The Time Traveler's Wife

It may be very silly, but Robert Schwentke's farcical spin on time travelling is an interesting ride.



On publication in 2003, Audrey Niffenegger's fantasy romance The Time Traveler's Wife became a US bestselling smash and global book club swoon, and travelling forward in time to 2009, it now becomes an outrageously daft, but occasionally entertaining Hollywood movie, and I have to admit the emphasis on imagination and adventure rather than hankie-wringing weepiness is a relief. It also has an intense Americanness that sees no reason for any more than one "l" in the title. Unlike the unspeakable Benjamin Button, the dire time-slip drama starring Brad Pitt, which this film faintly resembles, and those other buttery heartwarmers such as The Notebook, The Lake House and Message in a Bottle, you're often laughing with

Of course, like every time-travel story I have ever known, from HG Wells's The Time Machine to Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, the time travel plot doesn't make sense. What happens when the forward-moving present encroaches on the foreseen, previously visited or indeed altered future? Shouldn't we feel the "join", like a train jolting over points? Yet the moderate success of this film lies in persuading you, just about, not to notice those holes in the time-space-logic continuum.

Eric Bana plays Henry, an unshaven and agonised-looking guy who works in a Chicago library. Henry has a strange disorder, which means that he will unpredictably succumb to a epileptic-type fit during which he will vanish, and then travel backwards or forwards in time or space, usually only for a few hours. He crash-lands in this alien time zone, buck naked, like Arnold Schwarzenegger's time-travelling robot in the first Terminator movie, and has to forage for clothing as best he can. But Henry doesn't go far; he doesn't whoosh back to face down a T-Rex, or wind up nude in front of an astonished Henry VIII. (I have, incidentally, happy memories of the two travellers in Irwin Allen's 60s TV show The Time Tunnel, who would travel far and wide, for instance tumbling down on to an elegant cruise-ship and rather enjoying themselves, before they notice that the lifebelts are marked – gulp! – RMS Titanic.)

No, Henry's destiny is to visit only those times and places of particular importance to him. And he repeatedly visits a little girl 20 or so years ago – while he is stark naked, you remember. He cowers humorously in bushes on her daddy's lavish country estate, and begs her to go and get her, ahem, daddy's clothes for him to wear. This scenario – unwholesome on so many levels – is repeated on various occasions as Clare blossoms into a comely young woman, played by the demure and not-too-sexy Rachel McAdams. Any dodgy or paedo connotations are cancelled, apparently, by the fact that this is the man she is destined to marry and so she does. For his part, Henry endures with stoic good humour an overbearing father-in-law with robustly conservative opinions and a love of hunting. But he carries on time-travelling, sometimes leaving his wife wildly in the lurch, zipping off into the future, meeting his only child and seeing his own all-too-imminent end.

It is very silly and of course cannot submit to close inspection. Making brief visits to an unalterable past is one thing, but how about that pesky butterfly effect? Why doesn't he recognise Clare on their first meeting in the "present" – and why can't he "remember" his future journeys into the past?

Distracting you from these nagging pedantries is a startlingly farcical plot with some bizarre touches. The film tackles head-on the "lottery" issue – why not use your time-travel powers to get very, very rich? Henry and Claire do permit themselves one relatively modest flutter to buy a handsome house with a "studio" for Claire's artistic pursuits. (There is a weird bit of ripped-up newspaper over the fireplace in one shot – perhaps one of her own works, unsold for some reason.) Henry gets a vasectomy because he doesn't want children to inherit his genetic time-travel curse, but Claire still wants kids, so she has sex with a pre-vasectomy Henry, who has zipped forward from a time before he had the snip! Why, the cheeky yet uxurious minx! There are many sci-fi-Feydeau moments like these, and Henry's cause of death is in fact rather wittily invented: not at all the po-faced tragedy I was expecting.

Does the time travel work as a metaphor for our memories of the past and expectations of the future? Well … sort of. But profound meditations on time are not the point. Proust it ain't. It's more about romantic musing on whether we are always destined to meet The One, and there are some unintentional revelations about whether meeting The One is like travelling back in time to Daddy's warm and comforting embrace.

I'm inclined to say that this does not equal Ashton Kutcher's bold and underrated drama The Butterfly Effect. In the end, the tasty nuggets of fun drown in all the soupy seriousness, but this time travel is sometimes an interesting ride.

daft: głupi

flutter: podniecenie, niepokój

forage: poszukiwać, szperać

hankie-wringing: wyciskający łzy

lavish: luksusowy, ogromny

robustly: mocno; rubasznie

swoon: omdlenie

vasectomy: wasektomia, podwiązanie nasieniowodów

whoosh: śmigać

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