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The Time Traveler’s Wife

Released: 2009

Genre: Sci-Fi & Fantasy

Runtime: 1 hr 47 min

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Robert Schwentke

Starring: Michelle Nolden, Alex Ferris, Arliss Howard, Eric Bana, Katherine Trowell, Bart Bedford, Esther Jun, Matt Birman, Craig Snoyer, Rachel McAdams

A man’s marriage becomes complicated because of a gene that causes him to travel through time involuntarily.

A virtuoso piece of work.

Review by: MiamiMovieCritic

Added: 8 years ago

The ad campaign for this movie really turned me off. It looked like this year’s Nights in Rodanthe, worthy of derision on The Colbert Report. Luckily, I discovered that the film had been written by one of my favorite living screenwriters, Bruce Joel Rubin. I urge you to ignore the ads and go see the film. It’s an intriguing sci-fi story that’s been packaged as a mainstream weepie.

Like all of Rubin’s best work (Ghost, Jacob’s Ladder, My Life), The Time Traveler’s Wife (adapted from the novel by Audrey Niffenegger) includes elements of Buddhist philosophy. Reincarnation is a major theme. While it’s not as romantic as Ghost or as profoundly terrifying as Jacob’s Ladder, The Time Traveler’s Wife may be Rubin’s cleverest working of the theme yet. He uses time travel as a metaphor for reexamining our lives and constantly trying to make things right.

The film is a virtuoso piece of work, brought to life with extreme care. This is surely one of the most beautiful-looking Hollywood films of 2009. The first thing we hear is a haunting melody (it’s “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming”) being sung by a young mother who’s driving with her son on a Christmas night. Dreamy images are reflected on the car’s windows. The boy, Henry, suddenly disappears from the backseat, only to reappear in the shivering cold some hundred yards away. As his mother gets into a fatal accident, a grown-up Henry shows up to explain to his younger self that they both just traveled through time. Trippy stuff.

I love this moment in the film, and it’s the first of many. It’s the work of a writer who’s able to inject fresh new ideas and situations into a genre that, before he got his hands on it, you’d thought had been all used up.

The adult Henry is played by Eric Bana, whose previous credits include Steven Spielberg’s Munich and Ang Lee’s vastly superior Hulk. (Has anyone who hates that film actually seen it?) Bana’s Aussie accent still sounds a little shaky, but otherwise he gives an emotionally acute performance; every time he leaps through time, his disorientation feels genuine. As the title suggests, the movie is a love story. Henry meets the love of his life, Claire, in a meadow when she’s 6 and he’s well into his 30s. Some critics have complained there’s a creepiness factor here, and it IS a little weird when the film cuts from Henry in the meadow with the little girl to him climbing in bed with her naked when she’s all grown up (and played by Rachel McAdams). But overall the timelessness-of-love theme works.

It’s a love that’s of course complicated by the fact that Henry travels through time without warning. We learn surprisingly late in the film that he has a genetic disorder that causes these involuntary trips. It’s at this point that the film introduces its most brilliant conceit. Claire gets pregnant, and the child, who shares Henry’s genetic defect, literally travels from the womb, resulting in a miscarriage. This subplot provides the film with its most achingly poignant scenes.

I think audiences will take to The Time Traveler’s Wife. As far out as it may seem, it’s easy to identify with Henry dilemma. The main character of 500 Days of Summer keeps wishing he could revisits the moments in his life when he screwed up. This movie shows how that wouldn’t be such a good thing.