The Time Traveler’s Wife

August 22, 2009

thetimetravelerswifepic2“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.


Today is one of those days. And it’s been a bit like that since I went to see Synecdoche, New York last… what day was it? Last week. But when? Oh, yes, Wednesday. I put a plea out on Twitter for a “follower” to meet me at the cinema; any follower; then we could do the Orange Wednesday thing. Go before 5pm, meet a friend who only has to pretend to be a friend (they can sit as far away from me as they choose once in the cinema) and suddenly we see a film for £3. It’s a bargain. But nobody showed. I’m guessing my Twitter followers thought I was joking… or are only pretending to follow me thinking it makes me feel better. Well, it does. Even when I know you are only pretending. I am happy to have pretend followers where even if you are real followers you are still only following me in pretend because it is Twitter and it’s not real and it will fade and die only to be replaced by MindPamphlet or YouBully.

I can’t write about Synecdoche, New York. Not yet. Maybe never. I don’t know what to say and no one is whispering in my ear. I wish they were. It’s a great film and maybe the saddest film I’ve ever seen and I am going to go and see it again tomorrow. It is a film though that could send me into a deep state of inertia. Sometimes somethings are so true that I truly don’t know what to do next.

If you are thinking of seeing it, see what you think of this; the Minister in the play within the film gives his sermon:

“Everything is more complicated than you think. You only see a tenth of what is true. There are a million little strings attached to every choice you make; you can destroy your life every time you choose. But maybe you won’t know for twenty years. And you’ll never ever trace it to its source. And you only get one chance to play it out. Just try and figure out your own divorce. And they say there is no fate, but there is: it’s what you create. Even though the world goes on for eons and eons, you are here for a fraction of a fraction of a second. Most of your time is spent being dead or not yet born. But while alive, you wait in vain, wasting years, for a phone call or a letter or a look from someone or something to make it all right. And it never comes or it seems to but doesn’t really. And so you spend your time in vague regret or vaguer hope for something good to come along. Something to make you feel connected, to make you feel whole, to make you feel loved. And the truth is I’m so angry and the truth is I’m so fucking sad, and the truth is I’ve been so fucking hurt for so fucking long and for just as long have been pretending I’m OK, just to get along, just for, I don’t know why, maybe because no one wants to hear about my misery, because they have their own, and their own is too overwhelming to allow them to listen to or care about mine. Well, fuck everybody. Amen.”

Or this, from the character Millicent Weems:

“What was once before you – an exciting, mysterious future – is now behind you. Lived; understood; disappointing. You realize you are not special. You have struggled into existence, and are now slipping silently out of it. This is everyone’s experience. Every single one. The specifics hardly matter. Everyone’s everyone.”

You’ll know if this appeals to you or not. And don’t be down, there are some laughs along the way too. Just like in life.

I hope Charlie Kaufman doesn’t mind me pinching bits from his film for my blog. I do it with the best of intentions. And though I will not claim to be his biggest fan or his number 1 fan I do claim my place as fan number 5,432,679.

And today I finished “My Fault” by Billy Childish. If you fancy, there is a good interview with him here. And this too leaves me unable to write. I’d love to write a review of this book telling you how great it is and how you should read it, but I just don’t have the will, the energy, or the little voice whispering in my ear. But do read it. Or just read the interview in the link and look at his paintings.

Ok, let’s end on a summery pic.

mummified frog

mummified frog

Oh, and if this post is a little down, I’m blaming the MP’s.

One of my recurring dreams finds me in a big city. It’s New York, but no New York that really exists. And in the dream I am in the city and also on it. I’m low down, where the pipes and the steam and the bricks are, looking up at bridges and freeways in the sun. But at the same time I’m on the bridges and freeways, riding over the city, looking down on the chaos. The city is the biggest city I have ever seen. And I’m so small in it, but I can also contain it. It’s a mess and it’s clean; it’s sunny and shady; it’s big and it’s small.

And then along comes the poster for Synecdoche, New York and it’s the nearest thing I have ever seen to my dreams.


I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am about this movie. It came out in America last October. However, waiting, passing time, may be appropriate for something like this. It’s by Charlie kaufman, the writer of, among other things, Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. This is his first film as writer and director. And look at the cast; Philip Seymour Hoffman and a big bunch of great women. And a soundtrack by Jon Brion, the musical master behind Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I Heart Huckabees. it’s going to take me a lifetime to realise just how good this film is.

Laura Barton interviewed Charlie kaufman for the Guardian magazine, and, if it is ok for me to pinch some of the stuff he said… well, I don’t know if it’s ok… I’m going to do it anyway. Look, if it causes problems. They’re his words, and they were spoken to Laura Barton. She did the work, he did the speaking, I’m just doing the copying.

“I was trying to present a life, with it’s moments of nothing”, he says softly. “There is something that happens to people when they get old, which is that they get sidelined. There isn’t a big, dramatic crescendo and then their life is over. They’re forced out of their work, the people in their lives die, they lose their place in the world, people don’t take them seriously, and then they just continue to live. And what is that? What does that feel like? I wanted to try to be truthful about that and express something about what I think is a really sad human condition.”

And now, to get yourself in the mood, to get ready to go and see this film, have a listen to this. I should warn you though, you may find it a little sad.