The book, along with the Narnia series and LoTR, were formative in my childhood reading. Rereading it as an adult is “interesting”; it’s a bit simplistic and didactic in the Christian moralising, but heartwarming with the love conquers all storyline, along with the idea that our individuality and our flaws make us interesting and better people – that we should be loved and included because of these. Conformity and hatred of difference is seen as the enemy of civilised society and progress.
In the internet age, I’m not sure that Madeleine L’Engle could so strongly assert that flaws make us better. Too many internet trolls with massive flaws are ruining civil conversations just because they can, and have shown that there are limits to what is acceptable. Of course, the author does make somewhat this point on Ixchel when Mrs Whatsit compares our lives to a sonnet – a form that is bounded by strict rules with freedom to say and be whatever we like within these bounds.
One thing that does resonate strongly, and which I agree with, is the decision to bring race into the equation in the movie. There has been criticism of making Meg and others African American and mixed race given, that the characters in the book were white (to the extent that race was actually mentioned). A section of the book that was cut in the movie deals with Aunt Beast and the idea that personhood trancends shape and colour etc. and I think using an inclusive cast makes the point just as well. Of course, there will always be the willfully blind who are willing to accept equality for alien personhood but not black personhood; it’s possible they’re just a lost cause that we should ignore.
My movie-going partner didn’t particularly like the representation of Whatsit, Who and Which but I thought that the portrayals were good: Reese Witherspoon as the flighty and comparatively young Whatsit; Mindy Kaling as the ever-quoting Who and Oprah Winfrey was gorgeous as the more ephemeral Which. I miss that the movie didn’t use the text about them being stars, and that Whatsit missed being one.
In the scenes on Camazotz, there were sections in the book that were cut back in which the kids were all given gifts or advice – in the movie the focus is on Meg – and I wish the movie had also retained some of the dark satanic mill feel from the book; the poor child being punished for not bouncing his ball properly added extra pathos in the book but wasn’t in the movie. Overall, I felt that the emphasis on conforming vs. individuality wasn’t highlighted as well in the movie as it should have been.
The scene where Meg uses Whatsit’s glasses to reach her father was quite emotionally satisfying and well crafted from a graphic perspective. I also like the fact that they turned the brain battle inside out, so that they didn’t deal with an actual brain as that always felt a bit hokey to me The movie also got rid of the overt Christian symbolism, which I appeciated. On Uriel, in the book, Whatsit tranforms into an angel-like creature to which the children start to bow in worship. The movie works much better without this and similar references.
Visually, the movie is spectacular. The aforementioned scene where Meg uses the glasses is wonderful, and Uriel is beautiful and lush. IT and the darkness are well represented as neuronic tendrils reaching across the galaxy and all three ladies are portrayed as beautiful goddesses with amazing costumes and makeup.
I also though the casting was great. In particular, of course, Storm Reid as Meg was wonderful. Levi Miller as Calvin was a good “ordinary kid” foil for the brilliance of Meg and Charles Wallace, although the freakish precosity of the latter is stripped back somewhat (a scripting decision unrelated to the good casting of Deric McCabe).
There’s an apparent concerted effort to denigrate this film, and so scores on public voting sites are low in general. Ignore that and go enjoy this film. It’s worth it.