Review: The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009)

The Thinker by Rodin

Robert Schwentke is an up and coming director with a mixture of hits and misses. FlightPlan, starring Jody Foster, was one of misses; although it was so suspenseful that it was easy enough to miss the inconsistent and implausible points. On the other hand, RED (2010) was a pure popcorn movie and great fun. Where does The Time Traveler’s Wife rank among his short list of directed films?

Time travel seems to becoming a recurring theme in modern movies. Perhaps it is coincidence that this movie was released only a year after The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the story of a man who lived his life backwards. In The Time Traveler’s Wife, Eric Bana plays Henry DeTamble. Henry discovers as a child that he has the genetic ability to move about in time. He first discovers this ability watching his mother die in a car crash. He runs into an older version of himself who tries to comfort him through the trauma.

Time travel may sound like fun, but it is anything but that. In Henry’s case, you arrive at some unknown time and place buck-naked. The first thing you do is steal some clothes and money. You cannot change key events, like your mother’s date with death. Time travel does offer some unique opportunities: the ability to get a winning lottery ticket and to interact with his mother during the Vietnam area on a New York subway. Mostly it is a hassle and a curse.

At least he tends to pop in and out of time near people that mean a lot in his life. The one he cares the most about turns out to be Clare Abshire (Rachel McAdams), the talented daughter of a millionaire. She first encounters him as a child in a field near their estate when he appears as a middle-aged man. He literally keeps popping in and out of her life. This makes it confusing at first for them to have a relationship, but over time it does develop into love and eventually they marry. It’s unclear though whether Clare ever really chose Henry or not. Henry ages like anyone else, just lives his life in snippets here and there in our linear time stream. Even when they do decide to get married, getting through the marriage ceremony is problematic as Henry can disappear at random times. There is also the small matter of having children and whether their child will be a mutant like Henry. All these romantic and angst-filled issues form the core of a generally engrossing and well-acted love story.

If you haven’t seen the movie and wish to fully enjoy it, skip to the end spoilers paragraph.

What is missing, largely to keep the story from getting too fractured, is what Henry’s life is like in other times and places when he is not interacting with Clare. We see snippets with his mother, father and daughter over time. We have no idea how Henry became educated given his condition, and how he establishes identity when he has no real fixed address. Minor plot points like how Clare’s friends deal with Henry’s strange absences over so much time are ignored. Presumably it would be the subject of much scandalous talk and concern. It is never addressed in the movie. Certainly Clare is upset that her husband is gone and has no idea when she might see it again, but these natural frustrations are left largely unexpressed.

Among the gaping gaps in this movie that are unexplained is how Henry seems to always know how old he is. How is this possible? It’s not like he can carry a watch with him when he time travels. Yes, Henry lives his life sequentially just not across the time spectrum of ordinary people, so he has no reference unique to the fractured time stream that he lives in. Then there is the lottery ticket incident. One of the features of time travel is to know from the future what some event would be in the past, like a lottery ticket number. Yet he managed to purchase the winning lottery ticket for Clare somehow. Does he have a photographic memory where he can store this information? The movie makes it sound plausible, but it is not.

End spoilers.

The Time Traveler’s Wife has many of the same problems that FlightPlan had: gaping plot holes. Jody Foster was terrific in FlightPlan, as Rachel McAdams is here as Clare. The movie is full of heart, poignancy, love and romance making it a really good movie … if you don’t think about it too much.

It’s hard to complain too much about this movie, since it is so heartfelt and well executed. As a variant of a love story, it deserves an A+. As a movie that will tear at your heart, it’s a “keep of box of Kleenex handy” sort of movie. Overall it is quite a moving and exceptionally well acted. But as a coherent script, well, not so much. Perhaps it is best to use a little mental jujitsu to fill these gaps in your mind and assume if the movie had been longer it would have all been explained. Instead, the director chose to focus on the romantic core of the movie rather than ancillary plot holes and logical details. With that perspective, you’re going to have a great time.

I’ll only discount the movie by .1 points for the gaping plot holes, because otherwise the movie works so well as a bifurcated love story.

3.3 out of four stars.

Rating: ★★★¼ 

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