HBO’s The Time Traveler’s Wife hints at a possible story change from both the book and movie, based on the events in season 1, episode 1.
Warning: Major Spoilers for The Time Traveler’s Wife
HBO’s The Time Traveler’s Wife season 1 episode 1 hints at a significant change from the movie and the book upon which it’s based. The novel The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger was first published in 2003. The genre-bending story of a woman who keeps meeting the man she will marry throughout her life with the knowledge that he will die tragically was a massive bestseller. The Time Traveler’s Wife film adaptation came in 2009, starring Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana as the doomed couple Henry and Clare. Now, HBO’s adaptation featuring Rose Leslie and Theo James is bringing new attention to The Time Traveler’s Wife.
Like Outlander, The Time Traveler’s Wife is a romance that centers on time travel, but The Time Traveler’s Wife’s time travel mechanism is unique. Henry has a medical condition that forces him out of the present and into seemingly random periods, largely within his own lifespan, creating personal problems and physical danger. In HBO’s The Time Traveler’s Wife adaptation, however, the story may involve one major change.
HBO’s The Time Traveler’s Wife seems to imply that Henry may have some control over when and where he is able to travel, which is not the case in the book and movie. In the latter two, Henry eventually meets his future daughter, Alba, who does possess this ability. Alba is considered a prodigy, and it is explicitly stated that Henry is unable to deliberately travel to places and times of his choosing. However, in The Time Traveler’s Wife season 1, episode 1, the young Henry returns to a museum immediately after wishing to go there. This suggests some element of control, and a major departure from the movie and book.
So far, HBO’s The Time Traveler’s Wife generally sticks to the principle that Henry cannot control his “chrono-impairment.” The scene in which he returns to the museum is an exception. In the movie, Henry about to be killed in a car accident when he is spontaneously transported back in time. In HBO’s streaming adaptation, Henry is lying in bed about to fall asleep. He asks his mother if they can go back to the museum that very night, and moments later, he travels there. In neither adaptation does Henry have full control of his chrono-impairment, and the rules of time travel, such as the fact that Henry must always time travel naked, are consistent. However, the location and time of Henry’s destinations are explained as similar to a gravitational pull. This could be read as contradicted by the fact that young Henry traveled to exactly the place he wished for at the time he wished to go there, which suggests an element of free will.
Henry’s daughter Alba (who has not yet appeared in The Time Traveler’s Wife series) possesses this ability in full force. In the movie, she uses it to visit her deceased grandmother, her younger self, and even to go back and see Henry before his death. It’s possible that she has further learned to control the ability, while Henry may only be beginning to grasp it. In the museum scene, he wished to go to a time and place and was able to achieve it. Later in his life, The Time Traveler’s Wife shows Henry visiting Claire at key moments. While he describes that as gravity pulling him to significant people and points in time, it’s possible that it’s driven by his wish to be with Claire.
Henry’s wishes (and possibly fears) directing his travels may be what HBO’s The Time Traveler’s Wife is hinting at. It’s a departure from the movie’s hard rule that Henry can’t control his time traveling. In doing so, it adds a fascinating new dimension to the story.
New episodes of The Time Traveler’s Wife air on HBO Sundays at 9PM EST and release on HBO Max afterward. Subscribe to HBO Max here.
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