If you hadn’t already been won over by the correct opinion that Chris Pine is the best of the Hollywood Chrises, A Wrinkle in Time has a PowerPoint presentation for you. It is delivered by his character, a moodily bearded physicist named Alex Murry, who loves science, classic rock, and his wife Kate — a boho-chic scientist played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw.
Early in the movie, we learn that Mr. Murry disappeared a few years ago after telling the scientific community he had found a way to traverse light years by wrinkling time with his mind. It sounds ridiculous. Then you get to see his and Mrs. Murry’s presentation about tesseracts, and it’s even more ridiculous, but delivered with enough force to make you believe in love, marriage, and science, too.
In the presentation itself, Chris Pine and Gugu Mbatha-Raw wander in front of a group of stern-looking government types and start their presentation about physics. Mr. Murry, we learn, specializes in things that are very big, in matters of light years, while Mrs. Murry specializes in stuff that is very small, on the subatomic level. Somehow, they’ve made the discovery that these fields are one and the same, because of quantum something something. Anyway, they swan out onstage, clearly seconds away from full-on making out, and give a whole presentation about how it’s possible to use their discoveries to traverse space and time. Imagine a science version of a Virtue and Moir free skate.
Mrs. Murry’s more hesitant, but Mr. Murry’s just so in love with his wife and also science that he gets carried away and announces to everyone that, if you tune your brain to the right frequency, you can jump through space. Mr. Murry doesn’t mind, and he pulls up a slide that reads “A = Earth, B = Everywhere.” Everyone is baffled, they start to laugh at him, and Chris Pine looks on as sheepishly, unsure why they don’t believe his theory that, actually, one plus one equals three. I know this is not how science presentations work, but it’s genuinely hard to watch him and Gugu fail in this moment. They love each other and they love what they do. It doesn’t matter if what they’re saying is nonsense, they’re just so adorable and supportive you want to believe it.
Much of the appeal of the Murry marriage comes from the way it seems childlike and mature all at once. The Mr. and Mrs. talk and act the way children play-acting adults might. Mr. Murry explains the concept of love by way of a cootie catcher. Mrs. Murry lives in a gorgeous California craftsman home full of arty photography books that feels like the end result of a game of MASH come to life. But their performances bring a more adult sadness and even sensuality to the fore. Mbatha-Raw deploys a heavy-lidded quiet sadness that veers into a kind of depression when Mr. Murry isn’t around. When he’s stranded on Camazotz, Pine crouches in despair like he’s stuck in a William Blake painting. In the scenes when he looks at his wife, he gazes with an intensity that feels both religious and too passionate to be in a kids movie. He loves everything — from science and adventure to his wife and kids — too much. That hurts him, and also gets him trapped away from his family in the first place, since he can’t resist pursuing science whether or not it leads him straight to the heart of darkness. The movie has plenty of issues elsewhere, but in the Murry marriage, it has a deceptively complex grounding of love and yearning. You imagine the thing that hooked Ava DuVernay on the story was the familial drama, not necessarily the planet-trotting.
Which brings us to my favorite scene in the movie, a wholly ridiculous and yet moving portrait of a marriage. Right before he disappears, Mr. Murry fiddles around in his garage lab and watches Mrs. Murry feed the newly adopted Charles Wallace in her kitchen. Chris Pine does his trademark Chris Pine gaze, Sia kicks in on the soundtrack, and Mr. Murry’s physics devices all start whirring. Yes, he realizes, love is the frequency that allows you to tesser. This seems like a leap of logic, but then the air around Mr. Murry starts to vibrate into the yonic shape of a tesseract and he steps right in. All his love gets him to his big discovery and then leads him elsewhere. It’s a poignant idea, that the most love-filled things can splinter apart, the most supportive relationships will suddenly disjoint. A wrinkle in the heart of the uplift. Maybe that’s what makes Mr. and Mrs. Murry so interesting: They’re both aspirational and the thing that went wrong in the first place.