Swear to god I thought I could time travel.
Or at the very least, at age eight, I believed I was well on my way to figuring it out. After reading A Wrinkle in Time for the first time, and then the second, before twice swallowing the rest of the Madeleine L’Engle Wrinkle quintent (A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, An Acceptable Time), I began a near-daily habit of practicing how to “tesser.”
It’s been 21 years since I attempted to explain my elementary understanding of how to actualize the book’s version of “string theory,” but if my memory serves me, here’s how you do it: you close your eyes, imagine the place you’d like to visit, find a note — a musical note, but a color works, too — and sit astride it as you fold the universe toward you. It makes more sense when your brain doesn’t search for technicalities, when you’re young and still believe that fiction hides codes for kids to crack and save the world because parents and adults will never get it.
In third grade, my best friend and I told a boy in our class we were learning to tesser, and that we had telekinetic powers — the result of a simultaneous Matilda phase. When we told him, we made him swear to lock-jawed secrecy with such an “on your life” insistence that we really scared him. I have some recollection that he cried. We later had to lie and say we’d made the whole thing up, just so he wouldn’t tell his parents and blow our cover. We resumed in privacy. “It’s too dangerous for anyone else to know,” we told each other. We believed in the middle of our guts, right behind our belly buttons, that all of this was real.
It made so much sense at that age, that there were universes within our cells, that we as kids could enter different dimensions and defeat world-swallowing evil. It made so much sense that, if only we practiced enough, we could sit atop a music note and manipulate days, years, minutes and space with our brains. Of course adults hadn’t figured it out, we reasoned. Other books and movies had taught us that grown-ups lose their once-inherent ability to tap into alternative frequencies — or believe in magic. Whatever you want to call it.
I have another memory, this one a bit foggier, of crying one night out of sadness and frustration: My parents were divorced. I missed my dad and wanted to be with him that instant, but he lived across the country, so I tried to “tesser.” I did everything the book between-the-lines instructed, everything I’d practiced, yet when I opened my eyes, I was still in my same stupid bedroom. I hadn’t traveled an inch.
I couldn’t even get a measly glass of water to tip over.
After that, I stopped trying. It was my first “grow up, idiot” moment, the first time I translated my own voice of boundless imagination into embarrassed skepticism. And of course, I did grow up, with simultaneous reluctance and urgency, depending on the day.
I thought about all of this after watching Ava DuVernay’s movie adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time. I bought tickets to opening night a week in advance, which I never do, to brace myself, emotionally, for Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling and Reese Witherspoon’s on-screen introductions as the other-worldly beings who once guided me (would they remember me?) through a truly formative period in my life. I was there to throw my heart to the screen for Storm Reid just in case her character Meg needed it (in case she wanted to be friends with my younger self); I ready to chug childhood nostalgia from a giant straw while chewing on memories and popcorn.
But maybe, naively — and this is also a swear-up-and-down secret to anyone reading — it’s possible I hoped this movie might fill in the how-to-tesser holes I missed years ago, the ones that eventually led me to my own time-travel defeat and resulting commitment to give it up and grow up.
No tesseract holes were filled, unfortunately. The initial realization of this stung more than it should, which I know sounds ridiculous. But if you’re a grown-up, and you’re curious, what this movie will do is transport you to the reasonable extent that you let it: out of your routine, your bad day, your stressful week. If you’re a film critic, which I have no business being (my movie taste is the worst of anyone I’ve ever met), there is a chance you won’t like it: writers found issues with the locations, the planet jumping, the script, the theatrical optimism.
But I like to imagine that, just like its paperback namesake, A Wrinkle in Time, the movie, wasn’t written for an audience of jaded grown ups or critics. It’s for kids (of all ages) whose imaginations are so great they can’t be contained to our universe, let alone planet. It’s for girls to know that they, too, are heroes. It’s for young women of color, in particular, to see themselves running the show — Wrinkle is the first $100 million movie directed by an African-American woman — and in leading roles on massive, 3D screens.
In her opinion piece for CNN.com, Kerra L. Bolton writes, “the diverse casting in A Wrinkle in Time…takes an important step in normalizing girls and women of color as heroines of our own stories, interested in math and science…struggling to define ourselves in a world that doesn’t always accept us for who we are. The movie presents a vision of female empowerment in which whiteness is no longer the standard.”
“This is how movies should look from now on, which is to say how they should have looked all along,” says The New York Times’ A.O. Scott, who had a few critiques, but who mostly enjoyed it. Perhaps because he saw the film “in the company of a curious and eager 10-year-old,” which he calls “the best way to appreciate what [DuVernay] has done.”
I don’t know any 10-year-olds anymore; I hardly know my 8-year-old self, yet I remember that, when you’re young, fiction isn’t fantasy, but a real possibility. I left the movie a little sad to realize I’d aged out of unseeable dimensions and traded time travel in for a practical commute, an adult routine. But I’m also encouraged and excited and comforted to remember that, come Monday, a whole new generation is going to believe — with every fiber of their being — in a world beyond our own.