After speaking to Producer Catherine Hand this week, I knew I had to see A Wrinkle in Time as soon as my schedule allowed. With four kids, a full-time job, part-time graduate school and a full-time graduate school husband, it wasn’t easy…but oh how it was worth it!
I had read the book for the first time the night before my conversation with Catherine, and so I was giddy with excitement when we started talking. I had so many questions! And as it happened, as it often does, the majority of them went unasked. For when you talk to someone about their passion-project, their undeniable force of commitment to seeing something extraordinary come to life takes over. And such was the case with Catherine.
“I’ve been involved with trying to get it made for over thirty years, and first read it fifty years ago as a little girl,” Catherine explained. It was a librarian who had recommended it to her, and she connected with it through the universal themes of friendship, family, awkwardness…and the endless questions we all have has children about the universe around us. “There’s just so much that really is great for conversation,” she said, “and to get…young people thinking about so many pieces of life. Most importantly for young girls that they have the sense of self to overcome the darkness.”
She was right. As I glanced over at my almost ten year-old daughter in the darkened theater, she was entranced. For the duration of the film she sat in the same position, gripping my hand, with silent tears falling down her cheeks. I didn’t do more than a nudge and a smile here and there, knowing that once it was over she would share all that her sweet heart and growing mind was pondering. Meanwhile, the squirmy seven year-old to my right alternated between glued to the screen and playing with the recliner button. But even he was able to articulate those same themes that Catherine mentioned.
“You’re leaving behind your very black and white view of the world and starting to have to deal with the grey…and navigate life without holding your parents’ hand,” is how Catherine put it, and I completely agree. My daughter is at the age of coming into her own faith and her own morals. We have guided and informed and encouraged, but all we can do is continue to let her reach out on her own.
That is exactly where Meg Murry is when the story begins. She is in this stage of life filled with complexity and questions and choices, all compounded exponentially by the four-year disappearance of her scientist father, Alex. With the appearance of “the Mrs’:” Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Which and Mrs Who, Meg’s pulled into the bigger picture, encouraged by her little brother Charles Wallace and new friend Calvin. She agrees to go along to find her father, but returns a changed young woman.
Catherine said, “Sometimes there aren’t answers but you have to take that leap of faith that something is within you to find those answers…you don’t know exactly how something is going to end but you have to hope.” It is clear in both the book and the film that this is exactly what is going on in Meg’s mind. I was impressed with how well it came across on screen. I had asked Catherine about this beforehand, and once again, she knew that this would be something viewers and readers of the book would be asking: “Something I’m very proud of, and it was a real joint effort… (Screenwriter) Jennifer Lee did a wonderful job of putting it on the page, then comes an incredible partnership between Storm (Reid) and (Director) Ava (DuVernay). Ava was able to help Storm find all of that complexity in Meg.”
Storm Reid delivered: portraying a range of emotions in a matter of moments with the level of skill of her on-screen mother (and personal favorite) Gugu Mbatha-Raw (as Kate Murry). I can confidently say when Meg was happy, my daughter was happy. And when Meg was scared, my daughter was scared. And when Meg cried, my daughter cried. For me, this goes beyond good story-telling…this is what life-bolstering moments are made of, and both literature and film are powerful tools to achieve such an experience.
Even spiritually. There is a strong current of faith that flows beneath and throughout the book, so I knew that must have been a challenge for Catherine and her team. “We were thinking about that from day one,” she said. “We made the choice to be spiritual but not religious. We walked a very fine line about not going to a place that was controversial….one of things that Madeline was always getting at was love is a lot bigger than any religion.”
I admit that, at first, I was disappointed that some of my favorite references to the Christian faith in the book didn’t make it into the film. But then the car ride home happened. My seven year old asked if “the It,” the darkness spreading over the universe, was real. Curious to see where the conversation would go, I asked him what he thought it could be. My daughter chimed in immediately with, “the It is sin, and it gets in our hearts and starts small, but spreads if we let it.” My son seconded this wisdom, and when I asked what the light could mean, he grinned and yelled out “Jesus! And love…that’s why we love others: our friends, our family, even our enemies!” My concerns faded instantly, and I mentally thanked Catherine for her choices – sometimes the obvious doesn’t need to be obvious. When the story is told right, the truth is as clear as day.
That gratitude for this story is something Catherine and I both share. As we closed our time together, I took the chance to ask her if there was a scene or moment that captured her feelings regarding the 30 year journey of the making of A Wrinkle in Time. It was totally cool to hear her respond with, “No one has ever asked that question and I’m going to tell you because you’re the first. Meg looks up through a skylight…and she mouths the words ‘thank you.’ For me, that is me saying thank you to Madeleine L’Engle. Every time I see that moment I’m just so excited. It’s the completion of a very long journey…for me…for Madeleine…for Meg. It leaves the audience with a sense of gratitude.”
And so I close with those same words. Thank you Catherine Hand, for bringing Madeleine’s story to life in such a way that my children and I, plus countless others, can approach the challenges we face with the knowledge that our questions can lead us to exciting new places, that hope means we can do the impossible, and that love is what binds, encourages, and saves us.