Time travel has long been a baffling fringe thought of science fiction. Time is an ever flowing continuum, seemingly impossible to stop. The subject has been explored in countless forms of media, visual, written and I’m sure aural (there are always books on tape). Ray Bradbury’s novel, “A Sound of Thunder” is the examination I’m most familiar with, if only because of “The Simpsons.” This takes the idea that if one were to travel back in time and alter just one miniature detail, it could have disastrous effect on the future. It was turned into an unwatchable film with Ben Kingsley and Ed Burns a few years ago. The misplacement of something in the past affecting the future has no place in The Time Traveler’s Wife. As its title would suggest, this film takes the scientific thought to a romantic level.
A car crash when he was six years old was the first instance in which Henry DeTamble (Eric Bana) had been exposed to his time travel ability. He’s visited by his elder self, telling him the crash is nothing to worry about. This is presumably to just calm the younger Henry down, as his mom is killed in the crash, usually something one would worry about. The time-traveled Henry then dissipates, fleeing the scene, leaving the young one to deal with the tragedy at hand. A few rules to this time travel story are established in the quick scene. Henry travels back to times only in which he’s already been born. His travel location is only to where his younger self is present. When he travels, anything he’s wearing stays in the present and he must immediately seek clothing to cover his nudity in the past. Lastly, he has no control over when his current self travels and when he ends up.
Clare Abshire (Rachel McAdams) is the chronological constant in the story and as her age progresses, so do the details of the story, for the most part. Around college age, she stumbles upon Henry working in a library. She recognizes him, but he fails to recognize her. She tells him he told her he’d react that way when they met again. She first encountered Henry’s time traveling ability when she was a young girl, setting up a picnic for herself on her family’s vast property. She immediately takes a liking to him and he vows to continue to visit her. She of course tests his claim of being able to travel through time by asking about the future. His dematerialization in front of her helps make her a believer.
Once Henry and Clare meet up again in the present tense of the story, they fall immediately in love and get married, even with Clare’s knowledge of how difficult his inability to be constantly present may pose problems for them in the future. She chooses to looks past this caveat, but it rapidly becomes an issue when he travels on their wedding night, even leaving his wedding ring behind. Like any couple, they face trials and tribulations, with Henry’s involuntary extended stays away from her only adding to the frustration. The question becomes if the romance they’ve maintained through the course of decades is enough to carry them into future happiness.
The Time Traveler’s Wife is based on a novel of the same name by Audrey Niffenegger. I’ve never read, nor heard of it, so any discussion of how the film adheres to the source material coming from me, would be fruitless. The script, written by Bruce Joel Rubin (Ghost), is itself a decent one. Given his past credits, it’s obvious he was a great choice for a romantic film set between two people who are only sometimes together. The romance that ensues between Henry and Clare, although a bit forced by Henry’s traveling back in time, meeting with Clare (did she really have a choice in the matter?), is a love that resembles most relationships, but becomes a bit supernatural in the elements it faces. There are times I felt the film defied its own logic, with Henry always traveling to where another version of himself seems to be, but yet appears in Clare’s bushes for some reason. Perhaps it was time travel destiny for “star-cross’d lovers.” There’s also a connection made between Clare’s father and Henry, which proves important, that I have a feeling was a big part of the novel, but here is treated as pure coincidence.
As the titular character, Rachel McAdams is essentially the main protagonist, even if it’s not her whose genetic defect grants the burden of traveling through time. The film seems a bit too focused on Eric Bana, since he possesses the oddball character trait. It would have been a slightly different movie if the focus was on McAdams’ character, and perhaps a more interesting one. Since this is a movie and we’re to be dazzled by the visual, the time traveling aspect gets a bit too much play. The film straddles the fence when it should have leaned a bit more one way. McAdams is playing closer to her age, and I think she’s become an engaging actress who can carry more weight in the not-too-distant future. I like Bana, but fear he might not end up the A-list talent Hollywood has tried to mold him into. The scales are tipped toward McAdams here, in terms of acting prowess.
Director Robert Schwentke (Flightplan) does an admirable job keeping the story cohesive and comprehendible, which is always a tricky proposition when playing with time. He’s not much of a visual stylist, but manages to keep the story moving without any true lulls within. Although perhaps jarring at first, Henry’s fading away when on the verge of leaving current time and space, is a neat effect that’s able to create the sense of longing Clare feels, having to watch him slowly drift from her presence.
P.S. I Love You and The Lake House are two movies that came to mind when viewing this, and although I know they aren’t necessarily time travel love stories, the longing of having a love you aren’t exactly able to hold on to was resonant throughout this film. I haven’t actually seen the former movies for myself (having no desire), so I’m not quite sure what kind of quality bar has been set for the time travel love affair genre. I felt good about The Time Traveler’s Wife immediately finishing it, due to the romantic relationship, but there are a few nagging script issues that came to light which I think draw it down a notch or two. If only they could go back in time and fix it, a better product might materialize.