Letter From The Editor - Issue 58 - August 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
August 2009

Stuck in 'Time'

'Time Traveler's Wife' adaptation does little to stir the mind or heart

The Time Traveler's Wife
New Line Cinema
Director: Robert Schwentke
Screenplay: Bruce Joel Rubin, based on the novel by Audrey Niffenegger
Starring: Rachel McAdams, Eric Bana, Ron Livingston, Arliss Howard, Jane McLean and Michelle Nolden
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 47 minutes
Opened August 14, 2009
(out of four)

If you're going to do a movie about time travel, it's best to find someone(s) who can think about it - not just utilize it as a device. The time traveling in The Time Traveler's Wife serves a functional purpose, but it's certainly not interesting.

Except in the rare moments when either Clare (Rachel McAdams) or her time-travelin' husband Henry (Eric Bana) catch a glimpse into their future, the conflict is no different from, say, having a husband who's constantly away on business.

In fact, so much of the film concerns itself with the domestic trivialities and squabbles of a couple trying to make it that, as often as not, the whole time-travel thing seems superfluous. When he disappears and misses Christmas, would it be that much different if he was merely a traveling salesman with a lousy schedule?

Naturally, there are inherent differences between Henry's curse - which he can't control - and the issues that come between other couples. But director Robert Schwentke and screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin never treat it as anything more than just another obstacle that has to be dealt with. They never get to why the time-travel element is supposed to be interesting, or what it might mean.

At one point, Clare remarks about how "magical" it is. And that's just it. The film stops right there. It's satisfied with simply being "magical," rather than feeling compelled to dig into the impact Henry's gift/curse might have (beyond the obvious), or the implications of it, or how it might affect the characters' perceptions on love, chance, fate.

We learn that Clare has been "in love" with Henry since she first met him - when he was well into his 30s and she was just a little girl. She has been waiting to be with him for the rest of her life ever since then. When you think about that, it might seem a bit unsettling, actually (though the film hasn't the time to be bothered with any such issues).

The two meet several times as Clare grows up, always in the same open meadow behind her house. By the time she's in her 20s, she knows full well how her relationship with Henry will play out - how they'll meet, what conversations they'll have. Sounds like a rather boring way to begin a relationship, with everything pre-determined, but Clare is unfazed - after all, she's been attached to this idea since she was a child. Why use becoming an adult as an excuse to grow up, right?

So little is left to the imagination that there's not much oomph to the relationship between Clare and Henry. They're just acting out a story already told, making it difficult for us to get involved in their lives. There's too little mystery and too little at stake.

One late development is especially problematic. A certain moment around the beginning of the third act foretells a certain fate for one character. For the events in question to play out quite the way they do, Henry will have had to travel in time to two separate moments in succession - which I suppose is possible, given the premise, but which certainly isn't within the normal rules set up by the rest of the film. It's lazy screenwriting.

It might be easy to call the entire movie lazy, but the bigger problem is its thoughtlessness. The filmmakers seem decidedly uninterested in exploring anything beyond the letter of the plot.

The Time Traveler's Wife is also curiously linear for a film about time travel; perhaps it could have used a different structural and stylistic approach, so that we could experience the mysteries of the story in a more visceral and sensual way.

I know this film has an audience, in part because it's a weepy romance, and in part because it's based on a popular novel. I dated a woman who at the time was reading the book avidly, but she wasn't much for movies. This one certainly wouldn't convince her otherwise.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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