It’s not often that a major studio film with a massive budget orbits around a young, female, and non-animated protagonist. But it does happen. Belle is a young female protagonist. So is Rey — though it’s a bit unclear how young. What makes Meg Murry in the star-studded and expensive-looking A Wrinkle In Time so unusual is that she’s unabashedly, unapologetically angry (also that she’s a person of color, which is a different discussion). Birds don’t help Meg Murry get dressed in the morning. Meg Murry gets dressed alone and operates largely as a loner. She has the strength and the weakness of a free radical. She is a new sort of young female lead.
When we first meet Meg, she’s lost and confused; her father has been missing for four years, disappearing in the middle of the night without a trace. At school, she acts out, dropping from her perch as a top student and physically retaliating against her bully. The principal of her school tells her that she can’t use her dad’s disappearance as an excuse to misbehave, but what he fails to grasp — at least until Meg tells him point blank — is that her father’s unexplained absence has rendered her world incoherent. A Wrinkle In Time, put simply, follows her quest to undo that disorder.
That she succeeds is no surprise, but how she does it – by remaining true to her own rage and, in fact, turning it into a strength – is surprisingly subversive.
About halfway through the movie, Meg – along with the rest of her “team” – finds out that her father is being held deep within the heart of The It. That malevolent being is said to control all evil and bad feelings in the universe. Meg’s dad, Alex Murry (played wonderfully in short bursts by a bearded Chris Pine), can’t escape the clutches of The It and so the superhumans that have guided Meg’s journey through time and space decide to regroup. However, as they’re trying to tesser – or wrinkle time – back to Earth, Meg’s fury and desire to not abandon her father messes everything up, landing them in a camazotz, a pocket of The It’s dark energy.
While the Mrs. have to abandon Meg, her brother Charles Wallace, and her crush Calvin, the fact that Meg’s willpower landed them in enemy territory actually puts them closer to her dad that anyone had been for over four years. It’s also her powerful determination that solves a puzzle later in the camazot sequence, allowing her to bend negative space in such a way that she finds her dad, deep within the clutches of The It. What was once seen as a negative by her mom, her principal, and her classmates becomes the source of her greatest triumph.
As the Mrs. leave the trio in the camazot, they each bestow a gift upon Meg. Reese Witherspoon’s Mrs. Whatsit – who is shown to be dubious of Meg’s talents – gives her the most important one of all: the gift of Meg’s faults. To become who she must be to save her dad, Meg has to learn to understand her perceived imperfections and accept who she has become in his absence. She also learns what her biggest strength is her ability to love. This is powerful precisely because she’s largely demonstrated an ability to hate. The movie actually contains an emotional about-face rather than just an emotional crescendo.
Self-love and acceptance is a theme that runs through A Wrinkle In Time. Oprah’s Mrs. Which makes it clear to Meg early on that she needs to learn to love herself in order to navigate the secrets of the universe. It takes most of the film’s considerable runtime for Meg to channel her rage into a positive outcome, but we’re never led to believe that the film judges her for being angry. Instead, the audience is taught that her toughness is key to her ability to beat back evil.
Meg’s power doesn’t come from her ability to travel through space and time. It emerges from a broader defiance that she slowly learns to level against evil. Meg looks into the darkness and the darkness blinks.