Screenplay by: Bruce Joel Rubin
Adapted from the novel “The Time Traveler’s Wife” by: Audrey Niffenegger
Starring: Eric Bana, Rachel McAdams, Ron Livingston, Jane McLean, Michelle Nolden and Arliss Howard
Summary Judgement: It was as if the director set out to make time travel wholly uninteresting by bogging it down in the cliché problems of middle-class white people.
I’m not one to sleep through movies. However, I almost made an exception to that policy during my screening of The Time Traveler’s Wife. Based on, or perhaps inspired by, Audrey Niffenegger’s book of the same name, this movie chronicles the relationship of a time travelling jerk named Henry (Eric Bana) and Clare (Rachel McAdams), the woman who loves him. My girlfriend assured me that the novel was an insightful read. I believe she said something along the lines of, “it is an innovative study into the challenges of a modern relationship.” The film, however, is nothing so nuanced. Rather, it is an overly affective walk through the uneventful lives of two people, one of whom happens to make time travel seem tedious and boring.
Tempting as it may be to geek out and decry the movie’s shameless portrayal of characters crossing their own timelines to have paradox free chats with past versions of themselves, I’m not going to go there. Rather, I’ll focus on how the time travel sets a dull mood for the entire production. Since Henry and Clare treat time travel as a spyglass into a single fixed timeline, everything in their life is fatalistic. The only surprise in their lives comes in the form of unpredictable quantum leaps time jumps that leave Henry confused and naked. Since Henry can travel into the future as well as the past, he always has a sense for what is coming next. Without any surprise in the lives of the central characters, there’s no emotional investment for the audience. Even a vision of Henry’s death gets brushed off with a casual ‘meh’. Bana’s character seems content to chalk it up to the trajectory of his determinist life. Where’s the struggle? Where’s the gripping tale of a person trying to prove that his fate is what he makes it? If the central character isn’t concerned with his own mortality than why would the audience bother to get wrapped up in his story?
Since the movie is such a simplistic reaction to the existential quagmire that is time travel, perhaps the actors can be excused for their two-dimensional characters. At first, I was content to write off their performance as mere bad acting. Even as the characters bickered in the aftermath of their second miscarriage, neither Bana nor McAdams convinced me that they were feeling any sort of human emotion. Upon further thought, I’ll concede the possibility that they were trying to convey the malaise that would come with a life where you always know what lies ahead. Anticipation, hope, surprise, all these things are lost when you meddle with your own timeline.
Even if blasé acting is an intended response to the script’s deeper subtexts, it doesn’t make up for the fact that the plot is utterly stale, often wasting its chances to plumb the depths of its characters. In one scene, Clare has a roll in the hay with a younger version of Henry who has time jumped into his relative future. Upon revealing the tryst to present tense Henry, he doesn’t respond with the slightest hint of anger or frustration. Instead, Bana nods and stares dimly into the middle distance as if to say, “eh, what are you going to do?” This moment is a perfect opportunity to explore the peculiarities of jealousy when applied to time travel. But no, it’s just rationalized away as “not really cheating”. Not really cheating? If some past version of myself showed up and had sex with my girlfriend, I’d be pissed off. Then again, if it was a past version of myself doing the shtopping wouldn’t I know it was coming? Time travel is further rendered utterly sterile as the film defaults to a montage sequence which suggests the greatest challenge of time travel is finding clothes. Imagine the first scene from Terminator played out over and over but with the lowest of possible stakes. In this uninspired fashion does the movie aimlessly wander from scene to scene, never presenting any real problem that might draw the audience into the narrative.
Verily, I do recognize that I’m not exactly among the target demographic for The Time Traveler’s Wife. In lowering my SF geek expectations, I hoped that TTTW would be the kind of movie that nerds and their non-nerd partners could watch in harmony, free from the inevitable post-mortem recriminations of who owes whom the next movie selection. Alas, the movie failed to live up to even that modest expectation. The romance is saccharine at best and occasionally borders on creepy. Despite invoking time travel, the holy grail of geekdom, the sci-fi component would need to radically up its game before it would be a gimmick. TTTW is a classic example of story that appeals to nobody in its attempts to appeal to everybody. It’s not terrible, but it’s certainly sophomoric on all fronts.
As an afterthought, it is good to see what’s his name from Office Space getting work that isn’t on Sex in the City.
Overall Score: -1