Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Time Traveler's Wife

THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE        B                     
USA  (107 mi)  2009  d:  Robert Schwentke

While Chicago was all abuzz about Johnny Depp and Christian Bale being in town making Michael Mann’s PUBLIC ENEMIES (2009), this film quietly goes about its business of featuring some of the best Chicago locations since John Hughes shot films in the area.  Secondly, Florian Ballhaus, son of noted Fassbinder and Scorsese cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, seems to be having a whale of a good time behind the camera, which swoops down hallways and flows through various rooms with an unabashed relish as it enthusiastically follows the paths of various characters.  The film does an excellent job of weaving this time traveling story into a coherent whole as it is chock full of interruptions that take us through different time periods.  But the film gets right to it from the outset, when in no time a young boy scared out of his wits from a car crash stands alone on the side of the highway visited abruptly by an older version of himself who tells him not to worry.  Now that’s an opening!  Not sure when the idea of time traveler’s being naked came into vogue, but they’re all the rage now.  Perhaps Arnold Schwarzenegger in the original TERMINATOR (1984), where much of the humor was showing Arnold naked and then finding a way to put some clothes on.  Here as well, each of the moments where he finds himself suddenly arriving from another time period are rather humorous, as he’s always desperately trying to find clothes.  Sometimes it’s done with sound cues alone, as we hear in the background “Somebody stole my wallet” as he coolly hops on a Ravenswood train, wallet in hand, or at one point he arrives in the middle of a natural museum exhibit where all the children gleefully point to the naked man.  Unfortunately his time traveling is involuntary so he is helpless and can’t stop himself from disappearing at a moment’s notice or from arriving stark naked, and usually starving, broke, and in trouble from another time span.  However he can predict the future, because he's already been there.  Again, not sure what the rules are for what you can and cannot mention about the future, but this dilemma was woven into the fabric of the movie. 

Easily some of the best scenes are early on when Henry, a naked adult time traveler (Eric Bana) from the future comes to visit a charming 6-year old girl (Brooklyn Proulx) named Clare, The Time Travellers Wife :: Young Clare Scene YouTube (3:15), where without an ounce of prurient possibilities spends the day playing and telling her magnificent stories, and then explains in exact detail when he’ll be arriving again.  She, of course, becomes fascinated and puts clothes out for him when he arrives and starts making entries in her diary as if this is the coolest experience in the world.  And, of course, it is, much like getting visits from Santa Claus.  That’s the whole thrill of time traveling, the anticipation of wondering what will happen in another time and place.  The same thrill awaits someone waiting patiently for a visitor from a different time period, as what new information will they bring?  It’s curious that they meet so young, and that they eventually strike up a loving and healthy near same age relationship worthy of marriage, but he changes ages when he travels, shown humorously at his own wedding.  There’s an interesting turn of events when 20-year old Clare (Rachel McAdams) meets 28-year old Henry at the Newberry Library in Chicago, but he has never seen her before, yet she has known him almost her entire life and claims they’ve been waiting a long time for this first dinner date.  It’s only afterwards that he goes back to visit her in her childhood.  So the film does a good job playing with these expectations and the strange time chronology.  Both McAdams and Bana are excellent and are onscreen the entire film wrapped in an agonizing tenderness, but their appeal is mostly because they’re intelligent adults who insist upon their own identities and actually have adult conversations together about love, their own failings, and loss.  Adapted from Audrey Niffenegger’s novel, the book was a metaphor for the on again off again state of failed relationships, especially the tendency for men exiting relationships abruptly, but the movie acknowledges these difficulties while accentuating the staying power of love. 

In the book, young Clare lives in South Haven, Michigan, while in the movie, the entire state apparently is her back yard, as no one has ever had a back yard so endlessly vast as this child, who plays alone completely unattended in the green fields that go on for miles, the site for so many of their early visits.  When Clare and Henry do finally get married at her parent’s lavish estate, with all their family and friends in attendance, he inexplicably disappears several times, only to return in various states of duress (completely clothed, by the way) from other time periods, arriving at the altar finally as a suddenly older, graying around the temples, and unshaven version.  It must be said, the Mychael Danna wedding band cover version of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” The Time Traveller's Wife - First Dance YouTube (2:30) was the sappiest version ever heard, but an apt choice.  Later, a comfortably married Clare wants to have a baby, but she keeps losing them unexpectedly, which is causing a great deal of friction between the two, as Henry doesn’t wish to be the cause of someone else having his extreme genetic condition, so he gets a vasectomy, only to time travel back to an 18-year old Clare who at that moment receives his first kiss.  In the book version, Clare is perfectly happy to hear these events recounted later in life, but in the movie version she erupts in anger at him for taking advantage of her in that situation, manipulating her and not allowing her freedom of choice, all under the façade of fate, that it has been predetermined.  This is ultimately the thrust of the movie, as in the throes of love, neither one has control over their own free will, as he disappears at a moment’s notice against his will while she is forced to wait indefinitely, never knowing when or if he’ll ever return, requiring a trust factor that is otherworldly.  In loving him, she literally takes on the role of Penelope who had to wait an entire decade for the return of her adventurous Odysseus, as in both instances, they spend their entire lives continually awaiting their lover’s return.  For those expecting a sci-fi time traveling story, this one has little sci-fi and is all about the lengths one is willing to go for love.  The film version takes some liberties with the end, altering the dark and heartbreaking ending with something a little more hopeful.  It’s still a weeper.   

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