Phil Christman, at it again:
Some bad movies, for example, reveal through sheer lack of self-awareness the incoherencies and solecisms of the culture that produces them. These sorts of movies fascinate me in the way a too-honest idiot does, after he’s had three or four drinks. Red Dawn (1984) is notoriously enjoyable in this way. More recently, Ava DuVernay’s adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time exemplifies this sort of badness. (DuVernay has done excellent work before and after this film, particularly in her studies of the prison-industrial complex, 13th and When They See Us, so I attribute the rich and extravagant lousiness of A Wrinkle in Time to its screenwriters, and to its rumored short production schedule.) Like many memorably bad movies, A Wrinkle in Time is full of moments that, if done in a self-aware spirit, would constitute unanswerable satire. Passing this test are the scenes in which Oprah Winfrey, as magical Mrs. Which, stands two stories tall, shimmering like a hologram and smiling benignantly upon heroic young Meg Murray. What a brilliantly sly commentary this almost is on Oprah’s odd place in American life, how she patronizes us from her billionaire height while remaining trapped in the thankless, dehumanizing role of white femininity’s wise, bodiless, never-quite-real cosmic black friend. (More purely absurd is the moment when Reese Witherspoon transforms into a flying lettuce.)
Where the film does its greatest service, however—and where it provides a glimpse into American culture that is so dark, so total, that its badness lingers in the mind like greatness—is in the way it foregrounds the unconscious nihilism of the American worship of self-esteem. At one point, Mrs. Which says to Meg, “Do you realize how many events, choices, that had to occur since the birth of the universe leading up to the making of you? Just exactly the way you are.” She could say the same thing to Charles Manson, or to Henry Kissinger, or to a leaf blower, and be equally correct. (Manson no doubt would enthusiastically agree: What an unlikely path the universe took on its way to producing his uniquely authoritative self.) Soon after, Mrs. Which introduces Meg to a faun played by Zach Galifianakis. His job is to help Meg—who I must stress is a child—rescue her father—who I must stress is an astrophysicist, trapped at the other end of the universe, by an all-but-omnipotent evil intelligence. Galifianakis tells her that she can already do it: She’s simply choosing not to.
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