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|Written by April Yorke|
|Friday, 21 August 2009 00:35|
Despite the title, I never think of Clare Abshire as the protagonist in The Time Traveler's Wife. First and foremost, it is a book about a relationship between -- you guessed it -- a time traveler and his wife. Like all good books, it's about many things: love and loss, guilt and grief, the inherent difficulties of being human and treating others humanely when your own life is in tatters.
But it's Henry that makes the book. Audrey Niffenegger takes a fairly straightforward love story (girl meets boy when she's just little and loves him forever) and turns it on its axis. The girl is six, and the boy is nearly forty. He's her husband from the future. He won't tell her that for years, not that he can change the past, but he at least likes the illusion of free will.
For a debut novel, Niffenegger presents the reader with an assured, complex, and dense take on the nexus between free will and destiny. Re-reading it to write this column, I was surprised by the clues she drops into the first chapters that won't come to fruition until the last. It is a page turner in the best sense of the word, a tale so rich and true that you can't help wanting to know what happens next. It tells the story of a life filled with love and tragedy, and it is the life of Henry DeTamble, chrono-impaired Chicago-based librarian extraordinaire.
It's strange that Eric Bana came to us from comedy because he seems born to play the sad eyed, loving, manic Henry. His life is chaos because of something he cannot control, but he finds comfort in books, punk, and, eventually, Clare (Rachel McAdams). Much like Bana, Canadian McAdams has seemed born to play sad eyed, loving, spunky heroines since her breakout role as one in The Notebook.
For the first time in Book vs. Film's brief history at (Cult)ure Magazine, the column concerns a book I read first without giving a thought to a movie version. I read it and loved it and knew I would see the movie for that reason. Had I not read the book first, I would have loved the movie. Bruce Joel Rubin's adaptation jettisons nearly everything in the novel that isn't directly related to Clare and Henry's relationship. The focus comes down solely on their impractical, heady, powerful romance.
It's an excellent idea that director Robert Schwentke explores well, thanks in part to the beautiful work by his DP Florian Ballhaus. All of this is supported by Rubin's screenplay, which smoothes out Henry and his father's relationship, minimizes Clare's mother's damage, and removes Charisse and Gomez from the romantic equation. He also tones down how sexual the connection between Clare and Henry is. Just as well, as we wouldn't be here if the adaptation was X-rated.
While many of the points cut from adaptations make sense because they wouldn't translate well on screen (Dr. Kendrick's experiments with mice, for example), too many seem like a betrayal of the source. Ingrid and Mrs. Kim are gone, as is so much of Clare's childhood that we are privy to. Family and friends are deprived of key characteristics so that Broken Social Scene can cover Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart." In the book, Clare and Henry's first dance goes unmentioned.
It was actually the wedding sequence that made me realize what was missing from the movie: Clare. Not that there is anything wrong with McAdams. She's beautiful, moving performer regardless of circumstance. But somehow, while Rubin and Bana got Henry right, Novel Clare has disappeared. Novel Clare gets married in church; Movie Clare gets married in her parents' backyard. Novel Clare does this:
I hand her the postcard from the Uffizi. "Can you do this?" I have always loved the little Medici princess whose hair is not unlike mine; hers has many tiny braids and pearls all swooped together in a beautiful fall of amber hair. The anonymous artist must have loved her, too. How could he not love her?
Janice considers. "This isn't what your mom thinks we're doing."
"Uh-huh. But it's my wedding. And my hair. And I'll give you a very large tip if you do it my way."
Movie Clare wears her hair like this:
It was at this moment when I thought, "Where are the braids? Where are the pearls? Where's my Clare?" While Clare is still an artist who works with paper, Rubin has forgotten the way that art informs so many aspects of Clare's life. He's forgotten her quietly rebellious nature. Schwentke's beautiful movie may be brilliantly fatalistic, but it's forgotten even the pretence of the one thing Henry won't do without: free will. Clare's life might be shaped by Henry, but in the book it's still Clare living it.
So, book or film? By the time Rubin and Schwentke biffed the coda (though the loafers were a nice touch), it was pretty clear that Niffenegger's novel would have been better suited to a mini-series or even short TV series than the transition to the silver screen. Yet, if I hadn't known and loved the book in advance, Bana's ability suggest discomfort in even his own skin would have been worth the price of admission, never mind all those gorgeous moments in the meadow. But for a movie called not The Time Traveler but The Time Traveler's Wife, the character, such as she is in the book, is oddly missing.
Previously in Book vs. Film: