The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009)

the time travelers wife

“It can be a problem.”

The Scoop: 2009 12A, directed by Robert Schwentke and starring Eric Bana, Rachel McAdams and Stephen Tobolowsky.

Tagline: From the acclaimed bestseller.

Summary Capsule: Girls meets guy who involuntarily time-travels, who then meets her, who then meets him again, when he’s an older man and she’s a young girl, but then she’s an older woman and he’s a young man. They have an loving but impossible marriage and it’s sad.

Louise’s rating: 3 out of 5 unfortunate implications.

Louise’s review: This is an trying-hard blend of sci-fi and romance. Unfortunately, the bit I think is most interesting (the time travel bit) plays second fiddle to the romance, which is not nearly so compelling. SPOILERS lie ahead, as they should when there is knowledge of the future.

Henry and Clare are two lovers, who have to find a way to make their relationship and family life work outside of a normal chronology. Henry is chrono-impaired, which basically means he can’t stop himself jumping forward and backward in his own lifetime. There are a few rules to his condition.

  1. Alcohol makes it worse.
  2. He can’t take his clothes with him. Cue awkwardness – stealing clothes, stealing wallets, getting chased and arrested, frostbite, exposure.
  3. He is drawn to the important moments in his life. For example, we learn he has visited the moment of his mother’s death many times.
  4. He can interact with older and younger versions of himself, no problem.

This creates some interesting paradoxes that don’t bear too much thinking about. Henry’s marriage to Clare is obviously crucial to his entire life – one would hope that marriage would be. The person of Clare therefore becomes one of those ‘important moments’. In his later life, Henry begins to time-travel to Clare’s childhood, where he meets and talks to his future wife. Naturally, she grows up knowing and loving him, and sets her little heart on him before they meet as young adults. Yeah, so she falls for him because she already knows him because he goes to see her because they are in love. It’s all rather like the fifth and sixth new series of Doctor Who. Henry also travels to a future where he has met with some accident, allowing him to, as it were, communicate with his wife and child after his own death.

Interesting paradox. The ramifications of a time-travelling life (and living with someone who time-travels) are laid out for the viewer – it’s tough, because of the nudity, the pain of being unable to prevent certain events, and the fact that, hello! you disappear! Sometimes for weeks! You do get to pick fantastic lottery numbers, though, and you can groom someone vulnerable to be your soulmate!

Welcome to the unfortunate implications part of the romance. Now, Henry’s behaviour with the child Clare is entirely proper. He does press a kiss on the eighteen-year-old Clare in a way that I don’t approve of – however, it’s clear from Clare’s Henry-centric journals that the damage has already been done by that stage. Clare is prevented from developing normally, and dating normally, by this bizarre secret relationship in her tender years. Clare agrees with me, and occasionally berates her husband with this fact. This is not romantic. This is creepy. Due to the time-travel, older and younger versions of Henry and Clare regularly meet each other, and on the whole, don’t feel the need to stick to ‘their’ version for making-out (and more) purposes. This is explored extensively in the novel, but I rather wish they had talked about it more in the film because it’s a very quirky take on a love story.

So, the prospect of an out-of-time love story is an intriguing one, especially when the characters receive intimations that it will end unhappily. The way Henry and his doctor investigate his condition also looks like it could be a great film in its own right.The other thing I really like in this film (although I certainly don’t have the film school lingo) is the way the camera moves. There are several beautiful moments when the movement of the camera gives a real fantasy, headrush, dreamlike and, yes, epically romantic feel to the scenes. I think I’ll remember these angles when I’ve forgotten the rest of the picture.

Which is ultimately rather forgettable. McAdams and Bana have been pretty good in previous work, but here they are just so limp! They’re boring! The romance is not that good as a romance (and a twagic one at that) because Henry and Clare have nothing in common except prettiness. There is no solid, real reason that the audience sees for them to be in love with each other, except that it is foreseen through the power of The Future decreeing it. Put it this way – if this were an ordinary tragic romance (for example, an adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel or One Day), I would be crying out “Boooo! Forget this wuv guff! I’m going to break open my Xena box set and get Lawless on this winter evening! Booyakashaah!” It is the time-travel that saves it.

I work in a school, so I’m going to put this in school terms. As a time-travel film, it wins a ‘You Tried Real Hard!’ sticker. As a romance, it has to stay in at lunch and copy out lines.

So, where’ve you parked your TARDIS?


  • Based on the 2003 novel by Audrey Niffenegger.
  • Exec-produced by Brad Pitt. He and Jennifer Aniston apparently bought the film rights before the novel was even published.
  • That’s Joy Division’s song ‘Love will tear us apart’ playing at Henry and Clare’s wedding. Why on earth would you have that as your first dance?

Groovy Dialogue:

[Clare is a child, Henry is in his late thirties]
Clare: Are you married?
Henry: Yes, I am.
Clare: Is your wife a time traveler?
Henry: No. No, thank God.
Clare: Do you love her?
Henry: Yes. Very much. What’s wrong?
Clare: Nothing. I was just hoping you’re married to me.

[Henry and Clare are in their twenties]
Clare: I wrote down every time that you came to visit me.
Henry: Which I gather I did, or will do, fairly often.
Clare: The last time that I saw you, I was 18. Seems that you go back to the same places a lot.
Henry: Yeah, it’s like gravity. Big events pull you in.
Clare: I was a big event.

Henry: And one fine day, your mom, who’s just a tiny little thing, goes out to the clearing, and there’s a man there.
Alba: With no clothes.
Henry: Not a stitch on him. And after she gives him the blanket she happens to be carrying, he explains to her that he’s a time traveler. Now, for some reason I’ll never understand, she believes him.

If you liked this film, try:

  • The Lake House
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • One Day

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