The Time Traveler’s Wife – Another View

The Time Traveler's Wife (2009)THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE is a wildly romantic love story that can easily be seen as an exercise in the old surrealist concept of L’ Amour Fou, the kind of mad love that defies all the conventions of society. In this film, it is made even more surrealistic by the additional twist of two lovers having to overcome the barrier of a shifting space-time continuum. THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE is also a book (by first time author Audrey Niffenegger), that follows a pattern set by two previous romantic novels, where the lovers are separated by a breech in time, Robert Nathan’s PORTRAIT OF JENNIE and Richard Matheson’s BID TIME RETURN. Like those stories, scriptwriter Bruce Joel Rubin provides a short and sweet explanation for why Eric Bana as Henry has the ability to time travel (a genetic anomaly), with the caveat that his journeys are totally uncontrollable. He never knows when or where he may suddenly vanish into the past or the future. By strictly logical standards some viewers may find this a grievous fault, but that is actually the whole point of the story. L’ Amour Fou is totally irrational, (as is traveling through time) and neither can ever be explained logically. However, they are still fascinating concepts to contemplate, which is what gives the picture its surrealistic tinge and such an emotional charge.

Bruce Joel Rubin who won an Academy Award for writing Ghost was totally captivated by the book’s vision and the breadth of its imagination when he first read it. “I thought the story was profoundly told and I wanted to help translate it to the screen,” explains Rubin, “so I pursued this project with a vengeance. The book is very complex and it was especially challenging to juggle all the different timeframes. I decided the love story would dictate the flow of the movie. Scene by scene, the romance had its own journey through time, but as long as that journey made emotional sense, it never betrayed me.”

Since the emotional romantic journey is what is at the heart of the movie, it is crucial that the two leading actors have a very special on-screen chemistry. The kind displayed by Jennifer Jones and Joseph Cotten in Portrait of Jennie and by Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour in Somewhere in Time. Here, the combination of Eric Bana as Henry and Rachel McAdams as Claire proves equally as fortuitous, since both actors seem as if they were truly made for each other. Their earnest performances also will help more skeptical viewers accept the fantastic nature of the story much more readily.

Director Robert Schwentke’s approach to the picture was to also focus on the love story, and treat the fantasy elements in a casual, matter of fact manner. He even claims the movie ”is not really a science fiction film. It is an emotional journey about two people in a relationship, and the time travel is the catalyst for things that both strengthen and test their bond. You could argue that time travel is the thing that brought them together, but it ultimately causes all sorts of conflicts. So I saw it as an opportunity to make a great love story, but at the same time we were able to weave some undercurrents into the fabric of that relationship. That feels more truthful to me, especially in a story that starts out with two people who are given the incredible gift of finding the person with whom they belong. It’s important that at some point they earn it.”

Schwentke realizing the important role editing would play in the picture, hired veteran film editor Thom Noble, whose first film as editor was Francois Truffuat’s Fahrenheit 451. Schwentke explains, “The movie is intentionally fragmented at the beginning, mirroring the state of Henry’s life. Then, after he finds Clare their relationship becomes Henry’s anchor. Things are more settled, which we tried to echo cinematically. In a way, the rhythms of their life dictated the rhythms of our film. Those shifts should be subtle, but hopefully they have a cumulative effect.”

Schwentke also provides us with some beautifully staged sequence shots, particularly a long steadicam panning shot of Henry and Clare’s dream house, brought with Henry’s huge winnings in a lottery after he finds out the winning numbers. The shot goes in and out of rooms and windows showing us events from their life together that provides a refreshing change from a more traditional montage that might normally be used to show the passing of time.

It’s also quite a change to see a handsome leading actor like Eric Bana in a full-fledged romantic role, instead of the mostly male dominated action thrillers he has become more widely known for. Oddly enough, it’s the same kind of rare choice Brad Pitt made when he appeared in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button with Cate Blanchett. Ironically, Pitt and his then wife, Jennifer Aniston, first acquired the rights to The Time Traveler’s Wife back in 2003, and at one point in time, they probably wanted to play the leading roles themselves. Their loss proves to be Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana’s gain, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them together again in the future, perhaps becoming an on screen couple in the romantic tradition of Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn.

Only time will tell.

You can see additional pictures from The Time Traveler’s Wife at my Facebook page HERE.

THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE (New Line Cinema). Directed by Robert Schwentke. Screenplay by Bruce Joel Rubin, based on the novel by Audrey Niffenegger. Produced by Nick Wechsler and Dede Gardner. Cinematography by Florian Ballhaus. Production designer: Jon Hutman. Film editor: Thom Noble. Costume designer: Julie Weiss. Music by Mychael Danna.

CAST: Rachel McAdams (Clare); Eric Bana (Henry); Arliss Howard (Richard DeTamble); Ron Livingston (Gomez); Stephen Tobolowsky (Dr. Kendrick).

About the Author

Lawrence French

LAWRENCE FRENCH celebrated his 20th anniversary as a contributor to Cinefantastique Magazine with his cover story on the making of THE RETURN OF THE KING. As Cinefantastique’s longtime San Francisco correspondent, he has written numerous stories about Pixar and Lucasfilm, and interviewed such genre stalwarts as Vincent Price, Tim Burton, Ray Harryhausen, John Lasseter, Phil Tippett and Ray Bradbury. He is also the editor of the highly regarded website on Orson Welles, Wellesnet.com. His book as editor of Richard Matheson’s Edgar Allan Poe scripts for THE HOUSE OF USHER and THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM was published by Gauntlet Press in 2007, with a second volume on TALES OF TERROR and THE RAVEN due out in the future. For Cinefantastique Online, he currently writes the regular column Supernal Dreams.

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