Books and movies are two very different modes of expression. Books tend to be more subjective and internal, focusing on what the author or characters think and feel. Movies are usually better at showing what happens. Even a hugely popular book about a deeply passionate romance like The Time Traveler’s Wife made with diligence and respect and starring beautiful people who are good actors, does not always produce a movie that lives up to the vision of the author and the readers.
Henry (Eric Bana) has become an involuntary time traveler following a traumatic accident that killed his mother when he was a child. He has no control over when or where he goes, but a force he describes as being like gravity pulls him back over and over to places and interactions that are most meaningful to him. When a beautiful young woman named Clare (Rachel McAdams) asks him for help at the Newberry Library, he can tell from her expression that she knows his future self and he knows her past self, but at the moment he has no clue who she is, much less that they are in love with one another. The special challenges (disappearing and re-appearing) are painful, often life-threatening, and even the benefits (it can be very helpful to know what is going to happen) can be stressful. But like all great love affairs, the connection between Henry and Clare transcends time.
Like the book, the movie gets weaker as it becomes more convoluted and far-fetched in the last third of the story. Unlike the book, it does not have the evocative and graceful prose written by Audrey Niffenegger. The novel is very internal, and no matter how able Bana and McAdams are, the script gives them little to do to convey the book’s power other than gaze lovingly at each other. The movie eliminates many secondary characters and much of the conversation and interaction that makes us care whether Henry and Clare figure out a way to literally stay together. They seem to have no personality, no substance beyond those longing glances. By far the most interesting character in the movie does not even arrive until the last 20 minutes. As the storyline gets more preposterous (and, in the screening I attended, provoked some unintended laughter), a new character arrives to give the film more weight and honesty than anything that has gone before, making us wish we could go back in time to start the film with that story instead.
Parents should know that this film has some disturbing images and themes and some very sad deaths. There is a fatal car crash and there are graphic images of wounds. It also has brief strong language, some sexual references and non-explicit situations, brief rear nudity, a childbirth scene, and miscarriages. Characters drink alcohol.
Topics for discussion: If you could travel through time, where would you go? What are your favorite time travel movies?
If you like this, try: the book and other time-travel romance movies like “Somewhere in Time” and “The Lake House”