*The Time Traveler's Wife (PG-13)
Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
Will The Time Traveler's Wife turn out to be the loveliest adaptation of a novel ever to get boos from fans of the book? Could be. The ending, for one, is different. Not a lot different, and the altered ending makes sense emotionally — I teared up — but some will scream Ohmygod, they ruined the book!
They didn't ruin the movie, I promise.
The dark detours that Audrey Niffenegger's beloved novel takes have been eliminated, for the most part, or softened. There are interesting and intriguing and dangerous things you can do when you meet future or past versions of yourself, or have foreknowledge of events. You can have sex with yourself. You can dish out revenge. You can do things most people couldn't imagine.
You wouldn't guess from screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin's and director Robert Schwentke's movie version that Niffenegger invented such deeds for her hero, Henry DeTamble, and may be a rather twisted gal for doing so. None of them appear here.
But that's fine. Really. Because the core of what makes The Time Traveler's Wife so special has been retained. The poignant tenderness and the sharp significance of the metaphor of the twisty, time-bending romance of Henry (Eric Bana), a Chicago librarian, and Clare Abshire (Rachel McAdams), an artist, are what's important, and the movie gets it so right that it will linger in your imagination just as the novel did.
Thank goodness — because I love the book, too. They've made a film that is achingly romantic but never schmaltzy and never less than charming and surprising.
Here's why: Clare is 6 the first time she meets Henry ... when he is 30-something. But Henry is only in his 20s the first time he meets Clare, when she's about 20. It's because he's an inadvertent time traveler: He suffers from a genetic anomaly that causes him to become displaced in time, at random moments he can't control. He melts away, leaving his clothes behind, and journeys backward or forward.
People and events important to Henry draw him like gravity — very much in the same way that we dwell on powerful memories. The film opens with young Henry, about 8 years old, experiencing his first time journey. He disappears out of his mother's car after banging his head during a crash, visits a cozy moment at home in the recent past, and returns just in time to see, from the side of the road, the car get demolished, killing his mother. And then ... an older Henry is suddenly there to comfort young Henry.
But the film does not linger on this darkness. It's mostly Clare and Henry, and their relationship, and how the strangeness of it is hardly strange at all.
Oh, sure, a little girl's "dream man" becomes the real thing, and that's unlikely, but this is science fiction of a more sophisticated allegorical order, not a wish-fulfillment one. This is science fiction that really knows what sci-fi is all about: not gadgets and spaceships (cool as they can be), but instead what it means to be human. Here, it's the frontiers of our capacity to love that are explored. The things we typically take as metaphors for the complications and joys of relationships are made real, the stuff of only the truest of true loves.