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Non-Review Review: The Time Traveler’s Wife

It’s certainly an interesting concept: it’s the story of a love out of sync – of two individuals who live their lives at different speeds. Claire falls in love with a strange man she met in a meadow when she was growing up – only he hasn’t aged a day. That’s because he’s a time traveler. So, as you can imagine, that throws up more than the usual boundries to romance. In fairness, the movie seems aware of the myriad of possibilities suggested by its premise, but the truth is that it does little more than exploit them for melodrama. Cheap, heavy-handed melodrama.

Stuck in a movie I can't get out of...

The film opens with the death of Henry’s mother in a horrific car crash (caused, albeit accidentally, by his own time-shifting). He jumps back to an earlier, happier, time and then back to the crash, where he’s comforted by his future self, telling him that everything will be okay and teaching him how to survive with the ‘gift’ (in the loosest possible terms – ‘condition’ is probably more appropriate) that he has just discovered.

There’s one scene a few minutes later into the movie which hints at the type of challenges that Henry must face – and alludes to the possible depths the movie could explore. Dealing with his father, who has clearly had better days (and, he must know) will have them again, he’s confronted with an impossible accusation: why doesn’t he simply go back and stop his mother from getting into the car? Henry replies solemnly that he has tried – the father couldn’t possibly know how hard he has tried. She always gets in the car. She always dies.

Or, to quote the philosophical lexicon of our time (The Matrix), “what happened happened and couldn’t have happened any other way.”

That is some deep stuff right there. Kinda gets you thinking, doesn’t it? About fate, the universe – sturdy philosophical quandries. If you had discovered that fate existed – that events unfold in an unalterable sequence and there’s not a damn thing you can do to stop it – surely that would affect you profoundly, right? It would be akin to discovering that there’s no such thing as free will. That’s a pretty earthshattering conclusion, isn’t it? That would shake your very core if you knew it?

Except, it doesn’t. The movie does deal with the complexities of Henry’s situation – randomly jumping around naked, scavenging for clothes, breaking and entering, living his life out of joint (one minute he’s young and the next he has grey hair) – but it never pauses to look at anything with any depth. Never once is it hinted that Henry is a fatalist – particularly with his wife’s pregnancies, where they seem to suggest there’s anything they could do that would make a difference. The film simply isn’t interested in anything that can’t be used to construct shallow melodrama.

When Henry and Claire try to conceive, his time-traveling genes cause predictable complications. However, she never once suggests that she might be angry with him for not telling her that any attempt to get pregnant will end in a miscarriage. That sounds like the kinda thing you’d want to tell your wife – even if there’s nothing you can do about it, it’s still something that it isn’t fair for you to know and for her not to. Instead, the movie is more concerned about whether having sex with an out-of-sync version of Henry represents infidelity. And, without spoiling anthing, there’s one moment where Henry tells her something that is disproven over the course of the film. Either he was lying to her or the future can be changed – but the movie isn’t interested in what he has to say beyond the fact it can use the line to make the audience feel sad.

Add to this the fact that there is something quite discomforting about the fact that Henry first meets Claire when she’s a kid. Seriously? That’s got to be considered grooming, hasn’t it? Even if it isn’t, there’s something seedy about the fact that he has ‘imprinted’ himself on her. Of course, if you buy the movie’s whole line on fate, it lets him off the hook. Otherwise, it’s a seriously creepy facet of their relationship. The movie hints at it only twice, but subtly. An angry Claire declares, “I didn’t choose this!” in the heat of a row, but the topic is immediately dropped. Later on, Henry practically forces himself on a teenage Claire. That’s gotta give a girl issues.

That said, there are moments when the movie hits the right buttons for a romance. There’s a sweet sequence at their wedding, when – as you can imagine – Henry’s time shifting causes a bit of bother. The central core of the movie is undeniably fascinating, and it is an original idea. The problem is that the audience spends as much time thinking about the interesting conceits as the film does – maybe more.

Eric Bana isn’t a romantic leading man. I’m sorry, but he’s not. He’s just… uncomfortable in the role. And his American accent sounds surprisingly like Liam Neeson’s Northern Irish accent. Don’t ask me why. I am not suggesting he isn’t a talented actor (he is a very talented actor), just that the role isn’t right. Rachel McAdams does better as Claire, but it just seems like a very dull part – Claire does little but whine and mope and worry. Beyond winning the lotto, what joy does she get from Henry? Seriously? There’s no real chemistry at play and Claire seems to written as the most suffering woman in existence.

The Time Traveler’s Wife is an interesting film. Unfortunately ‘interesting’ is not the same as ‘good’. Stephen Moffat’s The Girl in the Fireplace – the best episode of Doctor Who so far – was accused of wholesale stealing of elements from this novel. It is, however, a far more interesting piece of on screen entertainment.

4 Responses

  1. Great review Darren. Didn’t get to see this when it was out in the cinema. Don’t think I’ll bother watching it on DVD either, it doesn’t look like my cup of tea and judging from the review, should stay away; I hate schmaltzy melodrama.

    • In fairness, the alarm bells started ringing in my head when My Sister’s Keeper was the trailer before the DVD started. Interesting idea, shame about the execution.

  2. Good review Darren. I enjoyed it slightly better but I totally agree about where you are coming from. This is the kind of movie that would have really benefited from being longer (maybe even a romance epic?) and having a more talented and confident director at the helm.

    Not only was it too superficial from Henry’s standpoint but it also was from Clare’s standpoint even though she is the titular character! I thought Bana was fairly solid albeit very one-note while McAdams was good but given little to do.

    IMO, it was good but disappointing because you can see what could have been a very interesting movie never try to go beyond the obvious.

    • That’s it exactly. I think you nailed in a few paragraphs what took me quite a bit of time to do. Although I agree with you on McAdams, I think Bana was still just not suited to the role (though it isn’t exactly a forgiving role).

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