Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Time Traveler's Wife

After the long summer film famine, with a diet restricted to movies involving superhero guinea pigs, we finally got to see "The Time Traveler's Wife" last night down in Andover. As befits the late performance, I was expecting we would fight our way through gangs of drunken, unruly youths and their molls, throwing up in the gutters. But no, the town centre was almost deserted, as was the cinema.

"The Time Traveler's Wife" is a chick-flick. We shared the screen with eight others and I was the other bloke.

Here's a partial plot outline from Wikipedia .

The film tells the stories of Henry DeTamble (born 1963), a librarian at the Newberry Library in Chicago, and his wife, Clare Abshire (born 1971), an artist who makes paper sculptures. Henry has a rare genetic disorder, which comes to be known as Chrono-Displacement, that causes him to involuntarily travel through time. When 20-year-old Clare meets 28-year-old Henry at the Newberry Library in 1991 early in the film, he has never seen her before, although she has known him most of her life.

Henry begins time traveling at the age of five, jumping forward and backward relative to his own timeline. He is unable to control his travels: when he leaves, where he goes, or how long his trip will last. His destinations are tied to his subconscious—he most often travels to places and times related to his own history. Certain stimuli such as stress can trigger Henry's time traveling, he cannot take anything with him into the future or the past; he always arrives naked and struggles to find clothing, shelter and food.

He amasses a number of survival skills including lock-picking, self defense and pickpocketing. Much of this he learns from older versions of himself.

Once their timelines converge "naturally" at the library — their first meeting in his chronology — Henry starts to travel to Clare's childhood and adolescence in South Haven, Michigan, beginning in 1977 when she is six years old. On one of his early visits (from her perspective), Henry gives her a list of the dates he will appear and she writes them in a diary so she will remember to provide him with clothes and food when he arrives. During another visit, he inadvertently reveals that they will be married in the future. Over time they develop a close relationship.

And do they just. There is no child of theirs but she is "beautiful" (no she's not). Not five minutes pass without Clare and Henry smouldering with desire for one another, or exchanging passionate kisses. Everyone says "I love you" far too often.

Subtract the American schmalz and goo and an interesting story emerges. As the plot summary indicates, this is really the story of a nonlinear relationship, where Henry at various time points knows less and then more than Clare. This makes for a never-less-than-engaging plot, particularly when as the film progresses, Henry's time travelling circles around his own young death.

I'm sure there will be boring posts digging away at the physics of all this. In truth that's not the concern of the film at all, and no new ideas are introduced. Ignore issues of conservation of mass, how the universe knows where his body stops and his clothes begin, and his idiosyncratic ability to change events, or maybe not change them.

The concept of time which most inhabits this film is that of the 'block universe' - the idea that time itself is an illusion of consciousness and that all times: "past", "present" and "future" simultaneously co-exist.

This is most probably true.

Henry is a somewhat unlikely hero. Sensitive, cultured and unassuming, he rises bravely to the challenge when Clare's Republican, Cheney-like father suggests they go hunting together (ironically, the resolution of the plot depends upon a future Cheney moment).

So, I liked this most unusual film, subtracting the American ladled-on-with-a-trowel-emotionalism.

Clare thought it was a low-budget emotions-ladled-on-with-a-trowel film but was prepared to concede it had its moments of interest.

Go see it, you'll never want to go back to the guinea pigs.