It’s deceptively easy to give a short synopsis for The Time Traveler’s Wife. Henry (Eric Bana) has a condition that allows him to travel through time and space, sans clothing. Typically, he ends up somewhere only briefly, but somehow he is able to build an relationship with Claire (Rachel McAdams). That’s about all there is to it; no legitimate friction from an opposing rival and no real character development.
Mixing a sci-fi element may detour many fans of this genre. Time travel doesn’t typically appeal to housewives as much as it appeals to their sons. It’s more of a fantasy element the way it’s used here. For the movie to represent the real world, and all of a sudden claim that one man has been born with this condition, I have to question the credibility. When time travel arises in films, it should be a product of science or even magic; not coincidence. In a movie like X-Men, at least there is an array of others with extraordinary abilities, enough so that the subtext is a morality play on discrimination. Superman, being a non-human, has a better explanation than what is provided for Henry.
The poor guy shouldn’t be allowed to drive a car, yet we see him drive Claire in an SUV. Had he vanished, she could have died. He has special needs that are not touched on, exposing the narrow scope of these characters since his wellbeing is only confined to a scene and not of something beyond it. Starr Wars actually has an excellent termite art moment where Luke briefly plays with a miniature spaceship; a scene that effectively expands on the world of the film by providing evidence that Luke does something away from the camera. Henry needs rules. How he manages to secure a wallet or a wedding ring (possessions real people care about) is a mystery to us.
Both Henry and Claire are flat as a pancake. One travels time, the other loves him and occasionally does some kind of vague art. Actually her artwork provides this summer’s clearest continuity mishap. Look how it shifts during the scene where she appears to be framing something while arguing with Henry in her shop. The few seconds spent on her artwork are the only hints at her character’s identity. McAdams does little else to make Claire real. She speaks at a loud whisper, never putting effort behind crying or yelling. Bana has similar problems. It’s as though this is a family of Zen practitioners.
The Time Traveler’s Wife is held back by having a largely unexplored concept. Henry talks about trying to change the past, but we never see him put forth the effort. It doesn’t take long to see the paradoxes created. He can’t control when he leaves, but he does it incredibly often. He manages to go to places of significance, again uncontrollably. Claire comes to him years later because he was her childhood friend, and of course he has no idea about these events. This serves as a nice way to explain how he could plan a meeting with her, but opens up a new bag of paradoxes. Also makes me wonder if it should be titled “The Time Traveling Pedophile” as his meetings with the youngest version of Claire are the only reason she is crazy for him in the future. There is so much untapped potential in a concept that is hindered by being based on a novel. It’s just not time well spent. **