Movie Review: The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009)


I had been wanting to watch the big screen adaptation of Audrey Niffenegger’s bestseller The Time Traveler’s Wife ever since I heard it was being made (it was actually optioned by Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt before the novel was even published).

It is such a beautiful book, taking a seemingly ridiculous, science-fictionesque premise to deliver a tragic love story that somehow works.  One of those rare stories that made the outrageous feel normal because the characters and what they felt for each other was so painfully real.

I’m glad to say that the film version, while not perfect by any means, is very good, capturing the essence of the relationship between Henry DeTamble (Eric Bana), a man with a genetic disorder that causes him to unintentionally and periodically time travel, and Claire Abshire (Rachel McAdams), the girl he was destined to fall in love with.

Of course, the success of a movie like this depends largely on the performances of the leads.  When I first heard that Eric Bana was cast as Henry, I was sceptical because he didn’t appear to fit the novel’s description.  But as I watched him, it became clear to me that he was spot on for the role.  He captures Henry’s love, pain and fear so well in a wonderfully controlled performance.  On the other hand, it doesn’t matter who Rachel McAdams plays.  She is so sweet, beautiful and classy that it’s not hard to believe anyone will fall madly in love with her.

However, a person’s enjoyment of the movie may well depend on how much they can accept the time travelling premise.  If you find the idea stupid, then it’s unlikely you’ll give the film much of a chance.  I think it’s quite possible for someone, especially if they haven’t read the book, to get a bit confused with all the travelling back and forth through time.  It’s easy to put up your hands and say ‘this is all too silly’ and let it overshadow the central love story.  On the other hand, if you can overlook some of the unexplained holes in the logic and just accept the premise (a pre-requisite for sci-fi films), then you may find yourself absorbed in Henry and Claire’s complex relationship.  For me personally, it was the type of film where the flaws become easier to forgive because it knows how to tug the heart strings.

Keeping in mind that the novel is 546 pages and spans a lifetime, the film adaptation is surprisingly short, clocking in at only 108 minutes.  This naturally means that the film lacks the full emotional depth of the novel (few films can match the novel in that regard anyway).  In condensing the book to fit the screen, characters were cut, roles were reduced and subplots were canned.  Nevertheless, I believe this actually worked in the film’s favour rather than against it.  It kept the focus solely on Claire and Henry’s relationship, and prevented the story from dragging on too long, which it did start to feel towards the final quarter.  It would have been very easy to make this a 2 hour 45 minute-plus movie, but I applaud the restraint from director Robert Schwentke (Flightplan) in keeping the running time manageable.  Trying to be truthful to the source material while keeping the film from being overlong can be a tough balance, but for the most part I think Schwentke and screenwriters Jeremy Leven (The Notebook) and Bruce Joel Rubin (Ghost) did a decent job in the circumstances.

Perhaps I am a little biased because I’m a big fan of the two leads, but I believe  The Time Traveler’s Wife is a solid adaptation of a novel that was extremely difficult to adapt.  Those who are fans of the novel will likely either love it or hate it.  As for newcomers to this story, I’m not sure, but judging from the number of red, watery eyes I witnessed stepping out of the cinema (including my wife’s), my guess is that more people than not will be moved by it.

4 out of 5 stars!

[PS: I was surprised that the film relied mostly on make-up and not technology to show the aging process (which, after Benjamin Button, we know can do an extraordinary job).  Unfortunately this means the physical transformations of the characters are not as pronounced as they could have been.]

6 thoughts on “Movie Review: The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009)”

  1. I liked the movie alot and I think it had to do with the leads (specially Rachel) and everything that was edited out of the book.

    So you loved the book? Everyone I’ve come across hates it; I mean really hate the book. My roommate actually shoved a copy of it into my hands beginning me to read it so that I can see how awful it is (after I told her I liked the movie). Another fellow blogger posted about reading a “bad” book once in a while just because. But the questions is: what exactly is a bad book? for every hater there’s someone who also loved it, take “Twilight” for example or any “Dan Brown.” So who guess to call out a bad book vs a good book? I for example disliked “The Lovely Bones” and there’s tons of people who loved it.

    At this point, I’m incline to give the book a read just to see what I make of it.

    1. Well, I wouldn’t say ‘loved’ but I am a fan because I thought it was a special story and very memorable – the type of story you would remember a few years down the track. The novel is a bit of an ‘organised’ structural mess, with two points of view and going back and forth through time which can get very confusing. My wife (then girlfriend) was the one that started reading the book (on a recommendation from a friend) but she got sick of it and said it was boring. So I took over and read it fairly quickly, though I must say it did take a while to get into it, and it wasn’t until the latter half that things started falling into place. Like the movie, if you believe in the characters and the love story, then all the negative aspects of the book become much easier to forgive and forget. That was the case for me.

      As for ‘The Lovely Bones’, I was a little bit let down because of all the glowing reviews, but on the whole I thought it was pretty good, though not as memorable as ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’. It has that same kind of regret and yearning and helplessness though which makes it appealing to the masses.

      I agree that there are so many ways to view a book as good or bad. I like the Dan Brown stuff because I find it (well at least some of it) exciting, and he knows how to make the reader turn the page. With Twilight (only read the first one), not so much…I didn’t ‘get’ the love story like the millions of teenage girls around the world. I think it’s fine to express your own opinion as long as it doesn’t imply that people who don’t agree with you are stupid or uneducated or tasteless.

  2. dude I hope you don’t think I was implying you were stupid, uneducated or tasteless. And I completely agree with your point; more often than not, people chide others for not liking what the like or for liking what they consider trash. Just another flaw in god’s or evolution’s design of men.

    I wanted to let you know though, I changed the character named after you in *black tide* and you (well the fictional you) are sort of very important now. I’ll keep you posted.

    1. dude, of course not! and I agree with you completely. I think it’s fine to say a particular book or author sucks, but that doesn’t give people the right to criticise people who read those books from those authors.

      cool – good to know I’m important! keep me in the loop!

  3. Bad book because the author had another, hidden agenda. She camouflages this as a love story but it is really an accusation of child abuse–she was exposed to adult sexuality, clearly she feels it was abuse. And this book is the result of evading the court/family agreement not to reveal. Wonder how much $$ she got to agree?

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