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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.