Monday 24 August 2009

32: Review - The Time Traveler's Wife

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

WARNING: WILL contain spoilers.

The Time Traveler's Wife
(2009, 107 mins,Dir. Robert Schwentke)

Put Simply: Why does the American spelling of Traveler only have one L?
Stars: Eric Bana, Rachel McAdams, Ned Ryerson out of Groundhog Day.

What a remarkable film. I really wasn't expecting a lot out of it. The trailer looked interesting, but after that, it seemed to be marketed as a chick-flick. Which it's not really.

Chick-flicks are things like The Ugly Truth, The Proposal and ...Shopaholic. The thing (for me) which signifies a chick-flick is watching the trailer for a formulaic romantic comedy, and thinking that the main roles are filled by actors and actresses who, frankly, should know better at this stage in their careers. The Time Traveler's Wife doesn't fall into this category at all. It's a beautifully told, well acted story.

The film follows Henry, a man who is afflicted with unpredictable, uncontrollable time-travelling fits, where he jumps to different times within his lifeline. He gets a 'warning shot' about five seconds before he's going to go, and also on the return trip, but other than that, it could happen at any time. He also loses his clothes when he jumps. So far, it sounds like a mashup of Quantum Leap and Terminator, right? It's probably close to Quantum Leap in that he jumps distance as well as time. Although the only life he's got to 'put right' is his own.

It should be said that I do love a bit of time-travel in a movie, the less orthodox the better. And although I went in with an open mind, my jaw hung open as in the first five minutes of the film, our hero breaks just about every rule of time-travel that's in the handbook. We see him:
• Talk to his younger self
Introduce himself to his younger self
Physically touch his younger self
• Tell his younger self about the future

Other than whipping his old chap out, I don't think there's anything else he could have done to try and fuck up the space-time continuum good-and-proper. In fact, Henry's regard of the continuum seems to be that of a child with a shatter-proof ruler; he doesn't use it as any kind of measure, he just tries his best to break it. Anyway, it doesn't seem to matter and reality doesn't cave in on itself. Further similar anomalies crop up later in the film, but by then we just kind of accept it.

The story is surprisingly linear for a film about time-travel. Once we establish that he's interacting with his own life, I expected to see more 'circular scenes' where we see the jumps happening from both points of view. But when Henry appears to his child-self, we only see that at the beginning of the film (when Henry is a child, so we don't get to know at what point as an adult he makes that jump back. Henry explains in the film that he gets drawn back to the same places ("it's like gravity"), namely the meadow where he meets his future wife Clare, although it appears he always jumps to a different time, otherwise he'd keep bumping into his time-travelling self as well as his 'static' self, wouldn't he?

That being said, there are a pleasing number of 'circular references' where information is passed through the timeline causing events to happen (the name of the geneticist, the dates Henry will travel back to, etc). Henry eventually finds a doctor to diagnose the source of the trouble, and although it seems to be genetic, we don't learn why he's the first in his bloodline to be affected. The book may well expand on this, apparently it's been trimmed heavily on the road to filmdom.

So, the years pass and we see Clare (the film's about her, remember?) getting understandably (and yet inexplicably) irritated at her husband's chronological narcolepsy. What's she moaning about? She knew what she was getting into, surely? Don't marry an alligator then whine when it bites you.

• On a lighter (if creepier) note: Does anyone else find it a bit sinister that Henry's used his gift of time-travel to essentially groom a child? Even Henry says in the film that he doesn't understand why a little girl, alone in a meadow, wasn't freaked out when a naked man appeared in the bushes and knew about her and her family. But that doesn't make it morally justified, surely? Dirty old man :p

• It's a laboured point in the film that when Henry jumps, he doesn't take his clothes with him. He explains that he's got pretty good a 'acquiring' clothes at the other end of each jump, and while he returns roughly to the same spot, it's not the exact spot. The Library is a good example where his clothes are there for him to put back on once he's returned, but what if he jumps while he's walking in the street? He's going to lose those clothes, they won't be there for him later. So why isn't he walking around everywhere in a pair of Primark summer shorts and flip-flops? He must spend a bloody fortune in replacing his lost clothes.

• When Henry takes advantage of his skills and memorises the lottery numbers, was I the only person thinking "...that hasn't only just occurred to you, has it?" Inconvenient or not, if I was him I'd be living like Hayden Christensen at the start of Jumper.

Anyhow, the movie is a great love story, not only about Clare and Henry, but also their daughter Alba. The end of the movie had me filling up a little (although not sobbing like others in the cinema), although it's not difficult to make me cry with a film. The Muppet's Christmas Carol does it every time. Fuck it, I'm in touch with my emotional side.

Overall: I really enjoyed this. Nicely shot, superbly acted (well, maybe apart from young-young Alba) and very engaging. Not sure how much I'll get out of repeated viewings (which is unusual for a time-travel film), but I don't think that matters too much. If you feel nothing at the end of this film, you have no soul.

I reckon: 8/10

If you liked The Jacket (Adrian Brody, Keira Knightly), you'll like this. If you enjoyed this but haven't seen The Jacket, go down to Blockbuster and get that out.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organizations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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