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Time Traveler's Wife, The

Entry updated 19 August 2019. Tagged: Film.

Film (2009). New Line Cinema presents a Plan B and Nick Weschler production. Directed by Robert Schwentke. Written by Bruce Joel Rubin, based on the novel The Time Traveler's Wife (2003) by Audrey Niffenegger. Cast includes Eric Bana, Philip Craig, Alex Ferris, Arliss Howard, Ron Livingston, Rachel McAdams, Hailey McCann, Tatum McCann, Jane McLean, Michelle Nolden, Brooklynn Proulx and Stephen Tobolowsky. 103 minutes. Colour.

A woman conducts a Time Out of Sequence relationship with a man whose genetic disorder causes him to Timeslip randomly to moments throughout his own lifespan.

"I'm a time traveller," Henry DeTamble (Bana) tells the very young Clare Abshire (Proulx) as he materializes next to her. "I come from the future and when I do, I don't get to bring my clothes," he says, reaching for a red picnic blanket with which to enshroud himself. The scene encapsulates some of the Equipoise of Fabulation and Time Travel that underpins Audrey Niffenegger's bestselling novel: it also highlights the concern some readers had about The Time Traveler's Wife's depiction of sexual imprinting in childhood, a theory which, in spite of any moral objection, informs schools of both Biology and Psychology, and which Niffenegger uses not only to illumine the motifs of her novel through descriptions of birds, butterflies and other fauna but also to consider the ongoing human impulse to taxonomize the "infinite diversity" of creation in museums, Libraries and other forms of Enlightenment institution. If this film adaptation of Niffenegger's book possesses any glaring error, it is in its failure to relay the intensity of its characters' appetites, both for one another [see Paranormal Romance in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] and for the endeavours of the arts and sciences to address the great mysteries of love, Sex and death through time.

No less interesting is the way in which the emotionality of characters' personal experiences of time relate, on the one hand, to interior issues of Memory and Identity and, on the other, to the industrialization of Time in society. "Clock time is our bank manager, tax collector, police inspector; this inner time is our wife," runs the epigraph from J B Priestley's Man and Time (1964) with which Niffenegger precedes her novel. Clare and Henry's consciousness of the time assigned them is intermediated by a swirl of births, deaths and marriages, and it is, perhaps, in its paradigmatic treatment of time that Niffenegger's novel declares itself to be most science-fictional. Diary entries and the relative ages of characters when encountering themselves or one another through time are crucial to the novel's unfolding logic of sense – the header Saturday, January 2, 1988, 4:03 a.m. / Sunday, June 16, 1968, 10:46 p.m. (Henry is 24, and 5) precedes the scene in the book in which Henry first encounters his older (and youngest) self, for instance, while Friday, September 23, 1977 (Henry is 36, Clare is 6) heads Henry and Clare's second meeting (a "date" in both senses of the word) in the tree-rimmed meadow depicted in the Cinema adaptation.

"In the book, time-travels and dates are so numerous that following and reconstructing Henry's personal time is arduous," notes Elisa Pezzotta in "Adapting time in Robert Schwentke's The Time Traveler's Wife" in the journal Cinergie, il cinema e le altre arti #9 (April 2016). "In the adaptation, which presents fewer time travels and relative temporal cues, understanding Henry's personal time seems easier ... special effects, camera movements, and mise en scène help viewers to distinguish among different times and spaces and to reconstruct the story more intuitively." Henry's death (at the hands of Clare's father) is narrated four times from four different points of view in the novel and generates the poetic image (of Henry bleeding to death) that holds the adaptation's figure-of-eight plot together. The Time Loop of Henry's life relays an existentialist argument about the driving necessity (and difficulty) of love in both the book and the film.

Nor is The Time Traveler's Wife as divorced from the vernacular of the SF Megatext as some commentators suggest: the epistemological affiliation of its Imaginary Science of "chrono-displacement" to the time-theories of J W Dunne (1875-1949) and to their prior dramatization in the works of J B Priestley (1894-1984) might easily be understood to qualify (rather than contradict) concepts of Time and Entropy in contemporary Physics. "Time [is] familiar and intimate," writes Carlo Rovelli in L'ordine del tempo (2017; trans The Order of Time 2018). "We are taken by it. The rush of seconds, hours, years that hurls us towards life then drags us towards nothingness." This agonized interiority of waiting is the signature note of Niffenegger's novel. Aristotle (384-322 BCE) argued that time was nothing more than the measurement of change, whereas Isaac Newton (1643-1727) argued for a form of time that passes regardless of any experience of it. "Naturally, we all know what time is; it is the most familiar thing of all," writes Edmund Husserl in Zur Phänomenologie des inneren Zeitbewußtseins (1893-1917) [1928 rev 1966 trans John Barnett Brough as On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time (1893-1917) 1981]. "But as soon as we attempt to give an account of time-consciousness, to put objective time and subjective time-consciousness into the proper relationship and to reach an understanding of how temporal objectivity – and therefore any individual objectivity whatever – can become constituted in the subjective consciousness of time, we get entangled in the most peculiar difficulties, contradictions, and confusions." Time-consciousness is, for Husserl, a "wonder" and "a continuous process of individuation". Quantum Gravity Scientist Carlo Rovelli concludes in The Order of Time that "this brief life is nothing more than this: the incessant cries of these emotions that drive us, that we sometimes attempt to channel in the name of a god, a political faith, in a ritual that reassures us that, fundamentally, everything is in order, in a great and boundless love – and the cry is beautiful. Sometimes it is a cry of pain."

It is small surprise that Bruce Joel Rubin's screenplay (itself a rewrite of a previous script by Jeremy Leven) would seek to simplify some of the complexity of Niffenegger's novel in order to broaden its appeal to audiences of successful romantic dramas such as Ghost (1990) and The Notebook (2004); it is, however, a shame that the film relays so little of Niffenegger's facility with imagery and symbolism and still less of cinema's capacity for recording colour, light and movement in time. "You tricked me," the adult Clare (McAdams) tells Henry during a row over whether she should become pregnant. "You came to that meadow and you forced yourself into the heart and mind of a little girl." The focus on Clare and Henry gives their romance a slightly Libertarian air of dislocation from the very society which, in the novel, supplies the intellectual foment of its first intensity. Some of the originality of The Time Traveler's Wife lies in the coherence of its treatment of the liquidity of person and place in the modern world. Its adaptation is at once too realist and too lacking in the furniture of Genre SF to adequately convey the power of Niffenegger's use of "chrono-displacement" as a metaphor for the construction of a narrative between people. A more art-house (or, indeed, a more genre-oriented) approach might have made more of the minutiae of Clare and Henry's lives – painted manuscripts, collections of books, letters and other conduits of shared experience – or of the insularity of their relationship as bulwark against the imposition of external time. "People were being drawn out of their small familiar worlds into one more free, less personal, in which the associations that once attached to each person, place, and object came undone," writes Rebecca Solnit of the of the transformative arrival of photography and railroads in nineteenth century California in Motion Studies: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West (2003) and . "It was a leap forward of extraordinary liberation and alienation [...] Technology regards the very terms of our bodily existence as burdensome."

The adaptation of The Time Traveler's Wife makes very little of Cinema's capacity to capture and replay the intimacy of moments in time but does, nonetheless, manage to convey some part of the passion of the book's central romance, and in a way wholly distinguishable from other famous treatments of time, such as the Perception of Entropy by an American housewife in Pamela Zoline's "The Heat Death of the Universe" (July 1967 New Worlds), the circular Time Paradox in Robert A Heinlein's "By His Bootstraps" (October 1941 Astounding as by Anson MacDonald), and the mischievous use of time paradoxes, Time Police and the Jonbar Point in films such as Disaster in Time (1991), Timecop (1994) and Donnie Darko (2001). The Time Traveler's Wife was moderately successful at the box office. [MD]


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