Being in love with a time traveler is no easy feat, especially when that time traveler has no control over this power. Most time-travel movies are understandably preoccupied with the past and the future, but this underrated 2009 movie feels undeniably present — and it’s streaming now on Netflix.
This science-fiction film explores what happens when an intangible element like time becomes a physical force, one that propels its protagonist abruptly into his past and future. And as a result, it poses questions about free will and choice — philosophical topics we don’t see explored often enough in time travel movies.
Whether you’re a sci-fi fan or a romantic (or both!), it’s impossible not to love this sweeping time-travel saga.
There is more to The Time Traveler’s Wife than first meets the eye. Based on the bestselling novel by Audrey Niffenegger, the movie stars Rachel McAdams as Claire, the titular wife to Eric Bana’s time-traveler Henry, and chronicles their relationship's ups and downs as the couple deals with Henry's sporadic and uncontrollable ability to travel through time.
Henry was born with a genetic anomaly that causes him to travel to different places and points in both his life and the lives of those closest to him. Early in the film, we see Henry often catapults back in time to see his mother before her death in a tragic car accident.
When Henry takes Claire on their first date, he compares this ability to gravity. “Big events pull you in,” he says. To which Claire responds, “I was a big event.”
And that she was. Even though this is their first date, Claire has known Henry since she was a child because an older version of him had (or will, from his perspective) travel to see her throughout her adolescence.
But Claire hadn’t seen Henry for years before bumping into him at a library in Chicago where he works. This Henry is perplexed, maybe even a bit unnerved, by Claire’s familiarity with him. However, this first meeting (for him) and reunion (for her) is where this couple’s relationship begins, moving forward while also folding into the past.
The Time Traveler’s Wife is directed by Robert Schwentke, known for action thrillers like Red and Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins. Set mostly in Chicago during the ‘90s and early 2000s, Schwentke grounds this love story by adding a grittiness to it that we don’t often see in similar melodramas.
We see this in how inherently dangerous time-traveling is for Henry — and not in the usual “this will mess up the space-time continuum” way. When Henry travels, his clothes don’t make the trip with him. This leads to dangerous situations where he has to scramble to find clothes, often breaking into apartments or stores and sometimes finding himself in the middle of a fight or an arrest.
Not knowing if Henry is safe is a burden Claire has to carry, and it brings up questions about free will and choice. Claire questions if Henry’s presence in her childhood took away her ability to choose anyone else but him. Even when he proposes to her, she jokes and says, “No,” at first, to check if she still has free will. These moments, and Claire’s resolve to understand the nature of her relationship with Henry, add to the film’s thought-provoking premise.
The Time Traveler’s Wife was a commercial success when it was released in 2009, earning over $100 million worldwide. So it’s no surprise to learn that HBO is re-adapting the bestselling book, this time as a TV series. The show stars Divergent’s Theo James and Rose Leslie, best known as Ygritte from Game of Thrones. Doctor Who’s Steven Moffat is running the show, with David Nutter directing all six episodes. It’s set to debut sometime in early 2022.
More than a decade later, The Time Traveler’s Wife is clearly a movie that still resonates with viewers. After all, there’s nothing more timeless than a story about how love can transcend both time and space.
The Time Traveler’s Wife is now streaming on Netflix.