15 September 2009 ~ 6 Comments

The Time Traveler’s Wife

s_Wife_film_posterMy wife and I took my mom to The Time Traveler’s Wife, a convoluted SF romance starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams. The movie is based on the book by the same name, written by Audrey Niffenegger. I haven’t read the book yet, but it’s on my must-read list. In the movie, Bana plays Henry, a man with an extremely rare genetic disorder which causes him to time travel both forward and backward. He has no control over when and where he goes. McAdams plays Clare, the title character who becomes his wife. Their relationship is… complicated. He meets her for the first time when he’s 20-something, and she’s in college. She meets him for the first time when he’s 40-something and she’s five years old. Like any relationship, they have good times and bad times, but unlike other relationships, the good times for one person often coincide with bad times for the other person.

When Henry travels, it just him, no clothing or anything. This makes for some amusing and awkward situations as he shows up in various places without clothes. In particular, he’s very lucky when he first meets Clare that she didn’t tell her parents about the naked man she met in the woods by their house, or Henry might have ended up in jail. Those scenes were rather creepy anyway, not because of anything Henry does or says, but because you know that he is married to her in the future, and it is just plain weird. The time traveling effect, the only special effect in the movie, is pretty neat, with his flesh evaporating like a mist, often starting from his hands and then leaving his clothes to fall limply to the floor. But I think it was overused in scenes where it made no real difference. For instance, in the wedding scene, a younger Henry has the pre-wedding jitters and disappears, only to be replaced by a Henry with gray in his hair. This provokes much murmuring during the ceremony but has no real effect on the plot. And then the younger Henry reappears during the reception. If there was any real point to the jumping in this scene, I really didn’t see it. Perhaps if we were more privy to Henry’s internal reactions this would have an interesting effect on his behavior after these jumps, but as the movie is it just seemed like a waste of a perfectly good plot element.

Of the three theories of time travel I’ve discussed before, this movie falls firmly under #3 “Time is written in stone”. Henry tells Clare that he has tried many times to prevent the death of his mother, but he never makes it to the right place by the right time and everything always happens like it happened before. As I’ve mentioned before, I believe this type of time travel could only exist in the presence of a higher power, because something all-powerful must be guiding actions to make sure that nothing could be affected by Henry’s foreknowledge. This is never more true than in this movie, with the supernatural hand manifesting itself most strongly in the timing of Henry’s seemingly random travels.

The movie was relatively good, but I don’t think it was as good as it could be, for two major reasons.

First, I have never been impressed by Eric Bana. He really needs to work on his facial expressions, he has the facial range of Joan Rivers. I just can’t bring myself to care about any character he plays because of it. At least his character is more sympathetic than his lead role in Lucky You, where he plays a compulsive gambler who steals money from his girlfriend and has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, although his acting range is much more suited for the role of a professional gambler since he has a permanent poker face. And the likeability of Henry is all in the writing, NOT in his acting.

Thank goodness Rachel McAdams can act, or this movie would’ve been completely unsalvageable. As it is she carried Bana’s incompetence throughout it and managed to make a movie that I could stand, and which I could actually react emotionally to. Through her reactions I could even feel sorry for Henry and his ailment, something which Henry himself did not manage to do.

Second, the chronology was needlessly confusing. When each scene started I had to take a step back and ask “When did this happen and what are the ages of Henry and Clare. This one could have easily been avoided simply with some planning of how the movie was laid out. The easiest way would have been to follow a chronology from just ONE of the two character’s lives, and let us figure out some of the strange reactions of the others as we went. And since Clare is the title character, and since her chronology is easier to follow anyway as it is easily cued by her hairstyle, and cues from the world around her. But instead, a scene jump would sometimes follow Clare, sometimes follow Henry, in haphazard arrangement, leaving me to guess at the beginning of each scene when this took place, and lifting me much too far out of my movie-watcher trance. As an alternative, instead of changing the scene ordering, they could simply have put a caption on the screen listing the year and the age of both of them.

But overall I thought it was decently good, and my mom even liked it. Finding a movie that we can both enjoy is a real challenge, so it’s a definite note of success whenever we can actually pull it off. I haven’t read the book that this movie is based on yet, but it is high on my “to read” list. I hope that the parts I didn’t like about the movie were the fualt of the movie-makers and not the writer of the book.

Now, for those of you who hate SPOILERS, like I do when I’m reading a review, stop now, because I’m going to tell what happens.

BEGIN SPOILERS!!

The complicated plotlines become even more complicated when Henry and Clare start trying to have children. Clare has miscarriage after miscarriage and they eventually drum up the unproven theory that each baby has inherited Henry’s time traveling gene and is time travelling right out of the womb. Although they never come across proof of this theory (which is probably a good thing, as that involve the moviemakers splattering a fetus across a stage), Henry becomes more and more apprehensive about having a baby at all. He doesn’t want the kid to have to suffer through the condition he’s had to suffer through. This opens the movie up for quite an emotional quagmire which I am not quite sure how sort the ethics of. Henry secretly gets a vasectomy, because Clare refuses to agree that not having kids is the right thing to do. He eventually confesses to her, and she is furious. The next time a younger Henry, one without a vasectomy, passes through her time, they have sex and voila she’s pregnant. Before she carries the baby to term Henry meets the girl, Alba, who has indeed inherited his time-traveling. She says she’s a “prodigy” because she’s able to control it. The plot now gets even more convoluted because there are Albas of two different ages all over the place. The older Alba knows what happens in the future and she tells the younger Alba and Henry, but Henry makes her promise not to tell her mother, driving another wedge between them.

Partway through the movie, Clare and Henry glimpse another Henry traveling momentarily through their time with a bleeding wound in his gut. He’s gone after a few seconds leaving them both with a feeling of dread. Clare has never seen him when he’s above forty or so. Alba confirms that Henry died when she was five. So the rest of the movie is mostly waiting to find out how Henry dies.

In the end, Henry’s death is just a freak accident. He travels into a forest where Clare’s father is hunting (his love for hunting was well established early on. At the time, Henry’s legs are unusable because he is still recovering from a bout of hypothermia. He pops into place sitting in the snow in the middle of the woods right by a buck. He looks around wildly, sees her father from quite a ways away. Her father shoots at the buck and hits Henry instead. By the time her father reaches the scene, Henry’s gone, leaving only a bloodstain on the snow. This only further reinforces my belief that a higher power wanted these events to play out this way, because the odds of him appearing in that exact place and exact time if the jumping is random is just far too low for me. And all he would’ve had to do is lie back and the bullet would’ve gone over him for sure.

Then, after his death, as Alba is growing up with Clare, Henry pops back in again, presumably from before he died. I get the impression this happens from time to time and it’s portrayed in the movie as if it was a good thing. But I can’t imagine what that would do to a person trying to grieve. These people need to move on with their lives, but how can they do that when Henry’s reapperances with many years in between keeps the wound raw instead of allowing it to heal? This left me with a sense of unease much different than the heartwarming reaction I got the impression I was supposed to feel.

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