The Time Traveler’s Wife is a film based on a book that was insanely popular and was unconventional in its storytelling approach. This isn’t a movie that takes the same approach to its medium. It’s as by-the-book as you come, ignoring many of the more interesting moments of the book in favor of a drab love story and time travel that results in too many paradoxes and contradictions to even start to make sense of what’s going on.
Henry (Eric Bana) has a unique gift, or perhaps curse, depending on who’s talking about it. He time travels, but he can’t control where he goes to, and he always arrives naked. Apparently clothes aren’t able to travel through time. He finds out that this is possible at a very young age, saving him from a car accident that takes the life of his mother. Years later, working as a librarian — who time travels at random points, just completely disappearing and then reappearing at some point later — he runs into a woman named Clare (Rachel McAdams), who claims that she knows him and that she can explain why he doesn’t yet know her. Here we go, folks.
Apparently, an older Henry travels back to when Clare is six, and becomes friends with her. He continues that friendship until she’s 18, visiting her every now and then, whenever his special power activates. That’s how she knows him, and why he doesn’t yet know her. But, he wouldn’t have traveled back to this time if she hadn’t come and told him. How he is able to travel back to this specific point at will isn’t really mentioned, nor is the paradox addressed regarding how this all works out.
Furthermore, the film breaks its own rules. Henry states over and over that he can’t change events of the past to impact the future. He can’t save his mother from the car accident, for instance. But he essentially makes this six-year-old girl fall in love with him, causing her entire life to change. Does that not seem like altering the course of history to you? Perhaps this is all explained better in the book, but in Robert Schwentke’s adaptation, nothing makes sense.
It’s all so dark, too, with so few scenes of joy that I was wondering if these people would ever be happy. The title spoils this part, so I don’t feel bad about mentioning it, but the two lead characters do eventually get married, despite Henry’s affliction. And, of course, this isn’t so great when he disappears all the time, sometimes for weeks before coming back. Neither of them are happy, but because it’s “destiny,” nothing is going to be done about it. No, it wasn’t actually destiny; Henry just went back in time and messed with the mind of a child — which is just a little bit creepy if you ask me. I suppose there’s a side to it that’s sweet, too, but I just couldn’t get over the initial idea of the grown man making a child fall in love with him.
I was also unsure just how the ending works, but perhaps that was the point. I don’t want to ruin it, but I’m not sure everything holds up — although, when you think about it, the rest of the film doesn’t hold up, either, at least, not according to its own rules. It contradicts itself, omits key facts, and is essentially a huge waste of time. If you can ignore all of this and also forgive the main character’s actions that start everything off, perhaps you can have a good time.
The flashback scenes rarely offer anything of interest, playing much more like a highlight reel than anything else. The scenes happening in the present are too drab and dull to really be worth staying for. I’m not exactly sure of a reason that someone would want to watch The Time Traveler’s Wife, except for it they read and liked the book. If you fit into that group, just re-read the book again, as you’ll have more fun.
It’s not really that the filmmaking is bad here; it’s more a case of the story being butchered and the characters being poorly written and developed — along with the basic premise, I suppose. The film has fine pacing, quite gorgeous cinematography, a fitting score, and some pretty good effects when the time traveling happens. It’s just that screenplay adapting Audrey Niffenegger’s book wasn’t up to par.
Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams are both good actors. I enjoyed parts of their performances here, even if they looked sad way too much of the time. McAdams, an actor who can be as cheerful as they come, is especially guilty of this. One might say that’s playing against type, but it’s a one-note performance for a large portion of the film’s running time. Bana is charming and not a whole lot more. It’s more a problem with the actors having to perform a poorly written role than the actors themselves not understanding the characters.
The Time Traveler’s Wife is a mess, one that makes little sense and is even less likely to resonate with an audience. If you’ve read the book, you’re better off reading the book again than watching the movie even once. It fails because the screenplay didn’t do a good job of adapting a fairly complicated story. It contradicts itself, doesn’t follow its own rules, is too unhappy to provide any joy, and is borderline creepy. I did not enjoy this movie.