STARRING: Eric Bana, Rachel McAdams, Ron
Livingston, Jane McLean
2009, 107 Minutes, Directed by:
Time Traveler’s Wife is a romantic, tragic, sci-fi hodgepodge of fate. To
deconstruct it with an analytical mind would be a foolish proposition,
confronting material that plays with fantasy conceits to create its very own
identity, free from the binding straps of realism.
It’s a film that needs to be
granted permission to be magical and mysterious, to take the audience to
unfamiliar places of time and heart. It’s a lovely picture, but something that
is best approached in a relaxed state of mind.
Since he was a young boy, Henry
DeTamble (Eric Bana) has been able to time travel due to a genetic disorder
called Chrono-Displacement, forcing him to stumble through his fractured
existence. Meeting Clare Abshire (Rachel McAdams) one afternoon at his library
job, Henry finds the soul mate he never knew he had, learning that he visited
Clare in the past from the future, building a relationship with the
impressionable woman throughout the years. Forging a unique bond, Clare and
Henry decide to get married, though life with a man in flux starts to wear on
Clare’s patience. Henry, eager to slow down his condition, finds help from a
geneticist (Stephen Tobolowsky), but soon learns that no matter what he does in
the past, present, or future, he can’t fight his fate.
There’s a gentle breeze to
Wife that prevented me from standard critical dissection, where the logical
mind confronts extreme imagination and goes berserk. Wife is a fantastical story
of devotion spread across years and dimensions, and it’s to director Robert
Schwentke’s credit that the picture finds a warmly enigmatic tone that wards
away all the doubts and the questions.
"An alluring soap opera for those who like to dive into the deep end
of the syrup pool . . ."
Adapted from the novel by
Audrey Niffenegger by Ghost scripter Bruce Joel Rubin, Wife
features a cat’s cradle of a plot, examining Henry as he marches back and forth
through time, futilely attempting to shape something of a peaceful routine in
the process. It’s a complex narrative structure meant to disorient the viewer,
heightening the tragic aspect of the tale. The filmmakers locate the proper
channels of bewilderment early on, and as more romantic entanglements are
introduced while Henry and Clare get to know each other, Wife boils away the
concern to reveal a smooth, glassy surface of moony romanticism.
For a novel-to-screen
transition, there are very few narrative hiccups to distract Wife from
the business at hand. Outside of Clare and her slightly undercooked state of
shock (she’s well played by McAdams, only lacking exacting individuality in the
face of surreal absenteeism), Wife stays on target, focusing on Henry’s unhinged
routine as man who quite literally falls in and out of his own life.
balances the disorientation and acceptance wonderfully, a bundle of emotions
captured well in Bana’s poignant performance. Henry doesn’t drag himself as if
cursed, he reveals himself to be more of a strategist, looking to aim his
disorder to keep himself in Clare’s company for as long as possible, in whatever
time frame possible. Again, there’s a lot of ground to cover in the story to
help make sense of Henry’s situation. With very little in the way of adaptation
clutter, Wife is a steady mystery and gradual tear-jerker, as Henry and
Clare begin to sense a disturbing finality to their journey, leaving the couple
in a frenzy to circumvent the inevitable.
Again, either you buy into this
fantasy or you’ll be left out in the cold, trying to make sense out of the
story’s intangible, incomprehensible qualities (not unlike the 1980 cult smash
Somewhere in Time). The Time Traveler’s
Wife is a mood piece on the concept of free will, smashed into the center of
an engrossing, if staccato, love story. It’s beautifully crafted and endearingly
old-fashioned all the way; an alluring soap opera for those who like to dive
into the deep end of the syrup pool.
- Brian Orndorf