psalm of praise to life, my stand for life against death.” Madeleine considered herself a devout Christian. She read her Bible each day, and Wrinkle is sprinkled with biblical references. But many Christians were bothered by the way she expressed her faith in the book.

In Walking on Water, L’Engle wrote, “Faith is what makes life bearable, with all its tragedies and ambiguities and sudden, startling joys.” She was also the rare author who was accepted in both the mainline church and the elite literary circles of New York City. She has been compared to authors like C. S. Lewis and was honored by Wheaton, an evangelical school in the Chicago suburbs.

So, why does the movie not stand up to the true message of the book?

When Disney made the movie, the biblical quotes were erased. They took out any mention of Jesus and deleted the Christian historical figures from history who were used throughout L’Engle’s story. Disney erased the author’s heroes and the biblical truth from the book and simply used her title to teach their truth instead.

The book and the movie are about the conflict between good and evil. Both are a story of joy and wonder, but the center of the joy is retold in the movie. In the book, joy is a product of Scripture, worship, and the teaching of faith throughout the ages by brilliant figures of history. In the movie, joy is found by coming to a sense of personal power in yourself. The powerful lesson of God as the source of strength and joy is replaced or misplaced in the movie version. One of Oprah’s lines in the movie illustrates that point. Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey) says, “What if the universe is all inside each of us?” The universe replaced L’Engle’s word God.

A Wrinkle in Time was L’Engle’s testimony to the strength and power of faith in God. Disney rewrote the story to be a New Age lesson about the strength and power of “self.” The movie is a coming-of-age-tale about learning to value who you are no matter what others might say or feel about you. The original story was about trusting in a power that is much greater than “self” and finding true self-esteem through faith.

So, as moms and dads, if you can make the choice, choose the book. Or, see the movie and read the book after that. Help your children pick out the differences in each. That may be a great conversation starter about the important subjects that are altered in the two versions.

Books and movies are a form of art, and neither is supposed to be a source of perfect truth. One of the best lessons to teach our kids in this culture is to be discerning about what we hear, see, or read that might sound like truth and then be careful to choose what we believe as truth. If comparing the book and movie will teach that lesson, then both have served an important purpose.

A Wrinkle in Time is a great work of children’s literature, and the Disney movie is a cultural retelling of the book. Ironing out the wrinkles may be a great way to teach your kids how to discern God’s truth from the culture’s. That makes the classic children’s book and the movie a valuable lesson for today.