Okay guys, I have to own up to something. I caved. I went to see The Time Traveller’s Wife.
I’d heard bad things when it first came out and decided to wait until it hit the cheap seats; I’d loved the book so much I re-read it with Sweet immediately after I finished it the first time, and it’s become one of my most loved books ever. I knew movies based on books had a tendency to be completely disappointing and frustrating – but it was the BEST BOOK EVER – I had to see it on the big screen!
Sweet reluctantly came along, telling me on the way how he knew what was going to happen – I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it because I’d be thinking the whole time how different it was in the book, and I’d leave annoyed and wanting my two hours back. I hadn’t realised I was engaged to a prophet, but I left annoyed, wanting my two hours back, and angry that those people all around the world who hadn’t read the book never would after watching a puzzling, unexplained tale of two characters who go from first date to marriage with no sense of attachment, intrigue or passion.
Don’t read ahead if you haven’t read the book. Go and buy it now, while I rant about how much I hated the film.
The movie fails to explain the science that is so expertly and admirably undertaken in the book, in which the author sews the intricacies of time travel seamlessly into a timeless take of star-crossed lovers, desperately living with the curse of a genetic mutation that pulls Henry to moments of time, past and future, of emotional gravity. In the book, Henry is an intense character, weathered and rough, charismatic, worldly with a turbulent past but an intense passion for the woman he’s loved all her life. You come to know both Henry and Clare intimately, flaws, passions and all, and genuinely empathize to the point of tears by the end. In the book, Henry is a character. He’s scrawny, beaten, etched and imposing. Movie Henry was just a Generally Nice Man – Hollywood handsome, too-short hair, well spoken and well dressed with no sense of character at all.
I’d imagined the Meadow to be so vast – so immeasurable in size, somewhere you’d lay out a blanket in a sea of wild grass and knee-high dandelion clocks and see the landscape extending all the way to the horizon. In the movie – it was somebody’s back garden. Moments of intensity in the book are bypassed or treated with disinterest; Henry’s episode of arriving naked in the middle of a harsh winter and struggling to survive the frostbite is unremarkable on screen, with no blizzard, no hypothermia, and no intensity. The intricately planned concoctions created to get Henry through his wedding day without disappearing are a simple Valium tablet. Clare’s depression following Henry’s death is practically nonexistent. A broken-glass ridden body, displaced in time for an instant, is unforgettable in its narrative power, compelling the imagination and evoking feelings of fear, distress and danger, just shows up on screen slightly bruised and disappears again.
Key characters are omitted (including our protagonists’), details are left out and passion is lacking. I almost cried out at the end of the movie when they left out the best part of the book (the letter I sobbed over for hours? The part when Clare’s an old lady?) and rewrote it to be a Happy Hollywood Ending. It makes me wonder just how much say an author has when their work is taken to the silver screen. Is there really any amount of money that could replace your art, your imagination, and allow such butcherings to take your work to the masses? This movie destroyed the very soul of the story, and I hope and pray it doesn’t discourage people from experiencing the real tale. I can only imagine the pangs of regret seizing Audrey Niffenegger as she sat through the film.
During the credits, I noticed Brad Pitt was listed as Executive Producer. I suppose that would explain something. I kind of want to get in on this time travelling thing – even if it is solely for the purpose of going back to the day he came on board, and punching him in the face.