Let’s Talk About Disney’s Insidious Change To A Wrinkle In Time

Normally the safe areas for people who haven’t seen the movie for each of my posts is always at the top. Love writing posts about movies that allows those of us who have seen it to talk, and debate, and to wrestle with the themes of the movie. Like Annihilation,  or maybe The Shape of Water, or possibly Mother!, you get the idea. So, today’s post about A Wrinkle In Time will be a little different. I’d prefer everyone to be able to read the whole thing even if you haven’t seen the movie. So, if I decide to drop a spoiler, I’ll clearly demarcate with beginning and end spoiler tags so that those of you who haven’t seen the movie can skip over it, and stay with us.

I told myself I wasn’t going to touch this movie. No Taylor, don’t pick up that pen. Don’t do it, don’t do it. And yet, here I am, writing furiously about Disney’s latest inclusivity ridden manifesto to girls around the world. And let me be super clear here, my wife loved it, my daughters loved it, my son loved it. Personally? I’m hoping that they just happen to miss this particular post. Because? I did not love it, not at all. But definitely not for the reasons you’d guess I wouldn’t love it.

Now, to be honest with you guys, Madeleine L’Engle’s book, A Wrinkle In Time, is famous throughout the Christian community (And infamous – but we’ll get to the arguments for and against this book within the Christian community in a bit.) It is heralded and controversial. And this collision is what has made A Wrinkle In Time so fantastic an inflection point for discussing and debating the Truths of Christianity and the ideas that L’Engle is bringing to our modern culture.

And yet? Disney ripped all of that out. Every single reference. All the controversy. All the power. All the insight. All gone.

Now, in our society today, white washing, and sins against racial inclusivity is a horrific crime to be leveled against your movie. I remember the recent debate over casting Scarlett Johansson, in A Ghost In The Shell… heck, there are a million references to this in the last few years. I could probably name ten without slowing down. It is clear that we do not want to cast caucasians in parts that were originally diverse in their source material. I 100% agree. I also loved the choice by Disney to make our new Luke Skywalker a woman – heck Jyn is flipping brilliant. And yet? Here we have a decidedly Christian book, and every Christian reference, every single one, has been burnt. Wha? How? And there isn’t even a HINT of outcry against Disney for this. Why?!?

The reason is simple enough. But let’s walk the logic through together. Shall we?

So yes, the themes of L’Engle’s book are well known and the message that she brought to society at large is so flipping fantastic. And today I’ll give you a pass if you weren’t aware that L’Engle was a fullon Christian. Not only a Christian, but that she wrote this book in order to explain her vantage on salvation. Heck, in L’Engle’s journal, she wrote about A Wrinkle In Time with these impressive thoughts:

“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.”

Woah woah woah – did you catch that? This book was her Psalm of praise to life. To some of my less sharp tools in the shed, King David? The seminal King of Israel? (You know, the kid with the slingshot, and Goliath? The guy who bedded Bathsheba? Woah woah woah! Slow down there Tex!! hahah.) He wrote the book The Psalms… and they were songs of praise and devotion to God. They were cries of distress and cries for comfort. And here, L’Engle is invoking the Psalms as a definition to what it is that she has created. Which was, in her words, a psalm of praise to life…

So if the book’s DNA was a psalm of praise to life, didn’t Disney leave those bits in? I mean, there is a lot there about Light and Dark, and evil invading the universe… no? Oh my gosh. Even my devil’s advocate voice is annoying the hell out of me today. Grrr. Here, let’s jump to it, in 1996, L’Engle once wrote about her belief and why it was so special:

“What I believe is so magnificent, so glorious, that {my belief} is beyond finite comprehension, to believe that the universe was created by a purposeful being is one thing. To believe that this Creator took on human vesture, accepted death and mortality, was tempted, betrayed, broken, and all for love of us, defies reason.”

THIS! This is what has been so violently excised from the movie in the spirit of INCLUSIVITY. Only just the entire point of the book! L’Engle wrote it to express wonder and amazement at this thing called LIFE that we have been given. And better yet?!? Not only wonder at this thing called life, but also this massive, cosmic rescue mission that has occurred on our behalf!!! (No, no that was NOT an excessive use of exclamation points. Feel lucky that I am not including a movie of me shouting this post into a megaphone, thank you very much.)

Sure sure, I hear you saying, but that quote was just talking, but that wasn’t in the book! Here, here are three very specific Biblical references that WERE in the book and were taken out of the movie:

Isaiah 42:10-12 – “Sing to the Lord a new song, Sing His praise from the end of the earth! You who go down to the sea, and all that is in it. You islands, and those who dwell on them. Let the wilderness and its cities lift up their voices, The settlements where Kedar inhabits. Let the inhabitants of Sela sing aloud, Let them shout for joy from the tops of the mountains. Let them give glory to the Lord and declare His praise in the coastlands.”

Romans 8:28-30 – “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

1 Corinthians 1:25-28 – Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are,

Now, I have not avoided talking about my faith here on this site. It’s integral to how I discuss movies and the truths that I see in anything and everything around me. I do not believe that Truth is relative. I do not believe beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Etc etc. And so I won’t shy away from the deep truths that L’Engle dropped into her book. But these three scriptures are mind blowing in their breadth and in the truth that they espouse.

The first one, from Isaiah, is a clarion call to all, saying that we can see God in everything around us. That God created all things, and that we can see the amazing works of his hands in the islands, the seas, the rivers. And that we should sing aloud his praise because of the marvelous things he has created. The second tells her readers that God has worked on our behalf by becoming man, and that it was through that man that we were all given an opportunity to be saved. And the final one? Definitely one of my favorite scriptures throughout the Bible… that God’s silliness? Is wiser than man’s “wisdom”. And in His wisdom, God chose the “foolish” things of man, to upend the “wise” things of man. That God chose a poor baby, in a manger, to turn the world upside down. (Sorry, I’m going to start preaching here soon, somebody get me a freaking soapbox dangit!)

And yet, within the Christian community, the book isn’t without its controversy. I mean, you don’t write a book that stays in the top 100 banned books of culture by writing milktoast nothingness. L’Engle kicked heads and caused a stir even among the Christian communities of the world. I mean, take this quote from the book, which plays an enormously important part in the movie:

”Who have our fighters been?” Calvin asked.

”Oh, you must know them, dear,” Mrs. Whatsit said.

Mrs. Who’s spectacles shone out at them triumphantly, “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”

”Jesus!” Charles Wallace said. “Why of course, Jesus!”

”Of course!” Mrs. Whatsit said. “Go on, Charles, love. There were others. All your great artists. They’ve been lights for us to see by.”

”Leonardo da Vinci?” Calvin suggested tentatively. “And Michelangelo?”

”And Shakespeare,” Charles Wallace called out, “and Bach! And Pasteur and Madame Curie and Einstein!”

Now Calvin’s voice rang with confidence. “And Schweitzer and Gandhi and Buddha and Beethoven and Rembrandt and St. Francis!”

Woah! What is this Da Vinci Code Dan Brown NONSENSE!!! hahaha. Michelangelo? Shakespeare (that Letch! I saw Shakespeare in LOVE!), Curie?!?! Einstein (I’m not sure if you were aware, but Einstein was a … cough, Jew. Sink me! To steal a phrase from the Scarlet Pimpernel.) But the worst? Gandhi, and Buddha? Oh no, we got a problem here people. This is definitely a book for the BURN pile.

No no no. Stop. Let’s start with The Light Shining in the Darkness bit. What is that about? That is a reference to John 1:5. It was the opening refrain of one of the greatest passages written by human hands. It was a passage that was declaring that God came, that the light came to a dark world, and the humans? Oh they didn’t understand what it was that they had been given.

I remember reading the Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning (which I cannot recommend highly enough) while at the base of the alps in Interlaken. And while I was staring up at the Eiger the Monch and the Eungfreau, and hearing him tell the story of a man that came to God through the decidedly secular book, Watership Down. You know, the one about the bunnies? And it was then that I realized the central truth that God really does use all things to point to Him. So, is it possible that if God could use a book about bunnies, that He could also utilize Gandhi? Or Buddha? to point to Himself? Sure. The point L’Engle is making here with this passage is that God uses all things to point to Him.

To the Christians wondering through this blog post, you really gotta chill out. Think about it. We believe that there is a being in the universe… no, no, a being, OUTSIDE the universe, capable of speaking quasars and blackholes into being with a word. This being defined the rules and the perfect balance to cradle life here on earth. This perfect entity gave you breath, life, and a will. And yet, this idea that you have that He isn’t a paradox to us finite beings is laughable. One of the things that turns non-Christians off to our God is just how tidy and safe we have made him. Safe? Our God isn’t SAFE! That’d be like saying, sure, curl up on this atom bomb couch I made. It’s perfectly safe. WHAT?! Nothing about God is safe. If He really can speak stars into being… He would be anything but safe.

And here’s the thing, at the end of that bit from L’Engle I quoted a moment ago… you know, that her belief is beyond finite comprehension? That one? WERE YOU EVEN REALLY READING THIS AT ALL!! hahah. At the end, she went on to say, that this belief of hers,

“It is so wild that it terrifies some Christians who try to dogmatize their fear by lashing out at other Christians, because a tidy Christianity with all answers given is easier than one which reaches out to the wild wonder of God’s love, a love we don’t even have to earn.”

The Christian faith should be epitomized by nothing else BUT conundrum and controversy. And yet, wow how we love to tie a tidy bow around this idea, and package it up in a safe and tidy way for those that don’t know God. No! L’Engle was right! This Christianity thing is anything but safe. It is reckless and wild and filled with juxtapositions and conflicts. It is filled with crazy harebrained ideas, like this little baby in the manger. Or that the God of the universe would die for us? That’s the definition of insanity if it wasn’t true. They should literally lock me up for believing it. Not metaphorically. Literally. Come, give me the straight jacket, I’ll walk willingly, because if this is not true – to quote Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.”

Now to the Disney Excisions

Yes, you in the back there frantically waving your hand… “Um. Still 100% lost. Who cares? Seems like Disney left in all those “GOOD” and “BAD” bits. No? That’s like, Christian. No?”

When Jennifer Lee, the film’s screenplay author, was asked about these extraordinarily obvious truths that she had scalpeled from the script, here was her response, “I think there are a lot of elements of what [L’Engle] wrote that we have progressed on as a society, and we can move on to the other elements.” Wait, what? Hold on, hold on. Nope let Lee finish daggonit. Ok gosh, but hurry the heck up. “What I looked at, one of the reasons Madeleine L’Engle’s  … had that strong Christian element to it wasn’t just because she was Christian, but because she was frustrated with things that needed to be said to her in the world and she wasn’t finding a way to say it and she wanted to stay true to her faith.”

So let me get this straight, L’Engle’s point to the book was that she was frustrated, that things needed to be said, but weren’t being said. OH AND BY THE WAY, she was a Christian?!? No no no. But maybe we should talk about what the point of the book was, the larger, overarching insights L’Engle was bringing so that we can talk through that perspective of Lee’s.

The Point of A Wrinkle In Time

(I dive into spoilers of the book and the movie here) – A Wrinkle in Time deals with this paradox of the gospel. This foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of man business. It is this idea that Meg’s faults are what have made her a complete outcast at school, but it is these faults that have been given as a gift. That Meg is different for a reason. That we are all different, and flawed, for a reason. And not only that, but it is these failures and these flaws and failures that draw us to the one good and perfect gift. Which brings us full circle to Mrs. Who’s recitation of 1 Corinthians – you know the one about God choosing the foolish things of this world business? Well, at the end of the book, Whatsit tells Meg that her gift to her was her “faults”. Meg’s brokenness. Her anger. Her intensity? All of that was given by Whatsit as a gift. Wait, what?

At the end of the book, IT, this evil that is spreading through the galaxy, has Meg’s brother in its clutches. And it is Meg’s “weaknesses” that gives her the strength necessary to fight back. The IT is trying to force everyone into a cookie cutter, into a sameness, that lacks variety or differentiation. And so it is only in her acceptance of her differences that she is able to save Charles Wallace, her brother.

Here is the explanation of how Meg was able to overcome the IT from L’engle’s ending:

And that was where IT made ITs fatal mistake, for as Meg said, automatically, “Mrs. Whatsit loves me; that’s what she told me, that she loves me,” suddenly she knew. She knew! Love. That was what she had that IT did not have. She had Mrs. Whatsit’s love, and her father’s, and her mother’s, and the real Charles Wallace’s love, and the twins’, and Aunt Beast’s.

And she had her love for them.

But how could she use it? What was she meant to do? If she could give love to IT perhaps it would shrivel up and die, for she was sure that IT could not withstand love.

But she could love Charles Wallace. She could stand there and she could love Charles Wallace. Her own Charles Wallace, the real Charles Wallace, the child for whom she had come back to Camazotz, to IT, the baby who was so much more than she was, and who was yet so utterly vulnerable.

But all of this is only possible for Meg because of the fact that God uses our weaknesses, for his strength. In our weakness, He is strong. It’s the central message of the gospel. In my brokenness I am saved. It’s why this world finds the gospel message of the Bible repugnant. Who desires to be weak? Shouldn’t we all work to purge weakness? Shouldn’t we strive for strength? It’s a totally upside down way of thinking. It is why the ending resounds. This isn’t an Elsa from Frozen, ‘love yourself’ message. This is the gospel re-envisioned. And so to gut the central, overarching tenant of A Wrinkle In Time, you have effectively neutered the message completely that L’Engle was going for.

Final Thoughts On Disney’s Wrinkle…

Our culture loves throwing Hollywood under the bus when they make a revenue decision to neuter poets, artists, and other source materials. We love defending ideas and thoughts from these vulnerable authors and thinkers being trodden on by these enormous corporate leviathans. But when it comes to Christians? We give Hollywood a pass? The point here is that L’Engle is sharing with you the marvelous insanity that is the central tenants of the gospel. That God so loved you… literally you, that He sent His son to die for you. That is marvelously insane! And no, Jennifer Lee, we have not “progressed beyond” this idea, this central theme of needing a savior is core to our survival. But even worse, from a secular standpoint, you have gutted your source material for the simple idea of inclusivity. And as a result, your movie is all the weaker for it.

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4 Responses

  1. sara

    As soon as the characters start reciting Bible verses, though, this becomes a “Christian movie,” and like or not, that can be very alienating. As a non-religious viewer, I can tell you that much of what you’ve said in this post is very hard for me to relate to. (I hope it’s okay to comment here with respectful disagreement, even if it is about religion!) I simply don’t relate to needing a savior to survive, and I don’t relate to needing God to make me strong. And while I don’t think I need to purge all my weaknesses, I DO want to strive for strength in myself. If I had a child, that’s more the message I would want to send to them – and really, it’s the more on-brand “Disney” message.

    I think that’s partly what the filmmaker meant when she said we can move on to other elements of the story. There are so many more non-religious viewers now than ever before, and I think she was trying to filter the story through a broader lens that more people can relate to. Otherwise, frankly, the movie becomes niche.

    That’s not to say that my non-religious opinion is the “right” one, but I think Hollywood is just hedging its bets, as it often does, trying to appeal to the largest audience possible. Overall, though, I think it fails to work for religious or non-religious viewers because it’s just not that good. It could have been adapted into something much more powerful, but they dropped the ball for sure.

    Reply
  2. Taylor Holmes

    I dig it Sara. First I dig the respectful way you disagreed and didn’t throw sand in my face doing so. So, thanks for that. And I understand your perspective. (Would love to buy you a beer and talk for three hours in order to understand the nuances and ins and outs of your view on life, the universe and everything… just because we are all so very different.

    And yes, of course Hollywood is hedging its bets. But why are you OK with that on my behalf? If someone to a book on Atheism (not that that’s what you are, just randomly picking an opposing vantage) and appropriated it for a Christian purpose, would you be cool with that? Why or why not? I would be the first to be like… woah! Everybody slow the heck down… that was a legit Atheist vantage and we’ve flipped the script? Really? And we are OK with this why?

    And personally, between myself and yourself Sara, they destroyed your encounter with this source material. You will never known now that magic that you missed because Disney decided to hand you a de-toothed milk toast of a movie, instead of just going all in on the book. I mean, the movie was pretty bad. Doubtful it’d be much worse to put the context back in. I mean, it was the point after all.

    But yeah, I get your point Sara. And I’m thankful you spoke out. Actually quite touching you would really. so thanks for that.

    Reply
  3. sara

    I wish we could get a beer together and discuss – because it’s funny, in regular life I so rarely get the chance to discuss topics like religion and politics with people who don’t agree with me (I live in LA…), and on the internet nuance is so easily lost and people are typically so defensive, it’s hard to have a real discussion. Regardless, I appreciate that we can have the discussion here. I’ve really been enjoying your blog.

    You’ve certainly made me look at this from another perspective, which is no small feat. As a tiny bit of context, I guess I’d call myself agnostic, because I’m open to the possibilities and I think it would be the height of hubris to say any of us truly knows how we got here or where we’re going. But I’ve always found religion a little scary (I blame my early, formative years going to a Catholic church and finding confession to be absolutely terrifying). I think the current political climate has also made the divide between religious and non-religious people that much greater, at least in my experience, because there are some religious folks out there who want to police others’ choices in a very austere, uncompromising way – and of course, it’s those loud, angry voices that we tend to hear the most.

    So I think that’s where my knee-jerk reaction came from – basically, that religion is simply too alienating and divisive to put in a Disney movie right now. But I also know that’s obviously not true across the board, and now I’m left wondering what I missed out on.

    You’re also absolutely right when you say: “We love defending ideas and thoughts from these vulnerable authors and thinkers being trodden on by these enormous corporate leviathans. But when it comes to Christians? We give Hollywood a pass?” I have to admit I never really thought on this, or cared enough to, I suppose. But that was L’Engle’s vision, and a huge part of the story – maybe even a vital part. Because the film obviously doesn’t work the way it is now, and rather than opening it up to a larger audience by removing the religious aspects (as I think the filmmaker intended), it failed to truly reach any audience.

    Anyway, I’m rambling on and on! Just wanted to say you made me think and I appreciate it!

    Reply
    • Taylor Holmes

      Wow, you are a very wise human being. Not because you agree with me! Hahahah. But just because while you don’t, you are still open to the dialogue and the conversation. So kudos to you. Today we entrench and double down on our positions more so than ever. Which is sad really. I would like to think that I am 100% open minded, but obviously am not. But I would like to at least understand where I am missing it or where I am being closed minded.

      What is fascinating about L’engle is that she was an outcast and declared a rebel by normal Christians, or legalistic and regimented Christians that are regularly threatened by the true meaning of the gospel and the Bible. Which has been a fascinating study for me lately. (Disclaimer, this is me cracking on established religion and Christianity as a whole for a minute, and I’m just talking to Sara, the rest of you can listen in all you like! Hahah ok. Just kidding. Jump in, the water is warm.) and if you flip back to the Old Testament – the Jews really began to miss the larger point of the gospel and where the idea of sacrifice was heading. And that carried through to the New Testament. So, the Messiah comes (if I am right, if not it’s just an interesting anecdote) and when he does – it is God saying – guys you are getting this all wrong. So what do they do? Well, duh, they kill him. And a new Church is founded on this guy’s ideas of their having missed it. I mean, he did rise again after all, and they saw it with their own eyes, so they were all in.

      These guys were all in because there was no church. There was no capital R Religion. It was a relationship with a man that blew their minds for three years before he died and then ascended. (Did not our hearts burn within us?!?) So these gatherings of little Christ’s or Christians (as they were called to mock them by others of the day) were all about a relationship with the God of the universe who had befriended them. Then had died on their behalf to reconcile them to the Father, right?

      So my point here being that being a Little Christ is about a relationship between you and God. Period. It isn’t your church. It isn’t confession (which, I have to just as an aside, isn’t even Biblical, but whatever. I’m not trying to pick a fight with Catholics – please email me if any of you are Catholic and you’d like to chat about how confession really is Biblical, love to hear how.) or whatever. But just you and God. Christ did a reset on what it’s all about. And then over the last 2,000 years, Little Christs,l have done a great job of taking over the world and making it about power and about those that are in and those that are out. But really, it should just be about you, and your relationship with the one that created you. Not me. Not your priest. Not about anything but his forgiveness. Right? (Not right as in, do you agree, but do you follow the logic.)

      But we – not you we, but the Church we… I really hate pronouns – have regressed. Instead of being a home of grace and forgiveness and healing… we have become a den of guilt, reprisals and stonings of our broken. (Because really – a church without the broken, is a broken church.) we have become the Pharisees that we (again, the church we) love to make fun of. If I had any guts at all, I would write up a new list of indictments against the major churches of the United States and drive around to each one and nail them up on each church in the U.S. like Luther did hundreds of years ago.

      Which, finally, brings me back to L’engle. Right? She, by writing this book, was hurling herself at these unmoving gates. She talks about the mind blowing force that is the love of God. She was calling out the Church for their hypocrisy. She was calling for forgiveness and for love amongst little Christs around the world. Because currently, we aren’t known for our love, we are known for our hate. Right? And that is 100% wrong. Christ called us to love our brother. Heck, he took the 10 commandments and made them even more difficult to do by saying (in the sermon on the mount)… not only don’t kill anyone, but don’t even kill anyone in your heart. (Which I fail at every time I drive! Hahah.) Not only don’t have an affair, but every time you want a woman walking by on the street? You just had an affair for real! So yeah, Christ moved the needle on the Pharisees. He totally changed the equation entirely. Which, for me, I’m totally dependent on God all the time to stop murdering people on my commute, or having an affair with that runner going the other way. Because without Him, I’ll have 7 affairs and 22 dead people by the time I get home from this flight I am on right now (which accounts for my long windedness – sorry!)

      All that to say, the Church is wrong. The church was wrong to make your relationship with God all about confessionals. The church was wrong to tell you that your relationship with God is actually about tithe or about communion rites, or about obligatory works cutting that old woman’s lawn or what have you. Sure, once you have a real relationship with God you will suddenly (or not so suddenly) want to give. Suddenly you’ll stop caring only about yourself and start caring about others. And wanting to share about the amazing grace that you have been given.

      So, yes, by Disney making this movie about some random kids wandering around the universe? Well, in my humble opinion, they’ve gutted the point. She was railing against non-Christians and Christians alike that were missing what grace really was. This was her treaty nailed on the church front door. This was her call to arms for love and forgiveness. And a diatribe against those that don’t understand what little Christness is really all about.

      But mostly, I think, it’s about appropriating something that was intended for one purpose and then utilizing it for something else completely out of context. (Of which, I tried my best to explain what that was, but alas and alack, most certainly failed to some degree or another.) But your comments are insightful and appreciated.

      Reply

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