The Time Traveler’s Wife Full Review: What is the plot of the story Time Traveler’s Wife?

Jeremy Caroll

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger was published in 2003. Then there came the film adaption, which starred Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana in 2009. Now, Doctor Who and Sherlock creator Steven Moffat takes Niffenegger’s narrative to HBO, with Rose Leslie and Theo James playing Clare Abshire and Henry DeTamble, respectively.


Clare and Henry are in love, but their relationship is hampered by Henry’s ability to travel through time. He’ll involuntarily vanish into the past, or possibly the future, where he’ll appear nude and alone. Clare meets an older version of Henry when she is six years old, and in the years that follow, she realizes she is his wife in the future. She spends her life longing to see him, but when she does, he isn’t the version of himself she fell in love with as a teen.

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A TV version of The Time Traveler’s Wife makes sense in theory. Niffenegger’s plot is given more breathing room than in the film, and Moffat is even able to elaborate on some passages from the book. However, the six-episode series struggles to grapple with the thorny intricacies of this love tale, and its inclination to lean too heavily towards melodrama is only marginally tempered by dedicated performances from Leslie and James.

The Time Traveler’s Wife Is An Unappealing Romance

The time Travelers wife unpealing romance

You’ll love Niffenegger’s story, but even in written form, the age gap between Clare and Henry is difficult to overcome. Clare is six years old when she first meets Henry. Meanwhile, he’s 36 and will soon be married to her. Regardless of how hard Henry attempts to keep the future hidden, their first meetings have a tremendous power imbalance and an unsettling undertone. This unease is amplified in a visual medium like television, where 37-year-old James is partnered with the actors who play youthful Clare (Everleigh McDonell and Caitlin Shorey).

Moffat does his best to deal with the power imbalance — Clare even comments, “No one should meet their soulmate when they’re 6 years old” — but it remains unpleasant. Henry cringes early on when Clare, the child, describes “grooming” her toy horse. Later, he expresses concern that he groomed Clare, to which she responds, “I groomed you,” which… is not how that works.

It’s a good story that’s been beautifully told, but it has two inherent issues to solve – one more successfully than the other. The first is the ick factor caused by Henry’s frequent visits to Clare as a youngster and an adult. This raised eyebrows back in 2003, and sensitivities have only grown since then. Moffatt confronts it head-on by having Henry acknowledge the viewer’s possible discomfort (via Clare’s line about grooming her My Little Pony), but queasy feelings remain unavoidable.

The other issue is more pervasive. Clare’s passivity is central to Niffenegger’s plot. While her life is not stagnant or unsatisfied professionally, it is defined by her waiting for Henry. Her pleasure is dependent on his sporadic visits. More significantly, her entire personality and sexuality are molded around him from the beginning. It reminds me more of Twilight’s horrible messaging – submerge thyself, woman! Don’t derail true love by being yourself! – than an adult romance.

Even In Writing, The Age Difference Between Clare And Henry Is Difficult To Overcome

The time travelers wife unappealing romance

The Time Traveler’s Wife highlights that Clare and Henry are locked in a circumstance over which they have very little influence, addressing the age-old debate of fate vs. free will. However, when it appears like they are stuck in a relationship no matter what, it’s difficult to call their story a romance.

Even when Clare and Henry meet again in the “now”  their connection is hard to buy. Not because of their age, but because they are continuously fighting. Moffat puts Clare and Henry at odds with each other far earlier than Niffenegger does in the novel. Clare continually refers to Henry as an asshole — and for good cause; 28-year-old to the point where you question if you should even be pulling for these two to stay together. The only reason you’ll want them to exercise is for Leslie and James.

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The Time Traveler’s Wife Suffers From Odd Narrative Choices.

The Time Traveler’s Wife makes several genuinely perplexing decisions throughout its six episodes. There is a framing method in which Henry and Clare speak directly to the camera, as if they are being recorded, but we never learn why. People who have read the novel will presumably be able to infer who they are chatting to, although it is otherwise unclear.

A critical incident from Henry’s youth is rehashed far too many times in other scenes, to the point that the recurring flashbacks become darkly comical. The show also makes a glaring error in its portrayal of a sexual assault scenario. It’s horrifyingly bad, not to mention needless. These kinds of decisions mount up until The Time Traveler’s Wife loses what little appeal it had to begin with. Leslie and James do their best to keep the series afloat, but it gradually crumbles around them.

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But The Time Traveler’s Wife fails so miserably to extract any romance from its basic concept that it begins to argue the contrary. Perhaps there’s nothing romantic about learning to live with someone you don’t really like that much but can’t ever leave for reasons beyond your control. Perhaps the true romance would be two people doing what the rest of us non-time-travelers do every day: selecting someone to love and choosing to continue loving them every day, with no guarantee that any of it is written in the stars.

Frequently Ask Questions

It’s Rated High for a lot of explicit sexual stuff. This pair appears to have sex in almost every chapter, and it’s really detailed.
Henry De Tamble (Eric Bana), a Chicago librarian, suffers from a rare genetic disease that enables him to jump compulsively back and forth in time. On one of his journeys, he meets Claire (Rachel McAdams), the love of his life, and they marry. However, the difficulties and complexities of any relationship are exacerbated by Henry’s inability to remain in one time and place, causing him and his beloved to be constantly out of sync.
The plot revolves around Henry DeTamble (Bana), a Chicago librarian who suffers from a paranormal genetic ailment that enables him to randomly time travel while attempting to develop a romantic relationship with Clare Abshire (McAdams), who would become his wife.

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