reviewed by Marc Glassman
The Time Traveler’s Wife
Robert Schwentke, director. Bruce Joel Rubin, script, based on the novel by Audrey Niffenegger. Mychael Danna, music. Florian Ballhaus, cinematography. Starring: Eric Bana (Henry, the time traveler), Rachel McAdams (Clare), Ron Livingston (Gomez), Arliss Howard (Richard—Henry’s father), Brooklynn Proulx (Clare as a child), Michelle Nolden (Annette—Henry’s mother)
Imagine if you were a time traveler. What would you like to do? Or to see? How about preventing JFK’s assassination? Or 9/11? Maybe you’d like to meet Picasso or Callas. Wouldn’t it be interesting to go to 16th century Florence or 19th century Shanghai or Paris in the 1920s?
Henry deTamble (Eric Bana) doesn’t do any of those things. He flits back and forth through a comparatively tiny chronology, roughly that of his own lifetime, obsessively returning to the vast grounds of the Abshire family, where he entrances the young, romantic Clare (Brooklynn Proulx as a child; Rachel McAdams as an adult) from the ages of six to 18. A Mid-Westerner, Henry’s travels rarely go beyond Illinois and he has no control over where and when he will journey. At one point, a scientist dubs Henry’s condition as “chroma-displacement” and it truly feels that this time-traveler is inflicted by that TV-movie staple, the disease-of-the-month, rather than an exciting parameter of possibilities.
This diagnosis is furthered by the realization that Henry time traveled for the first time when he was six to avoid dying with his mother Annette in a fiery car crash. Instead of being hit by a truck, young Henry transports himself into the immediate future, reemerging safely a few moments later at the side of the road where an older Henry—surely a father figure–reassures him that he’s going to be “alright.”
Looking at The Time Traveler’s Wife as a lost boy’s last fantasy before dying with his mother removes the “ick” factor from his pursuit of the lovely Clare, whom he also meets at the age of six. For Clare, the handsome, sad and mysterious Henry is the ultimate imaginary friend, arriving from the future for lovely visits at key moments of her life. As the adult Clare says to Henry in a rare argument after they’re married, “you gave me no choice.” Who wouldn’t fall in love with Henry?
There’s an undeniable romantic spark when the grown-up Clare finally “meets” Henry, now a research librarian, while she’s still at University. For once, Clare knows more than Henry, who in his early 20s, hasn’t “already” time traveled back to the days of Clare’s youth. She is in love with him—the fantasy figure of her childhood—and Henry can only reciprocate, given that the adult Clare is played by Toronto’s charming Rachel McAdams. (Not that Eric Bana lacks for charisma of his own.)
But though they may be in love, the couple must suffer through Henry’s condition. Here’s a man who truly has reasons to disappear. Intriguingly, stress brings on Henry’s impulsive time traveling as does drinking. In one of the film’s rare amusing scenes, a younger and older Henry have to tag-team during “their” marriage to Clare, moving back and forth in time, thanks to the heightened emotions of the day.
The best selling novel by Audrey Niffeneger upon which the film of The Time Traveler’s Wife is based, is clearly a melodrama, not science fiction. The book and the film are all about the romance of Clare and Henry, not about the paradoxes of time traveling. The lovers are clearly figures of doom, dealing with events over which they have no control. And the plot of the last third of the book—Clare’s quest to have a baby—is surely a trope of romantic literature.
Blessed with a luminous performance by McAdams and solid support from Bana, The Time Traveler’s Wife is a perfect date movie. Just like Julie and Julia, this is a great “woman’s film,” which many men will also enjoy. Though there are endless unexplored paradoxes in Time Traveler’s Wife, this film is ultimately quite satisfying—and worthy of support.