Pure Intentions do not Translate to Screen

I read The Time Traveler’s Wife some years ago. Not really my thing, but I enjoyed it well enough.

[No matter how it may be categorized in your book store, The Time Traveler’s Wife is not science-fiction. Yes, there is time travel, but there’s no science involved. Yes, toward the end, there is some business about a genetic cause, but even that is more magic than science. I guess technically it counts as speculative fiction. However, the essence of the story is its love story. If you spend even a moment thinking about how or why, then you’re overthinking it and missing the point. I’m not sure (because I’ve never read one) this counts as a romance novel. It probably belongs in the catch-all “literature” section of the book store.]

It’s about the relationship between a guy who chronically and spontaneously jumps around in time, and a girl with whom he is inextricably intertwined (because love/fate/serendipity). The main consequence of this is that they interact with each other throughout their lives, but mostly at different relative ages.

In particular, this means Henry visits Clare all the way back to her young childhood. Oh, and whenever he shows up, he is naked. Let’s spell that out: there are several scenes in the book where there is an adult male alone with a young girl, with whom he is in love, and many of those scenes start with her observing his nakedness.

In the book, this is treated with the utmost purity. We know Henry’s thoughts, and he has no untoward motives. He is definitely not a predator, nor is he pursuing a sexual relationship with a child. As a reader, there are moments when you have no choice to but to stop and think about the wrongness of these situations. However the author (Audrey Niffenegger) is careful to lay the groundwork and quickly defuse those concerns. Henry is always careful and conscientious, and we know that he would never hurt young Clare. We can see that it is all quite innocent and chaste.

And also, the author isn’t making any statements or implications that love affairs between adult men and young children is okay, or anything like that. Clare’s story is told mostly from the point of view of an adult in love with Henry, and Henry’s relationship is with adult Clare, even though he is frequently appearing to young Clare. There’s no justification of taboo relationships.

There was a film in 2009, which I haven’t watched. This year, there has been a television series, which I also haven’t watched. However, I have been hearing some criticism of the television series, and that criticism is basically about how creepy the relationship is. In particular, an article “Why do we keep pretending that The Time Traveler’s Wife is a love story?” attempts to view the story through the lens of what we think we know today about grooming. This article was published before the series aired, but now that it’s airing, I’m hearing more such criticism.

How does one portray innocent intentions on screen? Can one? I guess I would have to watch it to know, but the existence of the criticism suggests that whatever they are doing isn’t 100% effective. This is the point I’ve been coming to: the pure intentions portrayed in writing by an omniscient point of view are difficult to translate into film, where we usually only see external actions, expressions, and dialog.