“I go to sleep alone, and wake up alone. I take walks. I work until I’m tired. I watch the wind play with the trash that’s been under the snow all winter. Everything seems simple until you think about it. Why is love intensified by absence?”
“It’s ironic, really. All my pleasures are homey ones: armchair splendor, the sedate excitements of domesticity. All I ask for are humble delights. A mystery novel in bed, the smell of Clare’s long red-gold hair damp from washing, a postcard from a friend on vacation, cream dispersing into coffee, the softness of the skin under Clare’s breasts, the symmetry of grocery bags sitting on the kitchen counter waiting to be unpacked….And Clare, always Clare.”
* * *
Last week, in between organizing fly stocks and making Powerpoint slides, I found myself fantasizing about seeing The Time Traveler’s Wife. I’d watch the trailer over and over again, read reviews, check movie times. I was feeling giddy with impatience and ready to be swept up in the romance. The state of my own romance was nudging me toward seeing the movie sooner rather than later. I’ve been missing Matt slightly more than is comfortable, and with still more than a month to go until we have plans to see each other again, I felt I ought to treat myself to romance, movie-style.
I made plans with myself to see the movie on Sunday and then changed my mind, deciding on Friday afternoon to see it later that night. Sometimes Fridays can be so depressing! Often I feel too worn out from the week to celebrate Fridays. Other times I feel sad when I have no special plans for that evening—no Matt to see, no plans with friends, not even something exciting to cook for dinner. On that particular Friday, I needed something to make me feel a little perkier, so I scooted over to the movie theater, bought a ticket, went home, ate dinner, and scooted back to the theater just in time to catch the previews.
[Here’s where I issue my disclaimer: I’m about to spoil The Time Traveler’s Wife for you. If you wish not to be spoiled, please stop reading, walk to your nearest bookstore, buy the book, read the entire thing, and then return to this post. Seeing the movie before reading this post is optional.]
I wanted to love this movie. I really did. I adore the book and have read it many times. Sometimes I even just read the parts that are especially sexy or sad, just to make myself feel good. And I love that the story is set in Chicago, the jewel of the Midwest. The movie, I’m sad to report, was terrible. It felt so flat to me, lacking the magic and romance of the novel. I was deeply disappointed.
The main characters, Clare and Henry, are strangely twisted in the movie version. I had a hard time seeing them as two people deeply in love or even two people who like each other. The physical affection between them felt forced and unnatural, like two awkward actors struggling through their sex scenes. I think, however, that the real problem is that the script never ignited the passion between Clare and Henry. Without the inner monologues that guide the novel along, the movie doesn’t capture the emotional intensity that makes this a compelling story. There is little joy in their love.
It was more disturbing to me, though, that movie-version Clare is NOT the same character as novel-version Clare. Whereas the latter is self-possessed, thoughtful, seductive, and entirely likeable, the former is an annoying martyr who failed to gain my sympathies. Novel-version Clare copes well with Henry’s absences. Her coping feels real to me. By that, I mean I do the same things when I’m feeling sad about missing Matt. For example, Clare tells us,
“This is a secret: sometimes I am glad when Henry is gone. Sometimes I enjoy being alone. Sometimes I walk through the house late at night and I shiver with the pleasure of not talking, not touching, just walking, or sitting, or taking a bath….Sometimes I get a babysitter and I go to the movies or I ride my bicycle after dark along the bike path by Montrose beach with no lights; it’s like flying.
“Sometimes I am glad when Henry’s gone, but I’m always glad when he comes back.”
Like me, Clare is a bit of a solitary creature, which is one of the reasons that she’s able to be happy in her relationship, even with Henry’s frequent absences. The movie missed this aspect of her personality. Instead, it turned Clare into a suffering, nagging harpy of a wife who resents her husband for his disappearances and yet doesn’t seem to connect with him on a deeper level. Is Henry her husband or her property?
Movie-version Henry is also problematic. Unlike novel-version Henry, he finds little joy or pleasure in life. He’s very sad or worried all the time. Part of conjuring up the magic of the novel is convincing us that Henry and Clare find happiness in the moments that they do spend together. I wish the movie had spent more time developing the love that Henry and Clare come to feel for each other. Without that, the whole story falls apart.
The movie is not without its redeeming qualities. Several of the supporting characters are very well-written and acted, including Henry’s dad and Gomez (and I love Ron Livingston, who plays Gomez). The sets are gorgeous and entirely appropriate, from Chicago (of course!) to Clare’s family home in Michigan. The movie was more enjoyable after Alba, Clare and Henry’s daughter, is born. There is a heartwarming montage during which we see Alba grow from baby to five-year-old; I wish a similar strategy had been used to show us how Clare and Henry fall in love. The script does follow the novel fairly closely, but ironically, when it strayed from the novel, I liked it more! I’m able to forgive them for straying if it made for a better movie. I didn’t even really mind that they changed the ending because by that point, the movie had already failed—authenticity was not going to save it from itself. (And to be fair, the movie ending is only slightly different from the novel.)
I still cried at the movie, but I blame myself for being too familiar with the story and knowing what tragedy looms ahead for Henry and Clare. When I read the book, I sob buckets. A single tissue sufficed for the movie. When it finally ended, I shot out of there like a bullet—no need to linger for the credits of a crappy movie.
While I’m not going to demand my money back, I might recommend that you save yours and rent the video if you’d like to see the movie. Whatever you do, READ THE BOOK FIRST. If you don’t like the book, don’t bother seeing the movie. Go see Julie & Julia instead, which was wonderful and totally worth the $8.50 I spent to see it in the theater last week.