The Time Traveler’s Wife is a peculiar movie for its kind. The key phrase “time traveler” is right there in the title, yet this film is an outlier in the science fiction genre. It is easy for us to accept a lack of realism in movies when they create a new world for us to believe in – no one protests that The Matrix isn’t realistic enough because that’s the whole point. The Time Traveler’s Wife, however, is set in the world we already know.
The sole difference between our world and the film’s world is simply the existence of time traveler Henry DeTamble (Eric Bana). The mild-mannered librarian’s ability to time travel is grounded in pseudo-science and called a genetic anomaly. Viewers are supposed to trust this simple explanation and move on, though many science fiction fans will feel cheated out of their technical fantasies. By overcoming this assumption, we allow ourselves to sink into a beautiful, lyrical movie.
Henry’s time traveling, however, is problematic. He cannot control when he leaves or when he goes, and tends to travel to important and often painful times in his life. His genetic anomaly is the literal version of post-traumatic stress disorder, which isn’t exactly a walk in the park.
Even so, Henry’s temporal mobility isn’t always a bad thing. At age 28 he meets 20-year-old Clare Abshire (Rachel McAdams), a beautiful and delightful young woman who tells DeTamble that he has visited her ever since she was six. But even though she has already experienced each of his visits, Henry has yet to experience any of it. Her past becomes his future. Keeping up?
Based on Audrey Niffenegger’s 2003 novel of the same name, the film demonstrates the strengths and weaknesses of adaptive screenwriting. The book, though not unduly long for a novel, spends time on the details. It dwells on the art of building a relationship, on other more fleeting romantic endeavors and on the gritty underbelly of an average couple’s struggles. The film’s runtime of less than two hours glosses over this, spending only a few rushed scenes on their troubles and nothing on any deviations from pure romance. As in many book-to-movie films, further exploration is simply impossible. Audiences and especially fans of the book will have to accept the film for what it is, not what it could be in another form.
What The Time Traveler’s Wife is, in fact, is resourceful and marvelous. Henry’s disappearing is the only special effect in the film, and though well done, it’s far from innovative – faking a man’s disappearance is something Hollywood has been at for years. Instead of depending on CGI, this film relies on dialogue, body language and chemistry. It’s rich with undertones of fate, perspective, lack of control and free will – they often try to be metaphors, but never fully manifest.
In this vein, Henry’s wife Clare is the titular character for a reason. Clare has to cope with the question of her life’s potential predetermination. She doesn’t know if she’s ever had a choice. All her philosophical issues are trumped by her love for Henry – destiny or not, the love is real. Henry may do the time traveling, but Clare is the one who grows up.
In the end, what The Time Traveler’s Wife becomes is a film similar to The Notebook (also starring McAdams). Both are (debatably) likable little films with pretty setting, pretty people and heavy heart-torn romance. Though the movie may not be as accessible and epic as the best-selling book, it weaves a wonderful, understated little tale that’s easy enough to enjoy in a summer saturated with excess.
LAURA KROEGER can be reached at email@example.com. XXX