Having watched back-to-back both A Wrinkle in Time and The 15:17 to Paris, I explain in detail why the first is garbage and the second truly uplifting.
My trip to Japan involved a lot of airplane time, during which I was able to watch two movies that came out earlier this year: A Wrinkle in Time and The 15:17 to Paris, one of which I hated and the other of which I loved. That means it’s time for another one of my belated movie review posts. (Belated because I seldom go to theaters to see first run movies, instead catching them when I fly or when they show up on television.)
A Wrinkle in Time
I really, truly loathed this movie. I didn’t loath it because of the superficial changes it made to Madeleine L’Engle’s beloved 1962 book, but because of the deep changes.
Indeed, many of the superficial changes made sense, either for visual reasons, time constraints, to address some modern sensibilities, or to resonate more strongly with today’s teenagers. For that reason, although I adore the book and know it well, it didn’t trouble me that the Murry family was now mixed race (white father, black mother, adopted Asian son); that the Murry twins were missing (they add nothing to the plot); that Calvin has black hair not red; that Mrs. Whatsit turns into a giant leaf, not a unicorn (choosing visual pretties over magnificence); that Aunt Beast only made a one-second cameo (again, those time constraints); that the Happy Medium was male, not female (although Zach Galifianakis is horrible in the role); or even that Reese Witherspoon played Mrs. Whatsit as a glamorous bitch, rather than a daffy, loving bag lady (a choice clearly made to pander to Witherspoon’s ego).
I also tried hard not to be bothered by Oprah’s presence in the film. I loath the woman because I believe that she’s been a significant contributor to the dumbing down of America, replacing reason with feelings. Still, she’s not an awful actress and I even took a certain twisted pleasure in the bizarre make-up and costume choices, all of which, rather than making her look like a star (of the celestial, not the Hollywood, type) whose spirit took human form, instead made her look like a really bad drag queen:
Likewise, I tried hard to overlook the director’s decision to take Calvin’s poverty-stricken home, presided over by a slatternly, hopeless, angry mother, and instead give him a high-end affluent home, presided over by a 1%-er white father who makes abusive demands on his son for academic excellence. To me, that was a bit of gratuitous man-hating in a film utterly dominated by women, whether the director or the name actresses. Still, in the grand scheme of things, this was a little change, not a big one.
So the above choices, even the bad ones, didn’t bother me enough to slam the movie. What did bother me enough to rank this as one of the worst movies I’ve seen in a long time was the way in which the film pretty much deleted the book’s intellectualism, the strong religious faith running through it, and the message that evil lies in mindless conformity and the abandonment of individual liberty.
The destruction of the book’s intellectual depth showed itself most clearly in the way the movie treats Mrs. Who. In the book, we are told that Mrs. Who “finds it so difficult to verbalize. . . . It helps her if she can quote instead of working out words on her own.” To that end, Mrs. Who constantly communicates by quoting great thinkers of the past. Here’s a compilation of Mrs. Who’s quotations, which you’ll notice she almost always follows by identifying the language and, where appropriate, the author:
Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait point. French. Pascal. The heart has its reasons, whereof reason knows nothing.
Auf frischer Tat ertappt. German. In flagrante delicto. Latin. Caught in the act. English.
Ab honesto virum bonum nihil deterret. Seneca. Nothing deters a good man from doing what is honorable.
Justitiae soror fides. Latin again, of course. Faith is the sister of justice.
Come t’e picciol fallo amaro morso. Dante. What grievous pain a little fault doth give thee!
Un asno viejo sabe mas que un potro. A. Perez. An old ass knows more than a young colt.
When shall we three meet again, In thunder, lightning, or in rain. [Mrs. Who doesn’t give an attribution for this, but it’s Shakespeare’s Macbeth]
Finxerunt animi, raro et perpauca loquentis. Horace. To action little, less to words inclined.
Αεηπου οὐδὲν, πὰντα δ’ εηπἰζειυ χρωετ. Euripedes. Nothing is hopeless; we must hope for everything.
Qui plus saiut, plus se tait. French, you know. The more a man knows, the less he talks.
Vitam impendere vero. To stake one’s life for the truth.
Das Werk lobt den Meister. German. The work proves the craftsman.
La experiencia es la madre de la ciencia. Spanish, my dears. Cervantes. Experience is the mother of knowledge.
We are such stuff as dreams are made on. Prospero in The Tempest.
Que la terre est petite a qui la voit des cieux! Delille. How small is the earth to him who looks from heaven.
“And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” “Jesus!” Charles Wallace said. “Why of course, Jesus!”
As paredes tem ouvidos. That’s Portuguese. Walls have ears.
. . . . For that he was a spirit too delicate
To act their earthy and abhorr’d commands,
Refusing their grand hests, they did confine him
By help of their most potent ministers,
And in their most unmitigable rage,
Into a cloven pine; within which rift
Imprisoned, he didst painfully remain. . . . Shakespeare, The Tempest
Allwissend bin ich nicht; doch viel ist mir vewisst. Goethe. I do not know everything; still many things I understand.
The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called, but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yean, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are. [Again, L’Engle doesn’t have Mrs. Who identify the source of this quotation, but it’s Paul, from Corinthians, 1:25 et seq.]
These quotations are profound and represent the best Western culture has to offer, whether from the Bible, the great writers, or ancient wisdom distilled into folk sayings. As a child, these quotations challenged me, making me think and expanding my intellectual horizons. I willingly concede that some of them would confound the average American child viewing the movie (such as the lengthy quotation from The Tempest), but many are accessible and always wise.
So what does the movie do? It heads straight for political correctness, jettisoning all but one of L’Engle’s chosen quotations in favor of a lot of multiculturalism (although I was pleasant surprised by the nod to that evil white colonial killer, Winston Churchill) and pop culture:
Life without love is like a tree without blossom or fruit. Gibran, Lebanese
The wound is the place where the light enters you. Rumi, Persian
You need to get up, get out and get something. How will you make it if you never even try? OutKast, American
The foot feels the foot when it hits the ground. Buddha, Nepali
Dang! Chris Tucker, American
Love looks not with the eye, but with the mind. William Shakespeare, British
Planning is essential. Winston Churchill, British
When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, or in rain? William Shakespeare, British [This is the only quotation that L’Engle herself used.]
Tomorrow, they’ll be more of us. Miranda, American [This is from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton
So much of these repackaged quotations are simply dumbing things down. I think the film did a profound disservice to American young people with that choice.
L’Engle’s faith has also vanished from the movie. She was a deeply religious woman who was the official writer-in-residence at New York City’s Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Although the Episcopal church had already begun its liberalization process back in the early 1960s, it was nothing like today’s Episcopal church, which offers a religious doctrine eerily similar to Marx and the Democrat Party Platform.
Back in L’Engle’s day, Christ and the Bible’s words still matter. You can see that in the lengthy quotation from Corinthians that Mrs. Who voices, above. Also, this religious devotion shows up in a song that the unicorns sing during Mrs. Whatsit’s flight:
Sing unto the Lord a new song, and His praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein; the isles, and the inhabitants thereof. Let the wilderness and the cities thereof lift their voice; let the inhabitants of the rock sing, let them shout from the top of the mountains. Let them give glory unto the Lord.
That song is drawn almost directly from Isaiah 42:10-11:
Sing unto the Lord a new song, and His praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein; the isles, and the inhabitants thereof.
Let the wilderness and the cities thereof lift up their voice, the villages that Kedar doth inhabit: let the inhabitants of the rock sing, let them shout from the top of the mountains.
L’Engle’s deep Christian faith informs the final essence of the book that the movie abandoned, which is L’Engle’s understanding about evil and her dedication to individuality and individual liberty. As Anna Quindlan points out in her 2007 introduction to my edition of A Wrinkle in Time,
When Meg is trying to keep IT from invading her brain, she realizes the multiplication tables are too rote to do the trick and instead shouts out the opening of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evidence, that all men are created equal.” IT retorts that that’s the point: “Everybody exactly alike.” Meg replies triumphantly, “No! Like and equal are not the same thing at all!”
Madeleine L’Engle published Wrinkle in 1962 . . . And her description of the tyranny of conformity clearly reflects that time. The identical houses outside which identical children bounce balls and jump rope in mindless unison evoke the fear so many Americans had of state-mandated order over the rights of the individual.
In their journeys through space on their way to Camazotz, the children repeatedly see a darkness enveloping the light. They instinctively understand that this darkness represents an abiding evil — or, as Mrs. Which says, “Itt iss Eeevill. Itt iss thee Ppowers of Ddarrkknessss!”
To ease the children’s fears, the trio of wise women assure them that there are warriors across the universe in the battle against this evil and challenge them to identify those warriors:
“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!”
“Now you, Meg,” Mrs Whatsit ordered.
“Oh, Euclid, I suppose.”
All those named people (actually, men) are people who contributed to knowledge, beauty, faith, and individual liberty. Marx is not among them nor is anyone who fought for mindless, hate-filled tribalism, whether of the sexual, racial, or national variety. Also, all of them were people who looked outwards to man’s capacity and individuality, not inward, to his feelings.
The movie has quite a different view of things. Evil is low self-esteem. Yes, the evil that drips its toxins through the universe, that leads stars to die to combat it, and that finds its warriors on earth in the form of Jesus, St. Francis, Gandhi, Shakespeare, etc., is manifested in the fact that people feel bad about themselves, with Meg as Exhibit A. If she can just learn to feel good about herself, then she’ll be the ultimate warrior. In the book, of course, the opposite is true: It is by being the ultimate warrior and learning that one individual’s love for another is the answer to a faceless, all-controlling state, that Meg learns to value herself, faults and all.
I’ll leave you with this honest trailer, which pretty much spells out the movie — as well as highlighting the fact that this dumbed-down version of a children’s classic unsurprisingly failed both amongst reviewers and viewers:
The 15:17 to Paris
I watched Wrinkle on the way to Japan. On the trip home, I watch Clint Eastwood’s The 15:17 to Paris, which tells the story of the three young Americans — Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler — who, in 2015, foiled a terrorist attack on a train bound for Paris. (A Frenchman also acted to stop the terrorist and was grievously wounded in the process, something Eastwood shows in the movie. The Frenchman, however, remains unnamed. The really sad thing about this is that the Frenchman demanded anonymity, even going so far as to refuse the French Légion d’honneur, because he was terrified that he would become the target of an Islamic assassination within France.)
While the first part of the movie looks at the men’s childhood experiences (how they met and what kind of people they were), something that obviously involves the use of child actors, Eastwood made the interesting decision to have Stone, Skarlatos, and Sadler play themselves in the second half of the movie, showing Stone’s and Skarlatos’s military experience, as well as the European adventure the three men had in the lead-up to their heroic action.
At a purely movie-making level, Eastwood did a good job. The child actors turn in solid performances, without ever being stickily cute or precocious (although the child Sadler comes a little too close for comfort on occasion). We meet the stolid Skarlatos, the defiantly hip Sadler, and the intellectually slow, brave Stone, as elementary school children in a Christian school.
Although we never meet Sadler’s parents, we do meet Skarlatos’ and Sadler’s single mothers, both of whom are devout Christians who refuse the teacher’s suggestion to medicate their boys’ for ADHD (“I need to drug my child to make your job easier?”). Later, when the principal pushes drugs, citing ADHD statistics, Stone’s mother defiantly states “My God is bigger than your statistics.” The boys’ favorite game is make-believe war, something that was utterly normal for boys before the 1970s, but that must have seemed strange to many in the movie’s audience today.
After this childhood introduction, the movie jumps to Sadler, Skarlatos, and Stone playing slightly younger versions of themselves, with a prime focus on Stone. He’s introduced to us as a chubby, earnest, rather brainless young man who still has a deep, almost childlike admiration for the military. Inspired by a meeting with a Marine, he works hard to get himself in shape so that he can become an Air Force paratrooper, only to be stymied by his lack of depth perception. He next tries to become a medic, only to fail out of that program. He ends as an Air Force grunt, although a happy one. Meanwhile, Skarlatos enlists in the Army Reserve, while Sadler goes to college.
The movie next transitions to the fateful European trip. While Skarlatos and Sadler travel from here to there, Stone, who detoured to meet a German exchange student he knew, travels from there to here. The men eventually rendezvous in Rome (if I remember correctly), where they have several debates about the merits of going to Paris before deciding to follow through on their original plan to see that city and. That is h ow they find themselves on the 15:17 train.
For me, the most amazing thing about the movie was the performances Eastwood got from Skarlatos, Sadler, and Stone. They are remarkably natural in front of the camera, especially the allegedly intellectually slow Stone. I was worried that I’d be seeing the equivalent of a bad high school play, with hilarious, yet painful, wooden performances. Instead, the men spoke their lines as if they were simply engaged in the natural dialogue of their real life. They weren’t acting. They were just comfortably repeating things that it was obvious they would have, or actually did, say in the events leading up to that fateful train ride.
That same natural quality permeates the way in which they are shown to have handled the terrorist attack on the train. While everyone else ran from the gun, these three crouched down, almost instinctively decided upon a course of action — and then they acted.
As with his movies Sully about the Miracle on the Hudson, and American Sniper, about Chris Kyle, Eastwood meticulously recreates pivotal moments of bravery and fear. So it is that we see Stone charge directly at a man carrying a gun and then relentlessly fighting with and subduing him, even as the man stabs at him, almost severing his thumb (among other wounds), with Sadler and Skarlatos piling on to help out. Then, when Stone uses his hard-gained medic skills to save the life of the anonymous Frenchman who was shot, he and his friends again do what needs to be done, without noise and without drama.
Eastwood’s point in all three movies is that true heroism isn’t flashy, it isn’t about self-esteem, it isn’t about cute catch phrases. Instead, it’s about drawing upon your skills and courage to do what needs to be done in the most efficient, expedient way possible. These men aren’t Hollywood’s stereotypical (and often quite sleazy and unpleasant) anti-heroes. They are, instead, completely un-Hollywood heroes, drawn from real life, rather than from a script writer’s fertile brain or some star’s fictional heroic image.
Someone named Brian Dodd looked to The 15:17 to Paris for examples of leadership. Other than strongly disagreeing with his belief that Eastwood should have cast A-list stars (because his main point is that ordinary people, not glamorous actors, are the real heroes), I like very much some of the examples of leadership Dodd hones in on, so I’ll quote him here rather than rehashing things myself:
The following are 17 Leadership Quotes And Lessons From The 15:17 To Paris:
3. It Takes A Great Leader To Raise Up Other Great Leaders – When told her son may have ADD, Alek’s mother replied, “I need to drug my child to make your job easier?” For the record, AMEN!!!
4. Spencer’s mother told a school principal, “My God is bigger than your statistics.”
5. Leaders Are Prepared For Crisis And Know How To Act During One – A teacher asked the students during class, “If something happened right now, do you know what to do and how to act?”
6. Great Leaders Must Have Great Commitment – Sadler told Stone on his joining the military, “No one thinks you can’t do it. We just don’t think you will.”
7. Great Leaders Pay Their Dues Privately Before Receiving Public Recognition – “Pay your dues. You’ve been chosen for this great work.”
8. Successful Leaders Want The Best For Others – Airman Stone said, “I just wanted to go to war and save lives.”
9. Great Parents Have Grief Belief In Their Children Which Gives Them Great Confidence And Courage – Alek’s mother told him prior to taken the trip to Europe, “I prayed. God told me something very exciting is going to happen to you.”
10. Leaders Want To Make A Lasting Difference And Be Remembered Well – Airman Stone said during a potential attack on his military base [when he ignored the instructor’s insistence that he hide under a desk and, instead, took a position at the door, ready to stab the terrorist with a pen], “I didn’t want my family to learn I died hiding under a desk.”
12. Everyone Is Created By God With A Great Purpose In Mind – Airman Stone acknowledged, “Do you ever feel like life is catapulting you to a greater purpose?”
13. It Takes Everyone To Defeat Evil – A tour guide told Airman Stone and Sadler, “You Americans can’t take credit every time evil is defeated.”
14. Great Leaders Bring Great Peace – Airman Stone prayed since he was a small child, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”
15. Even Great Leaders Need A Little Luck – El-Khazzani’s gun did not go off as he was being charged by Airman Stone.
16. Trust Your Training – Airman Stone choked El-Khazzani out using his military [Brazilian jujitsu] training.
17. In honoring the Americans, a representative from the Italian government said, “In an event of crisis, people need to do something.”
In fact, that last quotation comes directly from Anthony Sadler himself, when he was asked about the stand he, Stone, and Skarlatos took: “In a moment of crisis, you have to do something.”
At a very profound level, the two movies I saw while flying to and from Japan could not have been more different. A Wrinkle in Time took a very profound meditation about evil, faith, individual liberty, and courage, and turned it into a banal, multicultural, feminist movie about “feelz.” Meanwhile, The 15:17 to Paris went in another direction entirely. It looked at ordinary people who are imbued with faith, who believe each individual has a purpose, and who willingly stepped up when faced with genuine evil and near-certain death.
If you want to take a meaningless, squishy ride through a movie that highlights costumes, make-up, and special effects, check out Wrinkle. But if you want to be moved by seeing ordinary people step up and be true heroes, minus Hollywood flash and artificial emotion, set aside 90 minutes to watch 15:17 to Paris.