Title: The Time Traveler's Wife
Year of Release: 2009
Date Viewed: July 23rd, 2010
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Back when I worked behind the counter at the neighborhood video store, there was a regular customer named Alice that always asked me the same question every week. "Have you seen any good love stories lately?"
If I could still communicate to Alice, my answer this week would be, "Yes. The Time Traveler's Wife."
I rented this one because time travel stories have always appealed to me plus movies adapted from novels are usually laced with creativity. One of the first novels I've ever loved was H.G. Wells' The Time Machine and one of the first movies I had ever watched was Back to the Future Part II. So I knew I had to check this out eventually. It was just a matter of waiting until I saved up enough gumption to bring a "chick flick" up to the cashier.
The title character is named Claire Abshire (Rachel McAdams). At the age of six, Claire meets adult Henry DeTamble (Eric Bana) at the back meadows of her family's home in a rather unusual way. Henry appears unexpectedly behind one of the tress without any clothes on whatsoever. Claire offers him a blanket to cover himself which he graciously accepts. In exchange for her kindness, Henry explains he arrived at her home completely by accident. He was born with a unique condition that causes him to randomly disappear and travel back and forth through time. He has no control over when he travels or where he will end up although there is a pattern of returning often to familiar locations. Instead of doing the sensible thing like reporting the naked guy with crazy stories to the police, Claire becomes fascinated with the time traveler. The fascination turns into genuine romance as she matures into an adult.
Henry makes several return visits to the Abshire family home with stories on their future together. He further explains his condition by noting that his clothes do not travel with him so he needs to immediately find new things to wear before his presence creates disturbances in public. This obstacle makes it impossible to stay settled in any stage of life.
There is actually another first meeting between Claire and Henry when they encounter each other (now both as adults) in a library. This time it's Claire who has to introduce herself to Henry because at this moment in time, Henry had not yet traveled to the Abshire home.
Be prepared to see lots of flashbacks and flash forwards like that. The movie doesn't really follow a story arc. It shows you what it wants whenever it wants. This may sound like an extended episode of Lost but I can assure you that it is not that hard to follow, unless you have very little practice in watching time travel stories.
The science behind Henry's time travel is only touched upon in fragments. Even to the end it remains mostly an enigma. The main focus is watching Claire cope with all the disadvantages of living with Henry. It's not much different than having a husband that is always away on business trips. Here one day, gone the next. Sometimes Henry recognizes where he is, sometimes he doesn't. Where does family fit into play? And of course the most important question: How many compromises are needed to keep this marriage alive and strong?
These are just a few of the many themes explored in this complex love story. There are several surprises in store for the audience and the deeper you think about this film, the more rewarding the experience will be.
As stated before though, it is best not to dwell on the sci-fi aspects. Some of the ground rules (such as Henry's ability to interact with himself) may or may not contradict with your idea of what time traveling should be. The film is fully self-aware of what is asked of the audience and Henry even flat out admits at one point that he never understood why Claire was so quick to believe his story on their first meeting.
The Time Traveler's Wife is a fine display of great storytelling. The concept is intriguing, it has its own identity and there is enough replay value to warrant multiple viewings.
Are you sold yet, Alice?