The Time Traveler’s Wife
August 22, 2009
“You have to swallow it whole, or not at all” said The London Paper (leaving me to no longer wonder why it’s going out of business). They were talking about The Time traveler’s Wife, the film that’s getting some people worked up because an “l” has gone missing in another time zone. Others are worrying about the rules of time travel and hence the swallow it whole or not at all line. Me? I swallowed some of it, but there were also large chunks I wanted to just spit out.
I spent the first half hour worrying about Eric Bana. His whispered lines, his gruff voice, his constant troubled look. Even when he’s happy (like in this picture) he looks as if death is banging away inside his skull. Chopper, Hulk, Munich– all obsessed, troubled nutters. in Troy he played Hector; the name I’m giving to all of his demons. He also kept reminding me of someone else, and then it hit me. He’s Liam Neeson. He’s Darkman.
But who is Rachel McAdams? I saw her and liked her in Red Eye, but in this she’s just any old attractive Hollywood actress. In these kind of daft time travel romances it’s essential for us to fall in love with the performers. Otherwise why will we cry? We fall in love with them, we care, we realise that the sadness of their doomed romance is also the sadness of our own failed lives, and we cry and cry and cry. Then go home.
I didn’t want to be Bana and I didn’t fall in love with McAdams. It’s not their fault. They’re good looking, they’re good actors. But someone forgot to give them character. McAdams is Clare Abshire, an artist. And that’s it. Bana is Henry DeTamble, a librarian and troubled time traveler. And that’s that.
Sure, there’s other things to know. Henry’s dad is a violinist and a mess, because his wife, and Henry’s mum, died years ago. And that’s the explaining about it. Oh, and Clare’s dad is a hunter and a Republican. And this is how the film works. Republican, hunter = bad. Artist = good and sensitive. Librarian = troubled and lonely.
And just in case you haven’t got it yet- that these are lovely people, troubled people, finding troubled love- just wait and see what they pick for their first dance at the wedding. Only “Love will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division, played by a band who make Joy Division look like the Jonas Brothers.
Though the film is called The Time Traveler’s Wife it spends far more time being about the time traveler. He’s the one leaping around from time to time. He’s the one who forms the life of his wife. He meets her first when she is a young child. He’s in his thirties I guess. He turns up naked in a field where she is playing. And from then on he keeps visiting her, in this field; a grown man and a child. Interestingly, this isn’t as creepy as it sounds. Just fairly creepy.
And everything is set in place for a romance devoid of free will.
But it’s fun. It’s ok. it made me cry just a little bit. But, and I guess this is a fairly big but, not as much as that other daft time travelling romance The Lake House. That’s an anomaly. Let’s call it the Bullock Factor.
Two films that deal with time and love that I will see again and again and again are Synecdoche New York, a feelbad time-jumping film about love and death and free will (and the terror it brings) and a lovely feelgood time travelling romance, Time After Time.
Please see this one. It’s in the Top Ten list of films you need to see if you haven’t seen them. Malcolm McDowell plays H.G. Wells. David Warner plays Jack the Ripper. When Jack the Ripper is on the run in Victorian England he jumps into Wells’ time machine and transports himself to 1979 San Francisco. And so H.G. Wells goes after him. With me so far? And there Wells meets and falls in love with Amy Robbins (Mary Steenburgen… and if you’ve never fallen in love with her then get out of here now). But she’s doubtful about this weirdly dressed gentleman… oh, and she’s a feminist (which leads to a nice time-travelling trick later in the movie). So to prove that he is who he says he is, he takes her to an H.G. Wells museum and they clamber into the Time machine. He takes her forward a day or two and shows her a newspaper to prove it. And the headline? Well, that would be telling. Here’s a clue; they’ve not managed to catch Jack yet. See it now.