Robert Schwentke was already an award-winning director in his native Germany when he made his American film début with the 2005 thriller Flightplan with Jodie Foster. The Time Traveler’s Wife, based on the novel by Audrey Niffenegger), marks the director’s first love story, starring Rachel McAdams as Clare, an artist who falls in love with Henry (Eric Bana), despite the fact that he’s a time traveler, and they never know when his travels will force them apart, or when they will be reunited.
What were you looking for in the narration in shaping the way Eric Bana’s character Henry travels through time?
First of all, to us time traveler was a flexible metaphor, we never approached it as something we wanted to crack in terms of its physical realities, or how could that really work? It really was a stand in as far as the relationship is concerned for all sorts of conflicts and issues that we all have in all of our relationships, being away a little too much, or not being available enough. And then in terms of a general metaphor, it’s much closer to memory than to any Sci-Fi conceit, and I think that very early on we decided time travel in-and-of itself as a concept doesn’t resonate emotionally.
We grounded it in things that we could actually relate to, because if we don’t relate to those things then the audience is not going to relate to them either, and so we very consciously attempted to get out from under this big boulder of time travel and detonate it into its smallest possible particles and try to get to the human story underneath it.
There was a little more Sci-Fi in the book than the movie.
That’s something a movie develops while it’s being made and there was a little more of that in there and we realized it felt off the spine [of the love story], it felt like the audience hadn’t suspended their disbelief to the degree where they were actually inviting that kind of other tonality. It is a bit of a balancing act, so if time travel is a representation for the themes that we’re playing out in the film, then it works, if it becomes its own element outside of those themes, that’s where it didn’t work anymore.
Tell us about casting the movie?
Rachel was involved before I became involved and I thought she was a great choice. And I met Eric for a general meeting, and I was so taken by who he was, how approachable he was and how grounded he was, he’s a dedicated family man, he’s a really good, decent man, and I felt that those were qualities we wanted for this character, because considering Eric’s masculine persona I felt like he was never going to approach the character as a victim. He is not a victim, he makes choices that make him able to have a more agreeable life.
When the ending is telegraphed in the movie, is that a tough thing to carry through?
A part of the impetus for me to make the movie was I’d gone through a very serious illness early in my life, and this issue of mortality is a very important one to me. We always believe that somehow miraculously we’re going be that one person who is not going to die at the end of our life and it’s just not true, it’s going to happen. What we did with the movie is we have a relationship where that insight is absolutely, undeniably apparent to both people involved, and there’s not a day that goes by where they are not being reminded.