The Time Traveler’s Wife

Movie released: 2009 | Set in: 1960s to present

Summary Table
Event Likelihood Time frame
Time travel very low? 2030+

Approach to the future
Exploration of single possible development.


Futurism: 2: limits itself to a rigorously logical but unscientific use of time travel
8: not as good or as tense as the book, but captures (or at least borrows) some of its spirit
Plausibility: 2: verges on impossibility

Interesting depictions

Time travel
Some reviews of this movie have been been off-base. The Washington Post reviewer wrote:

The mind may boggle at the inconsistencies and logistical impossibilities posed by all of Henry’s disappearances, and tampering with the past, and his crisscrossing travels with his alternate selves. Einstein and H.G. Wells would have a few problems with this movie. Nora Ephron, probably not.

In fact, the movie — following the lead of the book — takes an unusually rigorous approach to time travel. Inconsistencies and “logistical impossibilities” are absent. See this approving examination by physicist Dave Goldberg in Slate.

That said, it cannot be called “realistic,” for two reasons:

  • Biology — The minor reason is that, while we don’t know yet how to manipulate space-time in a way that would yield time travel, it is quite unlikely that a genetic mutation would lead to this ability. Genes interact with bodily processes, and haven’t shown signs of doing anything more. The super-mutation that Henry shows puts him in X-Men territory.
  • Philosophy — The larger reason that this story is unrealistic is that it takes an essentially pre-Copernican view of the universe, with people, and the Earth, as privileged and central. The time travelers in the story materialize in places (on the ground, not inside other objects, etc.) convenient to humans, suggesting that our matter is somehow distinct from other matter. Human emotions and memories guide their travels, again suggesting a kind of centrality. And the Earth itself acts as if it is a single place in the universe, despite all its diverse motions through space.

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The futures depicted in the movies