The Time Traveler's Wife

MEETING MOM

Written by Bruce Joel Rubin
Based on the novel by Audrey Niffenegger
2009

 

CONTEXT

When he was five years old, Henry witnessed the car crash that killed his mother. Now Henry is a time traveler, but he can’t control when or where he travels. In this scene, he jumps back twenty years and runs into his mother on a train, two years before her death.

WHY IT’S BADASS

Like ninety percent of book adaptations, The Time Traveler’s Wife is far better as a novel. The movie would be watchable if the ending was kept in tact, but that’s a discussion for a different blog.

I credit the subtle genius of this scene to Audrey Niffenegger. It is proof that good writing trumps all other aspects of film. Screenwriter Bruce did a poor job translating the book to screen, but the novel’s drama is so powerful on its own that it shines through this simple exchange between mother and son… proving that even bad movies can have great moments.

The drama works because the character is placed in a position that raises questions in the viewer’s mind. What will Henry say? Will he cry? Will the woman recognize her son? We are active participants in the film. We forget about the popcorn in our hand and the douche-bag texting in the front row because the writers involved us in the drama.

They established Henry’s relationship with his mother early on, now we understand his struggle when he meets her as an adult. We feel the drama because we know something the woman doesn’t. We feel Henry’s longing to hug her, to tell her he’s her son, to warn her about her impending death. He’s been given another chance to talk with her, and he knows the moment is fleeting.

When drama is properly established, the characters could be talking about YouTube cat videos and it would still be riveting. Any actor could play this scene and it would still keep the viewer’s attention. The drama that Ms. Niffenegger established in her original writing is so solid, it might be impossible to ruin this scene.