The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009)

The Time Traveler’s Wife, based on the debut novel by Audrey Niffenegger, is a story about a woman predestined to fall in love with an involuntary time traveler. A romance where one partner experiences all the major events of the relationship out of chronological order is an interesting premise, but the script is far too schmaltzy, constantly forcing its characters into one heavy-handed “tear-jerking” situation after another. And even though the existence of a time traveler should have huge implications for the world at large, as we’re about to see, the movie sticks to the chick-flick formula of being completely unconcerned with anything outside of the love affair between its two leads.

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On a snowy day in the early ‘70s, a mother and her young son Henry are driving home when they’re hit by a truck. Everyone seems to be fine, until the boy screams and his mother turns around to witness him disappearing.

The Time Traveler's Wife (2009)

Henry suddenly finds himself back at home, and it’s two weeks earlier, but before he knows it, he disappears again and reappears back outside his mother’s car, just as it gets hit by another truck and explodes into flames. That’s when a man who claims to be the adult version of Henry (Eric Bana) from the future shows up, and wraps him in a blanket. He explains to his younger self that he’s a time traveler, but there’s nothing he can do to change what just happened. The older Henry then disappears as if he were never there.

The Time Traveler's Wife (2009)

Cut to adult Henry in the present, where he works as a research librarian. We learn that he makes frequent trips to the future and past, but appears to have no control over when they happen or where he goes. We also learn that his clothes don’t go with him, so he always shows up naked. This leaves him frantically searching for clothing, shelter, and food whenever he travels through time. Naturally, he’s had to become good at various forms of breaking and entering, as well as physically defending himself.

He’s obviously having a tough time dealing with these experiences, until one day when a woman named Clare (Rachel McAdams) walks into his library and changes his life forever.

The Time Traveler's Wife (2009)

She already knows his name and begins to talk to him as if she’s known him for years. That’s because she has; she first met Henry when she was six years old, and he was older than he is now. The future version of Henry apparently spent lots of time with her in a meadow while she was growing up, and Clare is overjoyed to finally meet him on her actual timeline.

The Time Traveler's Wife (2009)

The two fall in love instantly, and she introduces Henry to her friends, including Gomez (Ron Livingston), who later comes across Henry fighting in the street while wearing ladies’ clothing. Henry explains to Gomez that he’s a time traveler, tells him they’ll be good friends in the future, and then disappears. Soon enough, Gomez and Clare’s other friends learn to accept Henry’s bizarre condition.

The Time Traveler's Wife (2009)

After a short courtship, Henry proposes to Clare. However, Henry time travels just as their wedding is about to begin. Luckily, his older self shows up to take his place.

The Time Traveler's Wife (2009)

It isn’t long before the honeymoon is over, however, as Clare quickly begins to tire of Henry’s unexpected disappearances. Henry makes it up to her by appearing one day with a lottery ticket. They watch together as a TV announcer reads the numbers on the ticket, and thanks to Henry’s ability to see the future, they’ve just won five million dollars.

They soon move into a big, beautiful house, and all is well, until one day when an older version of Henry transports into their home, bleeding from a gunshot wound in his abdomen, and then quickly disappears with no explanation.

The Time Traveler's Wife (2009)

Clare realizes she’s never seen a version of Henry older than his forties, and they begin to wonder if he’s destined to die young. With this heavy on her mind, Clare decides she wants to start a family. At first, Henry is onboard, but Clare has miscarriage after miscarriage. They suspect Henry’s trait is genetic, and the fetus is time traveling out of the womb.

Henry finally reveals his condition to a doctor, who diagnoses him with a genetic disorder called “chrono-impairment” (why didn’t they just go all the way and say he’s “chronologically-challenged”?). With the doctor’s help (I assume; the movie’s kind of vague on this), Clare is able to carry a baby to full term. Naturally, she’s going to have a child who’s also a time traveler, which Henry learns when he runs into the ten-year-old version of his future daughter, named Alba.

The Time Traveler's Wife (2009)

At Henry’s prompting, future Alba (played at two different ages by sisters Tatum and Hailey McCann) spills the beans that her dad dies when she’s five years old. Eventually, Alba’s fifth birthday rolls around, which coincides with a time jump where Henry finds himself trapped outside in the snow.

He returns home suffering from frostbite and hypothermia, and is confined to a wheelchair due to the damage to his feet. Clare and Henry begin to worry over the potential danger in this, because Henry will no longer be able to quickly find shelter or clothing when he time travels.

Henry then jumps to Clare’s childhood home, and sure enough, he’s accidently shot by her father while he’s out hunting. Though, it doesn’t seem Henry’s inability to run away contributed to this mishap in any way.

The Time Traveler's Wife (2009)

Henry returns back home and dies in his wife’s arms. Both Clare and Alba are devastated by the loss, but they try to move on. Years later, a younger Henry suddenly appears and tells Clare not to keep waiting for him. With that, he disappears one last time.

The Time Traveler's Wife (2009)

Time travel has the potential to give us some of the coolest storylines around. Unfortunately, The Time Traveler’s Wife really only uses it as a way to provide a twist on a typical love story. The movie stays entirely focused on the love affair between Henry and Clare, and in doing so, it pretty much ignores reality.

This is a guy who frequently gets arrested, leaves behind fingerprints and DNA everywhere he goes, and even seeks medical attention, but does anyone ever come beating down his door for past burglaries? Nope. Do they decide to take him into custody so they can poke and prod him and figure out how his ability works, and see if it can be passed on to others? Nope. And the movie makes no mention of any kind of fallout from Henry’s death, which is odd, because last I checked a dead body with a huge bullet hole in it would be pretty good cause for a police investigation.

Also, the film spends precious little time exploring its time travel plot device. There’s some lip service paid to concepts of paradoxes and predestination, such as when Henry says several times over the course of the film that he can’t change the past. But we never actually see him try, nor do we ever find out what exactly stops him.

Given that the movie is called The Time Traveler’s Wife, I suspect my hopes shouldn’t have been too high in regards to the time travel aspect. However, I don’t think it’s wrong to have expected some sort of depth in the actual title character. But Clare seemed like more of a supporting player who we never really get to know. She really does nothing but move the plot along and bring drama into the mix, even in Henry’s trips to her past. (Though it would appear McAdams has now been typecast in this role, because she later plays a time traveler’s wife in both Midnight in Paris and About Time.)

The Time Traveler's Wife (2009)

Doctor Who fans might see a similarity between this story and the whole Doctor and River Song saga. Only, the Doctor Who story is told about a thousand times better, and although still a bit wibbly-wobbly, it mostly makes sense.

And it’s a bit difficult to overlook some of the more, shall we say, problematic aspects of the film. Here, we get an adult man who spends a whole lot of time with a little girl, more or less grooming her for the day they get married. At one point, he also forces her first kiss on her when she’s still a teenager. In the movie’s defense, it tries to dial down the pedo vibe, but it’s a bit futile when the source material is this inherently creepy.

The Time Traveler's Wife (2009)

Also, did I mention Clare has an affair with a younger version of Henry, which is how they conceive their child? I don’t think even Jerry Springer has seen that one.

McAdams and Bana struggle through romantic scenes and feel more like strangers than actual husband and wife. Even their courtship is pretty uncomfortable, as it seems like they meet, have dinner, jump into bed, and then walk down the aisle. It’s not pleasant to watch, much like the acting from Ron Livingston, who normally is pretty funny.

If you’re looking for a sci-fi adventure, then you may want to pass on The Time Traveler’s Wife. However, if you’re looking for a pleasant enough chick-flick that will keep your date entertained for a couple of hours, then it may be worth checking out.

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  • I’m amused that fetal time-traveling is a known and apparently treatable medical condition in this world.

  • Sardu

    Why is the time traveller automatically the man? I don’t usually jump on some kind of feminist bandwagon but it seems like if the traveller was a woman and vice versa it could have been a little more interesting. Although maybe not much less pedo-ish.

    • mamba

      Why? What possible difference would swapping the gender’s make?

      The plot would be 100% identical, literally. what further excitement would be gained by watching the girl disappear rather than the guy?

      That’s just silly. :)

      • Sardu

        That being the case, why not? It reverses the whole power structure of the older character meeting and nurturing the young one, for one thing. It would just be a different vibe. I think things could be done with the relationship that would not be the same at all, but not having seen it maybe not…

        • mamba

          But it wouldn’t be a different vibe, there would be nothing different at all. what would you expect to have different if the woman was the time traveler? They’ll still meet up occasionally, be out of sync, etc…

          You say it reverses the power structure, but there was no power structure…it was chronologically-crossed lovers, but equal lovers. Besides, you think it would have changed anything if the woman was grooming the male? Again, what possibly would have been different, plotwise? Anything? Hell it could be aliens that are making the time jumps happen and it would change nothing in the relationship between the leads.

          Why not make them both gay males? Or lesbians? It changes nothing at all either. So if it changes nothing at all, why even bother? It’s wondering about sexism where there simply isn’t any, nor any reason to add it. It’s not even a matter of swapping the lead and the secondary roles to the gender, as in this story, BOTH are equal lovers (one just bounces around a lot in time).

          Sorry, literally the only difference would be the WOMAN would arrive naked, and if seeing boobs is the only reason for the swap, then that speaks for itself. :)

          • Sardu

            Like I said, I haven’t seen it so you may be entirely right… but if so it must be a stunningly vapid affair indeed.

          • tcorp

            I don’t know if I agree with Mamba’s argument. Yes, it was a very boring movie. And I sometimes wonder if people mistake “socially aware” movie ideas for good movies (I don’t like Frozen for that reason, for example). But the creators probably could have helped this movie by changing the dynamic in ways both Mamba and you suggested. Or they just could have cast someone other than Eric Bana, the cure for insomniacs everywhere, as the lead.

        • Thomas Stockel

          One thing I think would be different is, would a naked woman have been shot in the place of a naked male? I think a naked male would be more threatening than a naked woman. But that just might be my inner homophobe talking.

  • Greenhornet

    “He explains to his younger self that he’s a time traveler, but there’s nothing he can do to change what just happened.”
    But then he molds and shapes the world to fit his view of reality. The very act of appearing in the past, stealing clothing, inter-acting with people and grooming Clair for her role as his wife WOULD be changing reality.
    You know, “Slaughterhouse Five” was crazy and contradicted itself a few times (I suspect it was written as a joke, like many novels of the ’60’s) but it stuck to it’s theme and seemed to follow some sort of rules.

  • Alexa

    I’ve read the novel and I liked it for the most part. I thought the plot interesting and Clare and Henry were an endearing couple. I can understand people being put off by Henry meeting his future wife for the first time when she’s like six or something and its weird but it never becomes too weird, just weird enough for the premise. I’ve never watched this movie, and yeah they win the lottery but in the novel Clare doesn’t want to win money but earn it. Also I think in movies you just have to suspend your disbelief, I’m getting annoyed with with people who complain about movies that don’t regard reality. I mean I get the complaint to a degree, and yeah in this case it is fishy Henry never got arrested, but I am just bugged by people who say “Well this isn’t how people do/speak/act…” and so and so forth. You really just need to take a film’s world with a grain of salt in many cases.

    • KHarn

      “Also I think in movies you just have to suspend your disbelief,”

      The suspension of disbelief has to be EARNED. Disbelief is put on hold when the audience buys a movie ticket, the trick is to make it worth their while. Movie makers can’t DEMAND our disbelief, WE own it, WE decide if they deserve it.

      • Alexa

        Yeah I know but like I said I am just sick of when people say “Well this isn’t how people do/speak/act” It makes sense in some cases, but again you just have to take with a grain of salt. When you build up a world in a film you just sometimes have to accept certain behaviors and what not of the characters. Not every time, mind you, but some times. As for this film yeah there are probably a lot of inconsistencies and gaping plot holes that just make it impossible for you to forgive how things work and people act.

        • Greenhornet

          Agreed. I just have a problem with the movie-makers who make demands on the audience and even act like we don’t know what’s going on. Did you know that “Scream” began as a comedy? It’s true; it tested so badly that they added new scenes and released it as horror. I think the same was done with “Cabin In The Woods”; from the descriptions I’ve read and the people I’ve talked to (Haven’t seen it myself) it seems like it HAS to be a spoof.

          • Alexa

            Yeah that movie seems to be more of a spoof than Scream. Not big on meta humor but it seems to be a better meta horror movie than Scream.

  • Gallen_Dugall

    Bad science fiction is one thing, it’s the hardest genre to write so I cut a lot of slack, but other genre’s cribbing badly from science fiction is always a train wreck of stupidity. Time travel is almost always used as a wobbly contrivance to move the plot in a way that is only sometimes as spectacular as it is unthought through. I’ve never seen time travel used in a way that wasn’t dumb, just really dumb. Probably Star Trek handled it the best and yet even there, even with Harlan Ellison writing the thing, it’s still pretty dumb. I’ve had my fill of movies and television so stupid that it actually feels like I’m being punched in the face with the concentrated stupidity of everyone involved. I avoid time travel movies and shows like I avoid plague and am much happier for it.

    Books have managed to deal with time travel without being stupid. Usually short stories. Most writers can’t handle science fiction well enough to do more than short stories.

    • maarvarq

      I always get annoyed by non-science fiction writers and filmmakers apparently thinking science fiction is easy to write. Wrong!

      • Gallen_Dugall

        That’s the dismissive remark made by those who can’t and whose egos won’t let them admit it.