The Time Traveler's Wife: Film VS. Fiction


Since I am likely the last person on Earth to read The Time Traveler's Wifewho would have inclination to do so, I'm going to eschew a typical review and instead compare it to the recent film adaptation (the film came out in August 2009; the DVD is forthcoming).

My official opinion is that the film stinks. It's everything I feared the book would be and was not.

Niffenegger could have easily written The Time Traveler's Wife as another Nicholas Sparks novel - all chaste passion set in a filmy do-or-die world. In fact, the film comes off as The Notebook's poor cousin. The comparison is irresistible since Rachel McAdams appears in both, except that there is genuine chemistry between the leads in The Notebook that The Time Traveler's Wife lacks.

I'm not going to fuss over the drippy acting, though. What offended me was that the film stripped away everything off-kilter and therefore original about the book. Here's why the film is dead in the water (CAUTION! Major spoilers ahead):
  1. Where the heck is Ingrid? Ingrid is Henry (the time traveler's) girlfriend before he meets Clare (the title character). That Henry has to travel back in time to watch her suicide is gruesome, dark and awesome. It shows Henry not as some pretty-boy guardian angel but the flawed person he is - it helps to flesh out his pre-Clare sins and takes his time travel beyond sentimental encounters with his mother (when alive) and his future wife.
  2. Henry gets to keep his feet! In the movie Henry gets a little bitty frostbite. In the book Niffenegger has his frickin' feet sawed off. When I read that I was like, OH GOD WHY?? but also, good job! Lady took her romantic hero and had him seriously maimed. It's gross but it's a darn gutsy move for a romance book.
  3. Clare & Henry are seriously boring. In the novel the love-struck duo bond over awesome music like The Violent Femmes. In the movie they're seen to be at a random concert but there's no mention of their love for punk and other rad musical genres. Lame.
  4. Clare is neutered. From the moment I saw Rachel McAdams all shiny-eyed and dopey in the film I knew she was going to throw herself under the bus for film-version Henry. She more or less does this in the book but at least she has an iota of personality. The fact that she's a paper-maker and sculptor is never explained in the film and her fling with Gomez is axed. In the book she's gutsy, arty and sexual. In the film she's a sweater-wearing ankle biter. It's no good.
  5. The ending is all wrong. Clare is left hanging in both versions but the film seriously downplays Clare's anguish at being left without the love of her life. In the film she sniffles a bit and then gets to see and touch him within five years of his death. In the books, well, shit is bad. The novel reached farther, went darker, and so hits you harder. The film is just sanitized drip.


JK said...

Have to agree with what you've said on the movie, though I'll pick a bone with the tag... is this actually women's fiction? I know several men who count this as a favourite book, and I certainly wouldn't have resigned it to the "It's a chick thing" table at Indigo. What qualities do you think categorize it as women's fiction?

B.Kienapple said...

I categorize it as women's fiction because I think this was primarily how it was marketed. But you know what, I think I'll have to do a post about this. :)

Amanda said...

When I first saw the trailer, I knew this was going to be a toothless, sparkly version of a stunningly dark and heartbreaking book. It's too bad, since I think Bana and McAdams could have been great had the studio wanted to make a proper adaptation. You've hit the nail on the head.

JK, I think it's fair to say that romances are generally directed towards women. It's a testament to how unconventional and well-written the book is that it's able to reach beyond the typical chick-lit audience, while still toying with many of the tropes of chick-lit. That, and it's a fictional novel written by a woman.

B.Kienapple said...

...And Amanda just wrote my post for me (thank you!) ;) YOU have hit the nail on the head.
Anyone else care to disagree?

August said...

I'm going to plead the fifth on the issue of "women's fiction", as I've not seen the film, nor read the book. No interesting in doing so either, I'm afraid. That it's been seen in the hands of every Nicholas Sparks fan in our office certainly hasn't helped matters.

But I was dragged to the film version of The Notebook, and it's interesting to hear you say that the two leads had such chemistry (I honestly don't remember it well enough). While it's true that McAdams and Gosling wound up dating, that didn't happen until much later. At the time, there was a lot of press over the two young actors disliking each other so much that they wouldn't even speak to each other off-set, and were in danger of disrupting the film. (Nick Cassavetes even claims that Gosling wanted to use a stand-in when he wasn't going to be in the shot, but McAdams would still have to be interacting with him.)

Anonymous said...

Gillian: I love this entry! I can only hope someone would still love me if I were horribly maimed.

Amanda said...

There is a major difference between on-screen chemistry and working relationships. While McAdams and Gosling may have suffered on-set difficulties, I have to say that their interactions were the highlight of an otherwise overwrought, drippy film. Perhaps it even worked because of that – tensions on-set may have intensified the tone of the scenes. It's probably the reason why it continues to be a favourite of romance fans (ugh), as the movie itself was not particularly memorable.


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