Hello, friends in time, and welcome to a regular feature on Cinema 52 where I put my weekly viewing of Back to the Future on hold and watch another movie featuring time travel for comparison. This week, it’s the Rachel McAdams Loves Time Travelers Edition. While plenty of actors have appeared in at least three time travel films during their careers, Rachel McAdams has specifically played the romantic interest of a time-traveling character on three different occasions. And that’s odd.
THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE (2009)
Have you ever looked at a photograph of your significant other as a baby? And then thought silently, “Oh yeah, one day I am totally gonna bang you, little baby”? And then you felt weird about it, even though it was true?
The Time Traveler’s Wife is that feeling for two hours. Except you’re also naked, and it’s not a photograph.
If the following frame is all you ever see of this movie, believe me, it doesn’t get any less icky within context.
“Hey, little girl, I lost my puppy in, uh, time. Wanna help me find him?”
So yes, Henry DeTamble (Eric Bana) has a disorder that causes him to come unstuck in time, and to make matters worse, he can’t control it and always comes out the other side bare-ass naked. Sometimes he (inexplicably) pops up around his wife, Clare Abshire, who is usually Rachel McAdams, but sometimes she’s the entirely not adult Brooklynn Proulx. I haven’t read the book, so maybe it handles these scenes with a little more sophistication, but the movie is so focused on punching us in the face with time travel exposition as quickly as possible that all we have time to process is: “Child! Nude man! AGH!”
Oh, phew, now he’s indoors… in a public library! AGH!
The movie seems really jazzed about its premise and keeps constantly showing us scenes of Henry popping in and out of existence, but it’s like watching the same magic trick ten times. Yeah, it’s kind of neat when he runs into deceased relatives or a much older version of himself has to tag in during his absence, but for the most part, I get it: there’s a quarter behind my ear.
“I’m losing a Bruce Banner, but gaining a Reed Richards.”
Just when the narrative has almost completely stalled, they manage to introduce some thoroughly interesting questions, such as: 1) If he’s never seen an elderly version of himself, when does he die? 2) Can he eventually learn to control where and when he ends up? 3) Will this disorder be passed on to future generations?
Whoa, what– JESUS.
It picks up towards the end, but there’s a lot of weird nothingness on the way there.
I’ve gotta say, the little girl version of Clare doesn’t give me the heebie-jeebies as much as Rachel McAdams does. When Henry first “meets” Clare, she’s already known all about him since childhood, and McAdams delivers the line, “You were just kind of my perfect guy,” with the necessary side order of daddy issues.
I mentioned this is after they insta-boned, right?
Still, we buy her as a sweet romantic lead because she makes this face like nobody’s business.
Eric Bana plays his character as dark and brooding to mask the fact that his motivations are so poorly written. First of all, if Romulus–
Oops, wrong time-travelling Eric Bana from a 2009 movie.
Bana and McAdams admittedly have good chemistry, and it changes shape over the course of their marriage. It’s nice to see aging indicated in a time travel movie by the performances and not just the makeup.
In the Hey, You’re In This department, Ron Livingston plays a mutual friend of the couple that gets to act weird (but somehow still cool with it) when he watches Henry bamf out naked for the first time.
Sounds like somebody’s got a case of the non-sequential Mondays.
Being surprisingly serious is Stephen Tobolowsky as Henry’s doctor, who studies his condition and tries to determine a safe method of conception for him and Clare. Don’t expect him to say anything too science-y; he just rattles off things like “electromagnetic blast,” “epilepsy,” or “clock genes,” and I’m pretty sure that last term does not mean what the writers think it means.
“Bing! Or Google. There are many ways to research scientific terminology.”
THE SPECIAL EFFECTS:
Henry gets sucked through time kind of like spilled milk.
“I’m not just a naked stranger, little girl, I’m also a godless abomination!”
This effect can get old, and I’m assuming costly, so sometimes they take the classy route and do the vanishing offscreen, accompanied by a practical collapsing of clothes.
Man, some guys just really hate performing oral.
Oh, and none of this is in-body time travel, so Henry frequently intersects his own timeline, which means doubling effects. They look fine.
Mmm, emphasis on “fine,” right, ladies?
Oh, and it’s so bad I have to mention it… at one point, Henry is voiped into the woods right next to a deer. Which is cool, except it’s a terribly fake CGI deer. It’s not even in uncanny valley territory. It looks like it’s from a Playstation game.
“No fair, dude, you respawned right next to me.”
OTHER (SPOILERY) STUFF:
- Book spoiler, or so I’m told. I guess the naked pedo trauma vibe was totally cool for the film version, but in addition to that, I hear Book Henry supposedly jacks his past self off. That’s nowhere in the movie, obviously, because gaaaaayyyyy. Well, I call bullshit. If you’re really going to dive into sexuality and time travel, fucking go for it.
- Plot point and/or time travel rules spoiler. Henry uses his power for evil and buys a winning lottery ticket for Clare, because this is an immutable timeline and the rules allow him to pull that off. I actually don’t have a problem with the ethics, but it’s hard to sympathize with Clare since her daddy is fucking loaded. I get that she doesn’t want to have to rely on him financially, but she’s just taking a shitload of cash from the other father figure in her life, so… where’s the empowering sense of independence here?
THE “NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY SENSE!” MOMENT:
While she doesn’t stick the landing by running the fuck away and telling literally anyone, Little Clare says exactly what one should say to a naked man in the woods claiming to be a time traveler…
“There’s no such thing as time travelers!“
As much as I enjoy mocking all the squicky sex stuff in this movie, it’s not like Back to the Future isn’t guilty of the same, and I actually applaud this story for staying somewhat true to science fiction’s ultimate goal of exploring the morality of the unknown. Even if time travel never becomes a reality, it’s an interesting concept that The Time Traveler’s Wife uses to explore how we perceive both time and relationships. Unfortunately, a movie can’t thrive on concept alone, and once its premise is clunkily established, the rest of the story is wobbly at best. It has ideas, but not moments. Welp, at least Rachel McAdams gets two more chances at loving a time traveler.
Want more time travel? Head on over to the Time Out archive.