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What’s a tesseract? Madeline L’Engle’s novel ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ asked and answered this question as it carried readers on a journey to new planets and hidden truths. That’s just the beginning, as the book introduced a whole collection of other big ideas into the sci-fi canon.

Now it’s all coming to the big screen for the first time. (A TV movie was made in 2003.) With trailers showing off the film’s terrific designs, top-notch cast, and direction from Ava DuVernay (Selma), it’s a good time to set out some of the major elements of the book.

We’re not going to explain everything here, because A Wrinkle In Time deserves to be experienced on its own terms. There’s enough weird stuff in the book, however, and presumably the movie, that a quick orientation is in order.

The Story

In A Wrinkle In Time, Meg Murry is living a somewhat happy life with her mother, Dr. Katherine Murry (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), and her three siblings: twins Sandy and Dennys, and younger brother Charles Wallace. Their father has been missing for years, and is presumed dead, but a revelation from an unexpected source reveals that he is alive – but not on Earth. Meg and a set of companions familiar and strange go in search of him. 

Meg Murry

 

[Credit: Disney]

The young heroine of the novel, played in the film by Storm Reid, is a math whiz, but not so great at fitting in. She even feels like an outsider in her own family, and Meg hasn’t found a way to put her gifts to use. A jaunt across the universe might be just the thing to wake Meg up.

Dr. Alexander Murry

 

[Credit: Disney]

This is Meg’s father, whom she believes to be dead. Since he’s played by Chris Pine, which isn’t the guy you cast to play a dead man, we know a bit more about her dad than Meg does. What she does know is that he was, or is, an advanced mathematician and theorist, with some big ideas about the nature of space and time. Specifically, he had a wild notion about how we can bypass those seemingly unavoidable elements.

The Tesseract

Which brings us to the tesseract. In real life math-speak a tesseract is a cube that exists in four dimensions. That’s kind of what it is in the story, too – in short, a tesseract acts like a wormhole, and provides a way to move through time and space without actually dealing with the particulars of either one. “A straight line is not the shortest distance between two points,” as the book says. The idea of the tesseract sets everything in motion, as a late-night visit from Mrs. Whatsit reveals to Meg’s mother that tesseracts exist, which suggests that the missing Murry father’s theories were correct.

The Three Mrs. Ws

 

[Credit: Disney]

The Murry family encounters three unusual women: Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which, played in the film by Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, and Mindy Kaling. If you’ve seen the trailer you know these aren’t anyone’s typical neighbors, so pointing that out here isn’t a spoiler. That said, we’re not going to reveal precisely what the situation is with these three women, but it’s not even close to what you expect, unless you’ve read the book. They set the story in motions by revealing important information to the Murrys, and helping Meg along the path to knowing a lot more.

Charles Wallace Murry

 

[Credit: Disney]

Meg has several siblings, but the youngest, Charles, is her favorite. He’s a prodigy, and can seemingly read Meg’s mind, and the minds of some other family members. Charles isn’t like other kids; he doesn’t open up to just anyone, but he finds the Mrs. Ws, which helps get the whole story going, and plays an even bigger role down the road.

Calvin O’Keefe

 

[Credit: Disney]

Calvin is one of the most popular kids in school, but he sees himself as a misfit, and befriends Meg. His own family home isn’t a very welcoming place, and as he spends time with the Murry family he realizes that he might have more in common with some of them than he first thinks. His interest in Meg puts Calvin in the group that goes off to find Meg’s father.

The Black Thing

 

[Credit: Disney]

Every universe needs a source of all evil – or at least every story about a universe can use one. The Black Thing is shorthand for precisely that idea in A Wrinkle In Time, and it seems like the force will be pictured as an actual dark web of bad energy. Mostly it’s important to know that it is there, exerting influence over planets out in the galaxy.

Camazotz

 

[Credit: Disney]

The story’s crew visits more than one new planet, but the most significant might be Camazotz, where order reigns, and The Black Thing has exerted an influence over the people.

Red, The Man With Red Eyes

 

[Credit: Disney]

This guy, played by Michael Peña, looks like he could be friendly, but he’s a spokesman for evil. Red is the Prime Coordinator on Camazotz, where he channels IT, an arm of the Black Thing which holds sway over the planet.

The Happy Medium

 

[Credit: Disney]

A woman in the book, here the character is played by Zach Galifianakis. But since not everything is as it seems in this story, that doesn’t mean the medium couldn’t end up being female here, too. The Happy Medium gives Meg and friends some important information, and helps them understand just what they’re up against.

A Wrinkle in Time hits theaters on March 9, 2018.