Andy's Anachronisms - Time Travel Movie Reviews

The Time Traveler's Wife (2009)

Directed by Robert Schwentke

The Basic Plot

Based on the 2003 book by Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler's Wife tells the story of Chicago librarian Henry DeTamble (Eric Bana) and his cross-time romance with Clare Abshire (Rachel McAdams).

The Analysis

I would love to review this movie without comparing it to the source material, but I can't. Partly because it begs for a comparison, but more critically because having read the book first I can't ignore the narrative as it was initially laid down by Niffeneger. One of the problems with movies based on books is that it's virtually impossible to do a literal translation to the big screen that would satisfy everyone. The Time Traveler's Wife is no exception.

In the novel the use of alternating view points of Clare and Henry allow them to tell their own stories especially when the other is not present. It allows us to understand their relationship in more detail and gives the reader the opportunity to witness the gradual evolution of their relationship. On screen, much of Clare's reaction to Henry's visits and her growing "crush" on him is left to a few brief scenes. Also short changed in the movie adaptation are the secondary characters, missing in action are Mrs. Kim the DeTable's downstairs landlord and Henry's confidant, Henry's jilted ex-girlfriend Ingrid, and barely used in the movie are Claire and Henry's friends Gomez and Charisse. Cut are a number of elements and scenes including Henry's passion for running as a necessity for survival, teaching a younger self how to be a pickpocket, random encounters with himself, some very revealing scenes with a teenage Clare that truly help establish their foundation of their relationship.

In the novel Niffeneger tells the reader straight out for each scene what the date is, how old Clare is, how old Henry is, and often makes mention of whether there are more than one Henry in the scene. In the movie the director/screenwriter try to be more subtle and pay the price. Besides visual clues and characters making explicit references to the age of Henry or place and time, there is not a lot to go on. We sometimes lose a frame of reference of where the future Henry is travelling from that is clearer in the book.

As far as time travel elements go, Henry's chrono-displacement is not dealt with as in as much detail as the book and the movie is probably better for it. The hand-waving was pretty large in the book and the less attention drawn to it in the movie the better. The final scene also differs hugely in the book compared to the movie and without any huge spoilers, let's just say that the final scene in the movie is atypical Hollywood melodrama. The book's final scene also carries with it a sense of closure and melancholy but givest the reader room to digest it.

Ontological paradoxes abound in the movie. One of the most obvious is the naming of Clare and Henry's future child. In the book, they actually go through the trouble of coming up with her name in one scene. In the movie, however, her name is "discovered" after Henry encounters her on one of his trips, he then goes back and tells Clare what they should name her. The closed loop of the information is often called a bootstrap or predestined paradox.

It's hard to know what someome unfamilar with the Audrey Niffenegger's version would make of this movie upon viewing. If they like it I would highly recommend the book. Fans of the book on the other hand are more likely to be put off by the movie feeling "cheated" of their favourite moment of the book. To them I would recommend they go back and read the book again.

Both Director Robert Schwentke and screewriter Bruce Joel Rubin out of neccessity had to diverge from the 500 pages of source material or be faced with an epic the size of the Lord of the Rings. While I don't envy their task, I also don't pretend to understand all of their choices for what was kept and what was lost. Regardless the resulting product is by definition a shadow of the novel. Watchable but still a shadow.

2010 - A. Taylor
Review Posted: 2010-JAN-02

Related Links:

Internet Movie Database
The ever useful Internet Movie Database entry for The Time Traveler's Wife (2009) complete with cast info, plot summary, quotes, trivia, and release dates.

Official Movie Site - The Time Traveler's Wife
The Offical Movie site for The Time Traveler;s Wife with cast and crew info, photo gallery, downloads and soundtrack info.

Review of The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Andy's Anachromism review of Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife.

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