The Time Traveler's Wife

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Based upon a not-so-great novel, The Time Traveler’s Wife manages to improve upon the source material, but only slightly. This isn’t a Jaws or a Godfather – mediocre novels that were stripped bare and resurrected as cinematic masterpieces by visionary filmmakers. Instead we have an extremely minor improvement – we’re talking fractions.

Audrey Niffenegger’s novel was a case of someone’s ambition exceeding their talent. The premise behind the story was excellent but the execution left a lot to be desired. At times the characters were bad tempered and thoroughly unlikable and there was also a lot of queasy sexual content. Thankfully most of that has been erased from the film. But not all of it.

The most dubious part of the film is the first time that Henry (Eric Bana) and Clare (Rachel McAdams) make love. Henry has only known this woman for a couple of hours but the woman already knows him quite well. She knows him because an older version of him travelled back in time and befriended her when she was a child. So they make love and then we cut to their first meeting. Somehow the juxtaposition of mind-blowing sex and a child’s picnic seems slightly wrong. Yes, the filmmakers try and make everything seem as sweet and innocent as possible, but we’ve just watched these two characters screw. And so no matter how cute the filming is, it’s going to seem wrong to watch a child be confronted with a naked man in a bush with the knowledge that they’re going to be lovers.

And wouldn’t this be weird for Henry? Remember, he already knows that he’s going to sleep with an adult version of this girl. This is his future wife. Wouldn’t it be a bit strange to be confronted with a child version of his lover? Apparently not. He doesn’t display any awkwardness at all. I know that if I was confronted with a child version of my wife I’d be extremely self-conscious…and not just because she couldn’t speak English when she was six years-old.

But back to the first sex scene. Another reason why it doesn’t work is because Henry has only known this girl for a few hours. Sure she tells him a bunch of stuff and talks to him about his time travelling, but he seems far too willing to jump in the sack with her. Unlike Clare, his feelings seem to be motivated by lust rather than by love – she has years of emotional investment in him; he only has a couple of hours.

I also don’t like how the two main characters seemingly don’t have any free will. All of their decisions are already made for them by all the crazy time travelling that Henry does – he’s destined to fall in love with Clare and she’s destined to marry him and they’re destined to have a child and they’re destined to call it Alba. With everything pre-arranged, you kind of wonder what’s the point?

Clare even makes a joke about her lack of choice. When Henry asks to marry her, she says no. She says that she’s exercising her free will. But then she says yes. It’s such an awful piece of dialogue and such a clumsy piece of acting that the lack of choice for the characters becomes even more startling. These people just seem to be going through the motions.

Of course there are attempts to provide some conflict. At one point Henry misses Christmas and Clare has to open her presents on her own. But her unwillingness to talk to him once he comes back seems incredibly petty. She knows that her husband can disappear at any time and she seems to have tolerated it quite well up until this point. Consequently she comes over as a bitch.

Another reason why I didn’t like the character that much. Clare and Henry make several attempts to have a child. However, the unborn children seem to have the same problem that Henry has – they time travel (therefore, somewhere in the past or in the future, a foetus just appeared out of nowhere – how charming). Knowing what distress this is causing him and his wife, Henry decides to have a vasectomy. Aha, he’s exercising his free will. Oh, but then the angry wife decides to fuck a younger version of Henry (who has time travelled to Clare’s present) and gets impregnated in the back of a beige Volvo. She says this isn’t cheating, but I’m not sure. But even if it isn’t, it’s fairly despicable. Okay, your husband should have told you that he was getting snipped, but a grudge fuck with a younger version of him is pretty bad. And then getting pregnant too and saying ‘fuck you’ to a decision he’s tried to make for your mutual benefit smacks of selfishness in the extreme.

But then Clare’s behaviour often smacks of selfishness. After a couple of miscarriages, she ridicules the idea of adopting a child. She wants to have Henry’s child and nothing else will do. Okay, but isn’t she dooming her offspring with the same dismal fate as her husband? As my wife pointed out, what’s she’s doing is no better than when people decide to have a child even though they’re aware that there’s a good chance they’re going to give them some crippling genetic disorder. She’s an idiot.

However, the couple, thanks to a young Henry, eventually manage to have a child. The moppet in question is exceedingly cute and time travels as well. Well done, Clare. Well done.

The end of the film is a shameless attempt to pull on your heartstrings, but because the story is so overwhelmingly manipulative, it didn’t work for me. You see, Henry time travels and then loses the use of his legs. He then has to go about in a wheelchair, fearful of his next time travelling venture, as he probably won’t survive it. Eventually he’s transported to the meadow where he met his wife when she was a child. Now, though, it’s winter and he gets shot. But he doesn’t get shot by just anyone. He gets shot by his wife’s father (he’s a Republican hunter type, kind of like Dick Cheney but more deadly with a gun). It’s a total accident but Henry is now dead meat and dies soon after. It’s kind of a ridiculous way to die.

But when you think that the film has thankfully come to an end, there’s a scene where Henry visits his daughter and bereaved wife. It’s supposed to be heart warming (the wife runs through the meadow to embrace her husband before he disappears) but in reality it seems kind of awful. Rather than move on, are these characters doomed to wait around for the odd visit from a dead Henry? If it’s supposed to leave you with a warm, tingly feeling in your guttiwuts, it fails dismally.

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  1. A blessing on you, sir! I've been howling to all and sundry about how stupid Clare is in her almighty quest to have Henry's precious sprog, and all I get in reply is "You don't understand! It's ROMANTIC." Oh, dear gorge.... Anyway: good review of a lousy tale.