In Theaters: The Time Traveler's Wife

Movieline Score: 5

Movie audiences are strange beasts: pliable on principle, we will suspend disbelief on the briefest of pretenses. We will pay handsomely, in fact, to accept a world of homicidal robots, superhuman powers, or Woody Allen as a viable romantic option. But when it comes to time travel, our collective stickler intervenes: we want laws, we want the rules, we need to know exactly how this shit is going down. Without them we get crabby, preoccupied with, of all things, whether it's really possible and how this is all supposed to actually work.

The Time-Traveler's Wife, Robert Schwentke's film version of Audrey Niffenegger's 2004 novel (adapted by Ghost screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin), sets down some flimsy rules for the time travel conducted by its co-lead character, Henry, played by Eric Bana, and the viewer's wait-just-a-goddamn-minute-here gland is tweaked accordingly. We meet Henry as a boy in the backseat of a car driven by his mother, who is singing gaily right before she loses control of the vehicle; she is killed in the ensuing accident, while Henry escapes into his first wrinkle in time. In the next scene adult Henry runs into Clare (Rachel McAdams) at a Chicago library, and McAdams fires up her warm gaze, an unbudging mask of female understanding that plays well with the Land's End catalogue of chunky sweaters she models throughout the film. Clare tries to explain to Henry that they've met before and that she's been expecting him for years, but Henry doesn't know her from Marty McFly. They get naked anyway, in an awkward scene that sinks any hope that the romance animating this story will spackle up all of the black holes in its conceit.

Despite their lack of chemistry, Henry's ambivalence, and his inability to stick around (he says he cannot control his traveling, but at several points he clearly does), Clare dedicates her life, essentially, to waiting. The book alternates between the first person narration of both characters, and the film attempts to replicate that balance, but the difference is split, and we can't relate to either one. Clare's lines are so gooey they stick to the screen, and Henry mostly seems like a poor sod who can't catch an inter-galactic break.

Both characters are saddled with daddy issues as well, but Clare's seem most germane: She falls in love with the adult Henry as a 6-year old girl, and in the book Henry remarks that the adult Clare looked at him like he was "a personal Jesus." Indeed, he is positioned as something of a Christ-like figure, born to suffer and to love and perform miracle-like feats, but subject to a higher power that won't let him, say, go back in time to save his mother, or avert his own death. Yet the allusions are vague and the logistical inconsistencies are many; the film's limp grasp on the tenets of its own universe obscure the most valiant attempts to sort them.

More damaging is the film's mishandling of its central, potentially salvaging metaphor: Clare's faith in Henry and her enduring dedication to him speaks to something tragic in father-challenged women everywhere, yet the film suggests it is noble to cling to whatever scrap of love of comfort one can eke out of a man, and it's not really his fault if he can't stay -- or if alcohol, television, or some other mascara-wearing distraction makes him "travel." Absent fathers often become god-like figures to little girls, yes, and those girls regularly grow into women with a tendency to pick the least available men. I'm not convinced that's a great moral underpinning for a love story about destiny, time travel and two people defeating the odds. That's just sad because it's true.


  • Lowbrow says:

    Verbalizing that author's last name is bound to have created some awkward moments.

  • no-L says:

    I just cannot bring myself to see it... no matter how hot the leads are.

  • Nemo says:

    I liked it better when meeting your time-traveling self would lead to the fabric of space and time tearing, or at least to one of you vanishing without a trace, sometimes explosively. Sort of like how "Star Trek" used to explain matter meeting anti-matter: VERY BAD. BOOM.
    And if you're not only willing to risk bleeding to death-- repeatedly: dimwit Clare endures something like seven miscarriages-- but to give birth to a child who might be saddled with a mind-blowingly dangerous genetic defect (of course, Fan-Fic Niffenegger finds a way around said potential dilemma, but it's a doozy, and it's a cheat), then you are a fool. Not a romantic fool. Not a pawn of destiny or fate. Not a noble sacrificer in the cause of true love. Just a plain old fool.
    Who otherwise waits... and waits... and waits... for a man (gotta have that MAN!).
    And this year's Bella Swann Award for Most Vapid "Heroine" goes to... Clare DeTamble! Way to go, Clare! Another pop-culture gut-punch for feminism!
    That said, I love Rachel McAdams, but I've learned to allow her her duds. Nearly walked out of "The Family Stone" (CANCER! In a COMEDY! How charming!), had to turn off "The Notebook" before I died of sap poisoning. I'd sooner gnaw off my own head than see "The Time Traveler's Wife."
    A bajillion Kleenex-armed women will see it, though. Me, I'll mark the calendar for "Sherlock Holmes."

  • brandon says:

    See, this disappoints me. The book handled issues of time-travel-logistics pretty elegantly; Clare and Henry repeatedly remarked (and waxed philosophic over) why it was exactly he appeared to her, and vice versa; which one had started their whole entanglement, and why.
    Likewise, Henry's whole time-gene-thing was set up like a disease-in-the-family scenario; they didn't KNOW the rules entirely, and their struggle to understand was synonymous with the readers. There was genuine pathos and emotion in the novel, which a slap-happy sap fest like Benjamin Button could only dumbly stumble towards.
    Bah. I guess they can't all be winners.

  • Trevortni says:

    Ignore this review. That's my advice. Make up your own mind - this reviewer obviously has no clue what she's talking about.
    As an avid time traveling buff, I can attest that the vast majority of time travel movies leave a bad taste in your mouth. This was not one of them. Very rarely have I been able to sit through such a movie without cringing. Yet this movie has already passed the second-viewing test for me: I enjoyed it every bit as much the second time as I did the first time; and I anticipate watching it a couple more times before it leaves the big screen. I think I just might have a new favorite movie (and it took me years to settle on my only previous favorite).
    I could talk about the spot-on handling of causality, the sober (though admittedly brief) analysis of predetermination vs. free will, the chemistry that, yes, the leads did share, or any of a number of other things about this that I loved. But I will leave you with this: watch the movie for yourself. If you disagree with me, well, that's okay. But don't let this ignorant reviewer deter you from seeing this wonderfully romantic and intelligent movie.

  • Michelle Orange says:

    I'm glad the rest of the world is allowed to disagree, "Trevortni," that's really big of you.

  • Allie says:

    I like this review. Although I liked McAdams and Bana together and the movie was beautifully made, there are alot of holes in the storyline. Bana, as Henry, made it clear he couldn't control his traveling or CHANGE anything he saw in his time traveling trips. Yet he made it back to his wedding day on time and went back to get the winning lotto numbers. What happened to the people who were supposed to win that lottery to begin with? How come he could go back in time with winning lotto numbers obviously AT A SPECIFIC TIME AND DATE but he couldn't go back and prevent his mother's death or his own death? Even though he knew the timeframe and that he would die of a gunshot wound for five years but yet did nothing. I had problems with the script. However it was a beautiful movie, I liked seeing McAdams onscreen in a lovestory again. If you don't like to think alot in movies, you'll enjoy this one.

  • robert says:

    I read the book and felt it was a bit longwinded. The screenplay captured the essence of the book, the romance and trials both characters experienced. Regarding the chemistry between Clare and Henry, I loved it and thought it was perfect. The look Clare gave to Henry at their first meeting reminded me of my first date with my girlfriend who gave me the exact same look of certainty that "here was my man." The paradoxes of time travel can be confusing, but I find that is not a reason to trash the movie. Go see it, enjoy it, a beautiful movie.