Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Time Traveler's Wife.

The Time Traveler’s Wife (Robert Schwentke, 2009)

Category: In addition to being a sad movie based on a book (in this case, the 2003 bestseller by Audrey Niffenegger, a name that I would be afraid to say out loud, BTW), this is, of course, a sad film about time travel. Now I’m very drawn to the whole time travel thing. I’m all about movies and shows that purport to present a “realistic” perspective on what time travel would actually be like. (Like just about every other topic worth discussing, Chuck Klosterman has a great essay about this in his book Eating the Dinosaur.) And the fact is that, if it were real, time travel would probably be pretty sad, especially if you were to get stuck. You might get stuck in the future, and have to deal with your loved ones being older and probably gross-looking. Or you might get stuck in the past, and short of a bolt of lightning, there’d really be no way for you to get…. well you know.

The concept really is quite fascinating, though, which is why I’m excited for it to be used as a schmaltzy plot device in this film, which, by the way, is also a sad movie that I originally thought was based on a book by Nicholas Sparks, but it’s not, but the fact that I thought it was doesn’t bode well.

My familiarity with this issue: I remember reading that Ray Bradbury story in school about how one tiny change when hunting for dinosaurs (you know this story, right?) can completely alter history forever? I think it was called The Butterfly Effect with Ashton Kutcher. Anyway, that’s stuck with me to this day. The fact that no one has traveled backward through time to prevent the Holocaust or 9/11 or the release of the new Maroon 5 song “Moves Like Jagger” indicates to me that time travel is probably impossible. Or perhaps that future generations have taken the Bradbury lesson to heart as well, and only use their time travel for future purposes.

I famously said when this movie came out that being a time traveler made it exceptionally easy to cheat on your wife. “Where were you last night?” “Oh, uh…. I was… doing that time travel thing. Travelin’ away. Fifty years ago, I think! Just got back to the present a few minutes ago. Sorry! I’d have called you, but, you know. Time travel.”

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “When Henry DeTamble meets Clare Abshire in a Chicago library they both understand that he is a time traveller, but she she knows much more than this about him as he has not yet been to the times and places where they have met before. He falls in love with her, as she has already with him, but his continuing unavoidable absences time travelling - and then returning with increasing knowledge of their future - makes things ever more difficult for Clare.”

Here is a video inspired by this plot summary:

What I thought about the movie/How I, John Krizel, related to the movie: I guess it wasn’t completely, totally objectionable. But a lot of it was pretty objectionable. I mean, it’s got Rachel McAdams, so it can’t be all bad. (She is increasingly my favorite lady who exists.) But most of the other stuff is either pretty bad or pretty nonsensical or pretty creepy or occasionally all three.

First of all, I don’t know about how the book treats the characters, but it’s weird that the title of the movie is The Time Traveler’s Wife and not The Time Traveler And The Girl He Stalks Who Eventually Becomes His Wife But Mainly The Time Traveler. We see pretty much everything through his eyes, and while we understand her weird bind (being in love with someone so unreliable, etc.), we really don’t spend all that much time with her. And that’s a problem: not only because of how hot she is, but also because of how creepy Eric Bana’s character is. Maybe this is partially the acting (I really don’t think he does a very good job in this movie at all), but I think the character, by his very nature, is kind of off-putting. I’ll get to that.

So he can time travel. He finds this out as a kid when he time travels out of the car that is about to be smacked by a huge truck, killing his mom. Confused and naked, he finds himself witnessing the accident, but then finds the older version of himself there comforting him. The idea is that his time traveling is pretty much random, but major events in his life have a kind of gravitational force, pulling him toward them when he’s time traveling and such. OK. I can deal with that. The rules of his time traveling are generally made clear, and with a few exceptions (i.e., The Terminator rule, wherein he always ends up naked after traveling, which just strikes me as a lazy way to get more of a look at Bana’s hot bod), the logistics didn’t bother me too much.

He grows up to be a librarian in Chicago, and one day Rachel McAdams shows up. She she totally recognizes him, and he seems a bit baffled by this, which bothered me. He’s a time traveler! Doesn’t he get that weird shit is going to happen to him, like, on the regular? I bet the number of people who recognize him even though he doesn’t remember meeting them is staggering. “Oh hey you were that guy who just appeared out of nowhere in my yard stark naked that time!” “Nope, doesn’t ring a bell.” So she she explains that an older version of him used to come visit her when she was six.

Now I know what you’re thinking. That sounds really creepy, right? Well see, what you have to realize about this scenario is YES IT IS CREEPY. IT’S SO CREEPY. ARE YOU KIDDING ME. The first time we see him do this he’s HIDING NAKED IN A BUSH, asking her to bring him clothes and telling her not to tell her mom. And then he says that she has to promise not to tell him how they met. WHAT KIND OF LESSON IS THIS TEACHING SIX-YEAR-OLD VIEWERS OF THIS FILM.

What’s possibly weirder is how DTF she is in the present day, especially in light of how shadily they met. She reallllllly wants on him, and being Rachel McAdams, she gets her way. He wants to know more about why he ends up stalking the six-year-old version of her. (How cool is that?) So he goes to her room and reads her diary! But it’s OK. Something about her needing to know when to bring him clothes or something. Real shady.

And so in no time they’re going to get married. Again, we don’t really learn a lot about her in this movie. Which is fine, she’s only the title character and everything. She’s got an awesome friend played by audience surrogate Ron Livingston, often hilariously baffled at the time traveling. Classic Livingston. And her family is rich and has a big house and her dad likes hunting (FORESHADOWING).

The wedding scene is fairly romantic. He disappears (cold feet? Oh wait no it’s because he travels through time uncontrollably) but then an older version of himself shows up to step in. Handy! And then the younger him comes back for the reception, but disappears as they’re jumping on their marriage bed (not a euphemism) before consummating the thing. Sad. You get a sense of how lame it will be to be married to a time traveler, which I guess is really the only point of the movie. We’ll expand on that later.

Remember how earlier I said that most of the time the time traveling stuff didn’t bother me that much? Well I’d forgotten about this: he goes to the future to find out the lottery numbers and then comes back and BUYS A TICKET AND THEY WIN FIVE MILLION DOLLARS. First of all, he’s said that he can’t change the past, which is why he couldn’t prevent his mother from dying. Second of all, are we supposed to root for him after this? That’s cheating, McAdams says, and even if she weren’t the most beautiful person on planet Earth I’d agree with her! What’s he gonna do next, steal the sports almanac and give it to young Biff? I suspect the main reason for the lottery thing is so that they can just sit and mope around for the rest of the movie and the audience won’t ask, hey shouldn’t these people have jobs?

She gets pregnant, but then miscarries. At this point in the movie, FOTB Micah Lubens jokingly suggested that the fetus might have time traveled away from the womb. We all had a good laugh about it. AND THEN IT TURNED OUT THAT THAT’S WHAT WAS HAPPENING. WHAT. Is it sad? Well kind of, but we were also laughing a lot, because that's really all you can do when you're watching a movie about time-traveling fetuses. So then a scientist played by Ned Ryerson (BING!) tries to help them, and eventually she gets pregnant by a younger version of Bana who time travels forward (even though I thought that was impossible, but apparently it’s just difficult?) and she has a kid, who can also time travel. Genetics! At this point, FOTB Evan Chiacchiaro made the best comment of the movie: “Wait, he can never hold her!” That might be the saddest part of the movie right there.

(SPOILERS, I guess? I already spoiled some things earlier, maybe. Whatever.) Bana time travels forward to meet her when she’s ten, and she tells him that he dies when she’s five, and then she turns five in real life and there is really no dramatic tension at all during this part of the movie. The plot gets needlessly complicated in order to try and manufacture tension, but it doesn’t work. We know that there is no doubt about him dying, it’s just a matter of when and how. (He gets shot by his father-in-law, because he time travels to a spot right in front of a deer while the guy is hunting. Inconvenient!)

And then the ending is horrible. We flash forward to when the kid is nine years old, and Bana shows up in the meadow where he used to stalk the six-year-old version of his wife. She calls for McAdams, who comes running. They chat. She says, why didn’t you tell me when you were coming (when he was alive) so I could’ve waited. He says, I didn’t want you to wait. He can only stay for a few seconds, so they embrace and then he disappears. And that's the end of the movie. 

Here is why this is horrible. He may tell her not to wait for him, but by not letting her know exactly where and when he will return (which he must know, at some point during his actual life), he is pretty much forcing her to wait for him, or at least to never let go of the past. And it’s strongly implied that this is what’s going to happen (apparently it’s what happens at the end of the book). She’ll never meet another guy, she’ll never move on, she’ll always just be there, waiting for this time-traveling pervert to show up and say hi for like twenty seconds. Ughhhhhhh.

How I felt after the movie ended: While the ending did anger me, it wasn’t out of touch with the rest of the movie. And obviously that’s the biggest problem of all. McAdams even says as much at one point in the movie, and the audience/Bana has no real response. She says, “I never had a choice.” I.e., he took hold of this girl from when she was six years old, enraptured her, put all these grand ideas in her head, and then set her down this inexorable path toward unhappiness. And she really does spend a lot of her time being upset, and rightly so: he disappears out of nowhere, he makes her miscarry like eight times, he can't hold the baby, etc. That’s not a healthy marriage!

There are times during the movie when she gets mad at him, and while my initial impulse was to say that that was as irrational as getting mad at someone for breathing or coughing or anything else that’s involuntary, I realize now that she is definitely entitled to be mad at him for the whole thing. She’s like a child actor whose parents make them audition for things since they were infants. That’s why all those kids end up being so screwed up. They essentially have no free will. And McAdams is screwed up. She has to be, in order to make the choice that the movie implies that she will make at the end.

Now I know people who would argue that this is a romantic ending, that waiting your whole life for someone who may never reappear is the essence of what love means. But I disagree. Deciding to fall in love with someone is the biggest thing, the most exciting, selfless, extraordinary thing, that a person can do on this planet. It’s the reason we’re here. But she didn’t decide. She was coerced, predestined to live this life of pain and torment and uncertainty, by this man (who, side note, the movie does not even come close to convincing us is worthy of her ardor). She was emotionally imprisoned, and, even worse, it is an imprisonment that does not even end with his death. And I know it’s supposed to be romantic, that she is still in his thrall and will wait for him forever, even if she only gets to see him for a moment, because that’s how much she loves him. But think about what her life will be like for more than two seconds and then try to tell me it’s romantic. It would be terrible. It would be unfair and unequal and unkind, and love is not supposed to be any of those three things. You know I’m very much in favor of romance, but my idea of romance also includes leaving people alone after I’m dead.


  1. I expected to play this video and watch you say "I really don't know how to talk to girls"

  2. the book is actually pretty decent, i really liked the audio version. the chapters switch perspectives between him and the wife, and the diary thing is way more clever. that's why i refused to watch the movie.

    it's too bad the movie cut the part about when he was a teenager and he'd visit himself as a a slightly different aged teenager and they'd have gay sex with each other, but it's not gay because technically that's masturbation.