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Temporal Anomalies

Main Page
Discussing Time Travel Theory
Other Films
Perpetual Barbecue
About the Author
Contact the Author

See also entries under the
Temporal Anomalies/Time Travel
category of the
mark Joseph "young"
web log
elsewhere on this site.

Quick Jumps

A Fixed Time Gem
A Fixed Time Hearbreak
The First Time Is the First Time
The First Time Is the Worst Time
The Artist and the Librarian
A Future Problem
Just Say "No"
The Second First Meeting
Make Your Own Luck
Housing Problem
Tell Gomez
A Doctor In the House
Cutting Off the Future
She Tells You Her Name
Melodic Break
Death Foreseen
A Question of Stability
Not Quite the End
Alba, Know Thyself
The Truth Will Out

Movies Analyzed
in order examined

    Addendum to Terminator
    Terminator 3:  Rise of the Machines
    Terminator Recap
    Terminator Salvation
    Terminator Genisys
    Terminator:  Dark Fate
Back To The Future
Back To The Future II
Back To The Future III
Star Trek Introduction
    Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
    Star Trek: Generations
    Star Trek: First Contact
    Star Trek (2009)
12 Monkeys
    Addendum to 12 Monkeys
Flight Of The Navigator
  Flight Of The Navigator Addendum
Army of Darkness
Lost In Space
Peggy Sue Got Married
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure
Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey
Planet of the Apes
Kate and Leopold
Somewhere In Time
The Time Machine
Minority Report
Happy Accidents
The Final Countdown
Donnie Darko
  S. Darko
Harry Potter and
    the Prisoner of Azkaban

Deja Vu
    Primer Questions
Bender's Big Score
Popular Christmas Movies
The Butterfly Effect
  The Butterfly Effect 2
  The Butterfly Effect 3:  Revelations
The Last Mimzy
The Lake House
The Time Traveler's Wife
The Hot Tub Time Machine
Los Cronocrimines a.k.a. TimeCrimes
A Sound of Thundrer
Frequently Asked Questions
    About Time Travel

Source Code
Blackadder Back & Forth
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III
11 Minutes Ago
Men in Black III
La Jetée
Midnight in Paris
Meet the Robinsons
H. G. Wells' The Time Machine
The Jacket
Safety Not Guaranteed
The Philadelphia Experiment
    The Philadelphia Experiment II
Time After Time
About Time
Free Birds
X-Men:  Days of Future Past
Edge of Tomorrow
Mr. Peabody & Sherman
Project Almanac
Time Lapse
O Homem Do Futuro
    a.k.a. The Man from the Future

Abby Sen
When We First Met
See You Yesterday
The History of Time Travel
Copyright Information

The temporal anomaly terminology used here is drawn from Appendix 11:  Temporal Anomalies of Multiverser from Valdron Inc, and is illustrated on the home page of this web site.  This site is part of M. J. Young Net.

Books by the Author.

The Book

Temporal Anomalies in Time Travel Movies
The Time Traveler's Wife

It is easy to see why this film has such appeal.  As a time travel story, it is highly challenging, with many interesting ideas and insights and more expressed and implied trips through time than any other film in recent memory.  Meanwhile, it remains a love story, a story of two people overcoming the problems posed by what is treated as a medical condition, that one of them periodically and unexpectedly vanishes from time and space, spends time elsewhen, and as unpredictably returns.

Its perturbations made The Time Traveler's Wife one of the most challenging to analyze in a long time, as the sheer length of this article and number of sections attests.

I anticipate that there may be questions.  It has been a fascinating movie that left me grasping for clues for a long time, but an enjoyable one all the same.

A Fixed Time Gem

It should be stated up front that The Time Traveler's Wife works brilliantly well as a fixed time theory story.  Nothing ever changes; the main character even comments more than once that he has attempted to change events and failed to do so.  If you can accept a few minor predestination paradoxes (events whose causes are their own effects, the uncaused cause that is so problematic in some stories), the film tells a coherent story in which all causes and effects fall into one history.

It helps immensely that the time traveler has no control over his abilities.  Even after his daughter suggests that she sometimes forestalls her own disappearance by singing, he, whose mother was an operatic vocalist who died horribly when he was six, never could bring himself to sing and so never could prevent his own trips.  It is thought to be a genetic defect, and the fact that his one child also has it suggests that it is.  There is some suggestion that it might be induced by stress or by alcohol, and some that it might be controlled by drugs, but this is all inconclusive, and we are left with the fact that he travels in time when he does, completely outside of his own ability to cause or prevent it.

The predestination paradoxes are informational.  He explains to his younger self what happened when he had just experienced time travel for the first time.  He gives his future wife the name of the geneticist who is working on his cure, who later gives it to him, resulting in him tracking down the doctor and persuading him to take the case.  He also gets his daughter's name before she is named by traveling to the future and meeting her.

Another challenge in the film is determining which version of him we are seeing.  It is humorous when he vanishes while dressing for the wedding but then, somewhat older and with greying hair, shows up in time to throw on the tux and stand in for himself.  It is more complicated when she rescues a younger him in a parking lot late at night.  There are also scenes we never see--when they are shopping for a home, he very quickly determines that the first two are not right by looking out a window for something he sees at the third, as if he already knows something about the house in which they will live in the future.

We could end the discussion at this point, declare that it is indeed an excellent fixed time film and that the predestination paradoxes are the tropes of such a story and of no special consequence.  However, there are several reasons to challenge the fixed time concept entirely (not the least of which is the predestination paradox itself, but also its handling of the grandfather paradox).  Thus our analysis will ask how the film works under replacement theory.  There are several challenges to this, the most significant being that we often see one side of a time journey--the departure only, or the arrival only--and although we are given a few dates and a few durations, there are also suggestions that he has made many more trips than the film shows, and constructing even an accurate incomplete overview will require several "best guesses".  However, it is a movie worth watching despite its complications, and worth examining despite its seeming simplicity.

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A Fixed Time Heartbreak

The fact that it works as a fixed time story does not mean that it is entirely as it seems.  One of the biggest assumptions the characters make in the movie is not true, and that makes the romance in some ways much less romantic.  Clare is not the big event that draws Henry to the meadow.

The first time Henry meets Clare, in his experience, is in the library.  She has met him and visited with him many times before, in her experience, because he keeps returning to the meadow behind her parents' house.  She tells him this, that apparently he is attracted to certain places; he says yes, big events draw him.  Indeed, he later tells his father that he has seen his mother die many times, but can never arrive in time to prevent it.  Clare suggests that she was a big event.  He met her there; he married her there; he kissed her there.

However, she was not the big event that drew him there.  If this is a fixed time story, she was incidental.

He never actually appears in the meadow; he appears in the woods near the meadow, precisely enough that the young Clare is able to leave clothes within sight of his point of arrival.  Further, he knows that Clare is in the meadow nearby because he meets her in the library before he visits her at the house, and learns from her that she met him in the meadow behind her house.  He never visited her in the meadow in the past until after he had been to her parents' house in the future, and thus when he appeared in the woods he would have recognized the meadow and deduced that the girl was Clare, and walked from the woods to the meadow.  He is not drawn to the meadow, though; he is drawn to the woods.

He appears in the woods in the place he was sitting when he was fatally shot by Clare's father, who missed the buck standing near him and never saw the man who arrived and vanished, or the little girl (his grandaughter) who called to the man from some hidden place in the woods just before the fatal shot.  That is the big event that brings him to the woods near the meadow; Clare just happens to be nearby.

It is thus not as romantic a story as we initially think--at least, not if it is a fixed time story, because as a fixed time story it must be taken as if all events have happened.  Just as it is his mother's death that brings Henry back repeatedly to the scene of the accident, so too it is his own death that brings him back within sight of the meadow and the little girl who falls in love with him.

It is a bit more romantic if we take it as a replacement theory story; it is also much more difficult to unravel.  However, we will attempt to do so.

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The First Time Is the First Time

Taking it as a fixed time story, all its events simply happened.  Henry can appear fully grown in the past before he has aged to maturity because when he does mature he will travel to the past.  With replacement theory, it's not as simple.  If an adult Henry is to appear in the past, there must be a history in which he reached adulthood without arriving in the past, which he then alters by leaving from the future and arriving in the past.

That means that the first time he departs from his own present is the first time he arrives in the past, and no other version of him has arrived in the past yet because none has left from the not-yet-written future.  We thus need to sequence the journeys according to departure dates.

This is not easy.  We are not given events in the order in which either main character experiences them, but out of sequence in a chaotic disjunction in which we have arrivals without departures and departures without arrivals, in which the best clues to the departure date for an arrival is Henry's hair and there are few clues to the time of that arrival.  We are given a few pegs by which to connect the dots, but these are not all connected.

Henry converses with his mother on a subway.  She mentions that her Henry is three.  The headlines of her newspaper announce LBJ's Vietnam 5-Point Plan--almost certainly the McNamara Plan of 1966.  Henry thus was born in or about 1963; he first travels at six, around Christmas, when he vanishes from the car just before his mother has her fatal accident.  He travels to two weeks earlier in the Christmas season, in 1969.

Clare is born May 24th, 1972.  She is six years old the first time she meets him, putting that meeting in 1978.

She recorded every visit in her journal.  He peeks at the journal to get that information; the first time he visits her, he tells her he will visit again the following Tuesday at four, information apparently obtained from the journal.  However, the earliest recorded date we see in that journal is Wednesday January 21st nineteen eighty something, and she sees him again on Saturday February 14th and Sunday February 29th of that same year.  It thus has to be leap year, and since she had not met him in 1976 when she was four it has to be 1980 when she was eight or 1984 when she was twelve.  Since the next page is clearly marked March 1984, it can't be 1988.

However, February 29th is not Sunday in either of those years.  Further, the February calendar in her journal has thirty days (it's printed--where did she get it?), and the March 1984 calendar on the next page begins on Tuesday, as it would if February 30th were Monday.  It, too, does not match the actual 1984 calendar.  It matches the March 1988 calendar, but the February calendar, having thirty days, is still wrong by a day.  This also would put the journal out of sequence, because after the clearly visible dates of Tuesday March 8th and Friday March 25th 1984, there is an April calendar that cannot be clearly seen, followed by a reference on a subsequent page to a May 14th, 1986 arrival after a long absence, a November 19th 1987 arrival on the next page, and a July 3rd 1990 date on the next page.  That date would be his visit to her when she was eighteen, the last time he visited her in the meadow in the past.

In 1995 after he is dating but before he marries Clare he appears to Gomez in an alley, having come from 2003 with the short hair that marks him as married.

During Clare's last of several pregnancies he travels to meet his future daughter Alba.  She is then ten, but tells him he died when she was five; he is thirty-eight at that time, and so dies when he is forty-three or forty-four (because she is not quite yet born and he dies on the Christmas following her birthday).

He arrives once more in the future after his death, when she is nine; he was thirty-nine when he departed, and Alba was a baby.

This is the extent of our fixed points, and they leave serious gaps in our knowledge.  We know how old Clare was for most of their meetings until she was eighteen, and can guess that she meets him in the library in 1995 when she is about 23 and he about 32.  Yet there are a lot of gaps and guesses here, and a difficult analysis ahead.

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The First Time Is the Worst Time

Henry's first departure happened when he was six years old; that thus makes this the first trip to the past.  We know that he later will travel to an earlier time, and that Alba too will travel to earlier times, but since these trips originate from later in history they cannot occur until after Henry makes this one.

Nor can an older Henry appear with a blanket and an explanation, because Henry has to grow older before he can make that trip.

Thus sometime around Christmas 1969 when Henry was six he was riding in the car with his mother when she lost control on the ice.  He vanished, leaving his clothes in the back seat of the car, stood naked in his own home for a moment about two weeks in the past, then reappeared standing on the street roughly where the car had been, completely devoid of clothing.  He saw the fiery crash that killed his mother, and was found by emergency services, shivering by the side of the road.  They'll have wondered about his clothes, but his explanation will not make any sense:  he was in the car, the car started going out of control, for a moment he was home, and then he was standing in the street.  They will assume he blacked out.  They might even tell him so, that the moment when he was home was all a dream, that somehow either he fell from the car when the door popped open or his mother managed to toss him from the car to safety, although no one understands what happened to his clothes.

There is then a serious gap in our knowledge:  we never see the child Henry travel in time again, but at some point a young Henry must make the trip which brings him the blanket.  This Henry looks like the one who works in the library, but he looks much like that up to the day before he marries Clare.  However, we also know that he vanished from that library on Christmas Eve one year, and that he makes a comment about how long it took to do what he was doing in the stacks.  It seems likely that this trip is the only other one about which we have any certain knowledge to take place prior to meeting Clare.  That still leaves us with a significant gap, because that Henry already understands that he is traveling through time.  That suggests that there has been at least one and probably several other temporal trips by which he has learned this.

It is not that difficult to grasp how he understood this, though.  He later tells his father that he has seen his mother die "hundreds of times", and that before he proposes to Clare.  Even supposing that to be wildly exaggerated, to have returned to the moment of the accident as often as twice and been in the past long enough to see more, and to see from a different location, and to see that he was not that child whom he sees standing on the street, would be sufficient to tell him that these fits are real movement through time and space; and two more to other times and places would confirm that it is not a psychotic reliving of a memory.  It would also teach him the futility of trying to change the past, because he would be unable to stop the accident.  History would change, indeed, but only so much as by the number of copies of Henry de Tamble watching it happen.

Then one Christmas he vanishes from the library, and finds himself in the past with enough time to steal some clothes and a blanket and arrive at the accident scene to wrap his naked younger self in something warm.  He will have changed the past.  However, he will also have changed his own memories of the past--now he remembers that someone claiming to be him showed up, wrapped him in a blanket, and said something about time traveling.  So now he knows what he originally had to figure out for himself.  That, though, does not destroy time.  Although it is a predestination paradox, it is the sort in which it is only information that becomes its own source.  Whether Henry told himself he was a time traveler or not, Henry will still be able to tell himself by the time that moment arrives.  We erase the histories in which he deduces this from experience, and replace them with histories in which he begins with an explanation.

And, having changed the past, he does not know he did so, because the only past he knows is the one he himself created.

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The Artist and the Librarian

We see Henry meet Clare for the first time, and it is a fascinating meeting because she has not only already met him but known him for years, kissed him, and fallen in love with him, and has been awaiting this moment for five years.  In fixed time it's a neat predestination paradox (we already had one of these) in which each of them already knows the other when it is the first meeting for the other:  when Henry first meets Clare in the Library, she is already in love with him from their trysts in the meadow; when she first meets him in the meadow, he has already met and married her in the future.

That's fine for fixed time, but it doesn't work well for replacement theory, and if we find fixed time troublesome either generally or in this story, we have to find an alternative.

It is awkward at this point to speak of an "original history".  Henry has by now made what he describes as "hundreds" of trips, rewriting time repeatedly.  Yet at the moment when the artist Clare is referred to the librarian Henry, he has not yet made any trips to that meadow, and so that little girl has not yet met him.  She will, in a history yet to be written; but in this history, the first time history gets as far as this meeting, she has not done so.  This obviously significantly impacts this meeting.  She does not recognize him; she acts naturally for a cute girl meeting a special projects librarian.  Then one of two things happens, one of them rather simple and very romantic, and the other extremely complicated and improbable:  either they fall in love with each other without that background, or they don't, and their encounters in the past have a lot more impact on them than we guessed.

If they don't, it is still the case that Henry will appear in the woods by the meadow and meet the little girl.  He won't know who she is, and won't tell her that he knows her in the future; but he will borrow her blanket and tell her he's a time traveler.  Those meetings have a lot of impact on the story and are fodder for the future.  After a few of them have been added to the history, though, Clare will know Henry on sight at the library, and that will rewrite history to bring them together.

The notion that they fell in love at that first meeting has much to commend it, though.  It is arguably more romantic to have the couple falling in love with each other at the same time.  The alternative supposes that she falls in love with him when she is a child, and then when she finds him as an adult she pushes herself on him until he reciprocates that love.  Her later claim that he forced himself into her heart cuts both ways in that case, because she in turn forced her way into his, and who can say which came first?  Here they meet, both for the first time, and here they come to know and love each other mutually.

To some degree, that time will be erased, and to some degree they will suffer for it.  They do not have that courtship to remember, really.  She does not know why she fell in love with him then; she knows only that she fell in love with him much younger.  He does not have the memories of growing closer together, only of her pressing into his life and insisting that he love her as she loves him.  When the marriage counselor asks, "Why did you marry?", they will be hard pressed to give an answer.

For the moment, though, they have that in their relationship, that time of growing together.  She discovers his time travel problems not because of his arrivals but because of his departures.  It is many rewrites of history before the little girl meets the older man.

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A Future Problem

After Henry and Clare meet in the library, but before he makes his first trip back to the meadow, he makes many little trips.  We see him thrown in the back of a police car from which he vanishes, stealing various sets of clothing from cars and walking around in different clothes, sometimes wrapped in only a blanket.  There are, however, two significant trips in this time, and the first one is very difficult to reconcile and not well fixed.

In the future, shortly after Henry has his vasectomy, Henry appears from the past and calls Clare on her cell phone to get a ride.  When she retrieves him, he has the long hair he cut the day before the wedding; but he knows her and knows her cell number, so they must already live together in the time from which he left.  That puts the departure in this period.  It also creates a rather difficult history.

Let's put a date on it.  We know that Henry was not married in 1995, and he was by 2003.  Let's put this departure shortly before the wedding, which means 1996.  We will eventually deduce that Alba is born in 2001, conceived probably in 2000 after several miscarriages.  They must have married in 1996 or 1997 at the latest.  Thus in 1996 Henry steps out of the world and returns in 2000, and finds the world the way it has developed without him.

Fixed time afficionados will object that because he is going to return, he has already returned.  Ah, but what if he arrived in 2000 and was killed by a mugger in an alley?  That is, when he leaves from 1996, there is no guarantee he will ever return; it is not until he actually does return that he reenters history in 1996.  Thus from Clare's perspective, one day in 1996 Henry vanished, and she had probably despaired of awaiting his return when her cell phone rang one night and it was him, having leapt across four years and appeared now.

We can't guess her reaction.  She will be angry, upset, hurt, and at the same time eager to see him.  He hasn't aged a day; she might worry that she doesn't look good anymore.

We don't know if they embrace in the car; it does not much matter, because in a few minutes Henry will vanish and return to 1996.  That, then, is a trip to the past that changes history:  Henry was missing for a short time and returned, as he usually does.  Because he has changed history, now the version of him who leaves from 1996 to 2000 will meet the Clare who married him and recently fought with him--the one we see in the movie, more or less.  So the problem fixes itself and erases any memory that it was ever a problem, and once again Henry believes he cannot change the past because after it has been changed he cannot know that it was not always thus.

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Just Say "No"

One of the most interesting moments in the film occurs when Henry proposes to Clare.  She says, "No."  What is interesting is not that she says "No", nor that he is stunned by this, nor that she immediately changes her answer to "Yes", but the reason she gives for saying "No" and for changing it to "Yes":  she wanted to see whether she could.  She wanted to test whether she had what she perceives as "free will" or whether she was forced to do what she was destined to do.

She discovers that she can say whatever she wants, but what she wants to say is "Yes".  On the one hand, she fears that she has no control of her own life because the fact that her afianced travels to the future strongly suggests that the future is fixed and she just playing a part in the play.  On the other hand, the part she plays is, right now, the part she wants to play.

The scene proves nothing at all.  If we take it as fixed time, we conclude that Clare is compelled to say "Yes" ultimately, and when she says "No" first that was just part of the history, that she would first reject and then immediately accept his proposal.  She can't not marry him, because in the future she already has done so.

If, though, it is replacement theory, it is revealing of the type of predetermination that controls history under that theory.  Clare marries Henry because it is what she wants.  Theoretically she is perfectly free to choose not to do so; she recognizes this even as she considers the choice and voices her rejection.  However, when she comes to this moment it is always the first time she comes to this moment, and she always feels as she feels the first time.  She freely makes the same choice because all things considered it is the choice she wants to make, and unless something has changed in the past to cause her to feel and think otherwise, she will want to make that choice every time.

That raises questions about the fact that Henry is still tampering with the past.  The first time he proposes to her, he has never visited the little girl in the meadow; she is choosing to marry him based on their developing relationship, their history together since meeting in the library.  It is not until after the wedding that her past is altered by his visits to her childhood.  Her feelings for him are changing; but we have every reason to believe that with each visit they are being reinforced, that she is hoping and dreaming that she will someday marry him.  If she said yes to the time traveler who had never visited her in the past, she will certainly say yes to the one who spent time innocently playing house with her at childhood tea parties.

People often ask whether when history repeats itself in a replacement theory anomaly someone could change history inadvertently--eat the hamburger instead of the pizza, take the senic route home, vote the other way in the election.  The answer is that in theory they could choose to do whatever they wish, but in practice what they will wish will be based on everything that brought them to that choice and caused them to choose as they did.  Unless their personal history changes in a way which impacts what they bring to this choice--someone warned them about the pizza, or the traffic, or the winning candidate--they will make the same choice because it was and will be the choice they want to make.

In that sense, Clare cannot choose not to marry Henry.  It is not because history resists paradox, but simply because she is driven by her own personality and desires and needs and thoughts, and being the same person at the same moment will make the same choice.  She is not bound by time, but by love.

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Before he proposes to Clare, Henry gets the chance to tell his mother about her.  Perhaps it is her encouragement which induces him to find her ring and propose.  We come to a wedding.  Gomez is the best man, and is helping him prepare; but just as Henry is about to take a valium (or perhaps just after he took one) to steady his nerves so he is less likely to vanish, he vanishes.

In the movie, a considerably older Henry taps on the window a moment later, and takes his own place for the ceremony.  However, that considerably older Henry has to be the future version of the one who just vanished, and he does not yet exist.  This is another of those arrivals without corresponding departures; but it will be years before Henry is that old, and thus several histories in which he will not appear here.

Fortunately, Henry returns that evening.  That's a major disruption in the plans, and it is not at all clear how Clare, Gomez, and Mr. de Tamble (Henry's father) are going to explain to her parents (not to mention all the well-to-do party guests) why he suddenly vanished just before the wedding.  They of course do not know for how long he will be gone; he might return the moment the guests start leaving.  However, there is a party planned, with a live band and outdoor dance floor and food and drink.  We might as well turn things around.  Tell the Abshires something about Henry's condition; tell the guests that he forgot the ring and had to run back to find it.  If he returns before midnight, have the ceremony; if not, tell them that something must have happened and you're checking the hospitals and police now, and will let them know.

We are never told where he went--one of those departures without corresponding arrivals.  We can be fairly certain he did not go to the meadow, because he usually tells Clare when he returns from visiting her there.  If he traveled to the future, it will be very embarrassing for Clare, who won't see him perhaps ever again in this history; but the embarrassment will be eliminated when that version of events is erased and replaced by his return.  If we assume he traveled to the past, he probably did not change anything that would impact this moment, and so he returns that evening and they get married a bit behind schedule.  He apologizes for his tardiness; she says it can't be helped and she knew that when she agreed to marry him.

Of course, then he disappears again a mere few hours later as the honeymoon is just getting started; that, though, has its own problems.

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The Second First Meeting

Henry and Clare are jumping on the honeymoon bed when he suddenly vanishes.  He travels to the meadow, where he visits the young Clare, who is jealous to discover that he is married.  He doesn't tell her that she is his wife; that was probably a wise decision.

However, this meeting probably did not play out the way we see it in the movie.  Unless we think that this is where he went when he was supposed to be at the wedding (unlikely, since as noted he usually tells Clare when he has been to see her in the past), this is the first time Henry has ever traveled from the future to the meadow; it is therefore the first time in this timeline that Clare has ever met him in the meadow.  She has not set clothes out for him, and does not know who he is.  He will have to borrow her blanket, and we will have something much more like the conversation Clare describes on their first date after the library (which in this history she has not yet described because she has not yet experienced it).  However, one of the advantages of that visit was that it was rather short; this one seems to last at least an hour or two.  Nor can he say with confidence early in their meeting that if she watches she will see him vanish--he does not know when he is going to leave until mere seconds before he does.

(It ought to be noted in this connection that that first meeting as described by Clare did not happen as described, either.  Henry, who has by now made trips which had him trapped in the past for days at a time, only knows to tell Clare this visit will be short because Clare's diary says it will be short; but her diary won't have anything about this trip until after the trip has been made.  That trip, then, creates a sawtooth snap before resolving to an N-jump:  first, there is no trip reported; then Henry appears, meets Clare, and vanishes a few minutes later; then Henry reads about this trip in Clare's diary and can tell Clare that this will be a short trip when he visits her.)

He will recognize the meadow; he was just there preparing for the wedding this week.  He probably has seen photos of Clare as a young girl, and so will recognize her as well.  He will be uncertain how to handle the situation, however, because Clare never mentioned to him having met in the past.

Still, he will probably tell her what we see in Clare's telling of the first meeting, including that he is a time traveler and that they know each other in the future.  He will tell her the statistical facts; he won't know about her brother's arm yet, but at this point that's the past anyway.  He will not know to ask her to leave clothes out for him.

That, though, is a redeeming factor.  Her first meeting with him is still in his future, and in another iteration of history.  That he meets her in the meadow now means that when he meets her then he will already know that he is going to meet her there again.  We know from the journal that he made many more trips to the meadow than we see depicted in the movie.  It is likely that he made a few of those later trips before he made the first one she remembers.  Thus when he finally does make that trip, he can tell her genuinely that he is going to be making more, and she should leave clothes for him.  That changes history again, because then when he makes this trip she has already met him and has left clothes for him.  He will be a bit disoriented, because this will be for him the second first time he has met her and she already knows him.

However, his own history also changes from this:  Clare now has the memory of meeting him, and now recognizes him in the library, and may even have the journal despite the fact that there is only one visit recorded in it.  He told her that they were friends in the future, and then he vanished, so she's been looking for him since.  History has changed.

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Make Your Own Luck

Winning the lottery is a fantastic stroke of luck.  You have better odds of being killed on the street.  Indeed, the lottery is a voluntary tax, and a way for the poor and elderly to spend their money.  Still, winning the lottery is an idea often asked and answered in time travel puzzles, which appeared in a slightly different form in The Last Mimzy.  If you traveled to the future and brought back the winning number, would that be cheating?

When Henry does it, winning Clare five million dollars so she can escape the life of an impoverished artiste and pursue her art in the comfort of her own patronage, there is a moment when she, too, feels it is cheating; but she overcomes that feeling very quickly--five million dollars is certainly a salve to doubts of conscience, particularly when it is not entirely certain this is wrong.  After all, the lottery is one of the few games of chance in which strategy is pretty useless, but there is no rule against using strategy to try to win, and going to the future to return with the number is certainly an impressive winning strategy.

We could ask whether it would be wrong to do this.  That is to some degree a moot point--there is no rule against it because it is not thought to be possible.  It would be taking advantage of an unfair advantage, perhaps--but as Henry says, his condition has a lot of disadvantages, it ought to have a few advantages as well.  Had he instead used his knowledge of the future to beat the stock market (as they did in Primer), would that, too, be cheating?  The first person to be able to see the future would have an inherent unfair advantage; that does not mean they are cheating, any more than that Michael Jordan would be cheating if he beat me in a one-on-one pick-up basketball game.

What is more significant from our perspective is whether it would be possible, that is, what would happen if he attempted this?

We have already discussed the problem which occurs when he travels to the future, and that occurs here.  It is not in this case a substantial problem, really.  He won't have traveled more than a few days ahead (weeks at the most, but the sense really is that he did this almost immediately after their fight, and winning lottery numbers are easier to find within a few days after they are drawn).  So he hopped ahead a few days, memorized the numbers, and came back to buy the winning ticket.

(It is interesting to speculate as to whether it would have been possible for him to write or scratch the numbers on his arm.  It seems that injuries do travel with him even if clothing or scraps of paper do not.  There is insufficient information for a conclusion on that, though, and he does have the numbers memorized when they are drawn, so he probably brought them back in his memory and then wrote them down.)

The fact is, though, that Henry has changed history.  It is the history ahead of him, but it is still history and it is in some sense part of his history.  When he first arrives to record the winning lottery number, Clare has not yet won.  Then when she wins, that changes the future.  The questions are, how much and in what ways?

The obvious way is that Clare now has money she did not have before.  We don't know, really , how that matters.  On the one hand, she probably has had it for such a short time by the time Henry makes the trip that it hadn't even reached her bank account; on the other hand, he has already made that trip to the future in which she rescues him, and so it may well be that she came then in a different car, certainly from a different house.  That future did exist beyond this moment; it is now different.

The less obvious way is that this means someone else does not get the money.  Most lotteries roll over the winnings to the next time so that the jackpot keeps growing if there's no winner.  That means the next lottery jackpot will be five million dollars smaller--and since we know that that original history existed, there was a history in which someone had the money, and now he won't.

So with her new-found wealth, Clare lives a more comfortable life--which leads to more considerations.

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Last time we saw how Clare won the lottery, making her five million dollars richer.  She rushes out and buys a very expensive new home with the money.

Or maybe not.

Most state lotteries make payouts over twenty years.  That means Clare won two hundred fifty thousand dollars a year for twenty years--a nice income, but hardly qualifying her as a millionnaire.  She could take the lump sum, but it would be considerably less than five million; the state counts on the fact that it can pay out over time to make the budget work.  A dollar in twenty years is worth a lot less than a dollar right now, so you don't get it all at once, you choose between it all and at once.

Further, although a state usually exempts its own lottery winnings from state income tax, lottery winnings are taxable on federal income tax returns.  Worse, they are not wages but gambling winnings--which means no deductions can be taken against them except gambling losses.  It puts Clare in a very high tax bracket and gives her no options for reducing her tax burden.  So then, generously, she's probably getting about half that after taxes.

She did not buy that house for a hundred twenty-five thousand dollars.  In an urban neighborhood in the 1990s that was close to a seven figure home.  That means Clare has a mortgage; but the mortgage interest and property taxes are not deductible against her lottery winnings, which cuts deeper into her money.

She is still working.  Perhaps she makes enough as an artist to cover the property taxes and mortgage interest--which means she can deduct those against her commissions.  But we should not think that that five million dollar win made her a millionnaire who could plunk down cash for a home of that sort overnight, nor who does not have to work again for the rest of her life.  That house will be expensive to maintain.  She will have to work to maintain it.

Of course, Henry might be able to do it again; but if Clare wins twice, it's going to look suspicious.  Even if the husband of a previous winner wins, there is going to be public suspicion and a state investigation.  Closer to home, though, there are people who know.  Will Gomez and Charisse feel slighted if Henry is getting winning lottery numbers and doesn't give them one?  Would Henry's father think his son unkind if the boy doesn't share the goose along with some of the golden eggs?  If you knew that your best friend, your child, your parent, your sibling, could produce winning lottery tickets, would you feel slighted that you didn't get one?  Win the lottery once and they'll all think you were very lucky; win it twice, and they'll know something is up.

And whether or not it's cheating, people will feel cheated if they know.

The Starman in Starman had the right idea:  if you're going to use your power to win something, make it something really big up front, because if you hit twice you're suspicious, so you want to make sure you never have to do it again.  A five million dollar lottery hasn't been a really big win for a while--not that I would complain if I won it, but that Henry could have done considerably better, and should have aimed higher.

On the other hand, he doesn't have control over when he arrives and returns, so maybe he was just lucky to hit a short future hop that one time.

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Housing Problem

There is an interesting quirk in the thread in which Henry and Clare are house hunting after she wins the lottery.  Henry is not looking at the houses.  He is walking through them to a back window where he looks out and, not seeing something, recognizes that this is not the house.  Somehow he already knows what Clare's studio will look like before they buy the house, which means he has already seen it in the future.

This is definitely quirky.  It gives us some of the same problems we had with his earlier trips to the future, in that he must have vanished from time and then on returning rewritten the original history from which he had been absent.  However, it gives us another problem, and a more complicated one.  The film gives us no clue concerning either the departure or the arrival, so we will have to make some assumptions.

The least damage is done by short hops to the future; that is, if we assume that Henry came to the future house from before he got the lottery ticket, then the lottery winnings are not part of the future he visits, and he has to return to rewrite the intervening history with his presence so that his visit from the past will itself be altered as he sees a future in which he was there to get the lottery ticket.  (Yes, interacting anomalies can be extremely complicated.)  For simplicity, we will assume that some time after he arrived in the future to get the winning number he again departed to the future, some period at least long enough for Clare to have found and purchased the house.

That, though, is perhaps the rub.  Would Clare have purchased that house, had Henry vanished and not returned?  That is what happens in the original history when Henry travels to the future:  he is absent from time to the point of his future arrival.  Then when he returns to the past (what he calls the present) he rewrites that original history by reinserting himself into it, and then in the future he sees the world as altered by his presence.

This case, though, has another wrinkle.  In the original history, Clare almost certainly did not buy a house.  She awaited his return.  In the history presented in the film, Clare buys the house because Henry has already seen her studio in a visit to the future.  That, though, is not the original history he viewed; there has to be an intervening history in which Clare and Henry buy that house, but Henry had not seen it in the future--and thus in which Henry changes the future history to one in which when he visits from the past he sees the house they from his perspective have not yet bought.

All of this means that we have a sawtooth snap, in the lost middle history of which Clare and Henry are house hunting and find and purchase that particular house.  That also means that in that history they reject (at least) two other properties which Clare clearly liked but Henry rejected solely based on his knowledge of the future he saw.  Yet the only way to reach that future is for them to reject those other houses for other reasons so that they will be able to find the one Henry will in the next history have seen in the future.

It also means that, as with their lost romance, they went through a process of deciding against each of those houses and in favor of the one they chose, and that process has been erased and replaced by the fiat that Henry already knows which one they chose, but no one knows why.  Their memories of househunting are not those of trying to pick the best one, but of trying to find the one Henry has already seen, and relying on the wisdom of their other selves to have gotten the best one.

This would have mattered more had Henry decided the house they bought in the future was wrong and tried to change it; that would create an infinity loop.  Even so, Henry has changed who he and Clare are, and has altered their relationship.  They did not go through a process of sharing what they liked and did not like about houses; they do not have the same feelings about the house they chose, nor perhaps about each other.  Henry does not know that Clare likes the laundry room on the bedroom level, and she does not know how much he likes the fireplace.  They lost a part of their history, and a part of their relationship, by short-circuiting a process that would have changed them.

It is not all good, even when it seems so.

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Tell Gomez

Shortly after they meet in the library, Clare brings Henry home to meet her roommate Charisse and her boyfriend (whose children she eventually has) Gomez (short, he says, for Gomolinski).  Shortly after that, though, Gomez finds Henry oddly dressed and fighting in an alley.  Winning his fight, Henry then breaks into a thrift shop, dragging Gomez in his wake, dons more appropriate clothing, explains to Gomez that he is a time traveler, and then vanishes.

We know that these events occur in 1995, because Gomez gives us the year; we know that Henry came from 2003 because Henry says so.  We also know that he is married, because his hair is short.  That fixes their wedding between 1995 and 2003, putting Clare between twenty-three (assuming the wedding was not before her May 24th birthday) and thirty-one at the wedding, Henry between 32 and 40.

It also introduces a new complication.  We know that after he was married Henry came to 1995 before the wedding and told Gomez he was a time traveler, and so Gomez was not completely shocked when at the wedding the groom vanished leaving his clothes behind; he'd seen that act before.  We don't know that Gomez ever saw that happen again.  Henry thus never told Gomez before the wedding that he was a time traveler because Gomez already knew; but Gomez won't know until Henry leaves from after the wedding to go tell him.  That means that when Henry disappears at the wedding, Gomez has no clue what just happened.

Remember, too, that in the original history when Henry disappears from the wedding the replacement does not arrive; Henry has not yet reached the future from which he can return to the wedding.  Only Clare and Henry's father know at this point.

That is, only they know unless someone has already told Gomez.  The problem is, there is no obvious reason for that to have happened.  Henry is not in the habit of telling people, and Clare seems to have kept the matter rather secret as well.  There is also the problem of credibility--if either of them happens to say, oh, by the way, Henry occasionally vanishes to another time and place and then later returns, it is not particularly likely that Gomez would believe this any more than when Henry tells him in the thrift shop, and unless he happens to vanish at that moment Gomez might not stay around to see the proof.

There are two plausible resolutions.  One is that Henry vanishes from the bathroom at the wedding, and Gomez panics, rushes to tell Clare that he doesn't know what happened, and when she is not surprised (only disappointed) he gets the explanation from her.  It makes the wedding event a much more colorful affair, as news that Henry has vanished to another time and will eventually return will spread to a lot of incredulous guests--but that will correct itself when other trips from the future rewrite this scenario until it matches what we see in the movie (first by having Henry explain to Gomez in 1995, then by having a future Henry stand in for himself at the wedding).

The other possibility is that Gomez witnesses one of the many departures which it is implied Henry makes.  In that sense it is surprising that more people have not seen him vanish, but it is most likely that those with whom he spends significant time would (for example, how does his father know, but that he must have witnessed it and gotten an explanation?).

Either way, Gomez knows by the time of the reception, and eventually gets the information sooner, removing the need to tell him later.

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A Doctor In the House

One of the most vexing of the predestination paradoxes in the film concerns the involvement of Doctor Kendrick.

We must assume that there is an original reason for Kendrick to become involved in the case, and that is the part that is most difficult to find.  We see a meeting in which Henry, fully knowing that Kendrick is his future doctor because he told so Clare in the past, struggles to persuade the geneticist that this is not a joke, and almost fails but that he knows personal information about Kendrick's career.  He won't know that information, and he won't have reason to attempt to persuade Kendrick if he has not done so.  Kendrick becomes Henry's doctor because Henry is persistent, and Henry is persistent because he already knows that Kendrick will be his doctor.  It seems to be a closed loop; but for a replacement theory solution to work, there has to be a lost original cause that brought the loop into existence and then vanished from it.

In this case, our imaginings may be aided by the overlap of other events.  We already know that Henry disappeared before the wedding, and that he remains absent that afternoon in all timelines that end until whenever it is that he leaves from the future to take his own place at the ceremony.  That means at the very least the Abshires have been given the secret, that their daughter is marrying someone who for as yet undetermined reasons vanishes to other moments in time and space and then returns.

Philip Abshire is clearly a wealthy man.  The many acres of estate behind his spacious mansion are used for sport hunting, not farming or husbandry.  Wealthy men are at the very least influential and connected, and so given that the daughter he thought would never succeed in life is intent on marrying the man who has some sort of strange condition that causes him to vanish, he is going to find the best doctor for the problem.  Whatever he tells people about this, it will include that his son-in-law has blackouts and seems to have been born with the condition, and that's going to send him to the promising young geneticist who is considered a candidate for the coveted Berger Award.  (There are apparently dozens of "Berger Awards", and several are related to medicine, so it's a safe name.)  He might himself make the initial contact, asking Doctor Kendrick to see the man and assess the problem.

Given the third party involvement, and the probability that no mention was made of either vanishing or time travel in that initial contact, Kendrick will probably think initially that Henry's time travel memories are hallucinatory dreams experienced during blackouts.  If he manages to see Henry disappear, he will then change his thinking--and particularly if it happens in the Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine, producing the image of the electrical spike at the moment of his departure.

Ah, but what happens once Henry has replaced himself at the wedding, and Philip Abshire is not informed of Henry's condition?  We assume in constructing the timeline that by this point Henry has already mentioned Dr. Kendrick to the young Clare in the past, and so she mentions the same name to him, and without Abshire's intervention Henry tracks down the geneticist and gets him involved in his diagnosis and treatment.  The loop closes, and all causes and effects are contained in the final version of this history.

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Cutting Off the Future

There is a lot of time travel surrounding Henry's unilateral decision to have a vasectomy.  We have already discussed the problems involved when a younger Henry comes from the past and the older Clare takes advantage of the still virile younger version of her husband.  There were also several mysterious miscarriages thought to be consequent to the unborn children leaving their mother's body, leading to Henry seeking geneticist Doctor Kendrick.  There is another, however.  As he is stumbling out of the clinic post-surgery he stumbles into the bathroom and leaves his clothes behind for a while.  He is at least thirty-seven and not more than thirty-eight years old; we know this because tonight he will tell his wife about the vascectomy, she will make him sleep on the couch, and he won't hear her leave to pick up his younger self, who will father their daughter.

This, though, is his last visit to the girl in the meadow.  It is the last meeting she records in her diary, and it happens also to be the last time we see him depart from the future and arrive there during her youth.  She remembers this event, and at this moment in the future when he mentions having visited her at eighteen, she accuses him of having forced his way into a child's heart, forcing her to love him.

We previously noted that each can make that claim against the other.  She found him in the library and pushed her way into his life against his reluctant resistance.  What matters to us now, though, is whether she is right in this:  did that kiss in the meadow make the difference, bring them together by forcing her to focus her affections on him?

If it did, we have an uncaused cause, a classic predestination paradox in which she will only marry him if she married him.  If the kiss is necessary for that to happen, and that is necessary to bring about the kiss, it never happens.

On the other hand, again as previously considered, there is something much more romantic about them having met in the library, neither knowing aught about the other, and gradually growing to know and love each other.  We would like to think that they would have fallen in love even without the time travel.  The good news is, it must have been that way, because if the kiss were necessary for them to marry, and the marriage necessary for them to kiss, they would never have kissed nor married.  Thus the fact that they are married before he travels to the meadow, before he gives her that first kiss, proves that there was a history in which they came together without the support of her memories of him in the meadow.

The kiss changes that, of course.  Ultimately, though, it brings them to the same place, so they build a different history supporting a similar future.

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She Tells You Her Name

Clare, under the care of Dr. Kendrick and others, has almost carried her child to term, yet Henry is still worried.  He has never seen them in the future with a child, and he is very much concerned that they could lose yet another to miscarriage.  He doesn't wish to discuss names.  Then he vanishes, and travels about ten years into the future, arriving at an apparently nearby zoo while his daughter is there.  She recognizes him, calls to him, and tells him a few things about his future--including that five years ago he died.  There are, however, far greater complications in this than that he now knows of his own impending death.

The first problem is the problem we previously addressed, that of what happens when Henry travels to the future.  In this case, it's particularly complicated, because he is recognized in the future by someone who never met him in the past, and so cannot recognize him in the future.  Thus when he returns to the past and so alters the future, he changes what happens in the future in ways which again change what happens in the past.

It begins because once Henry leaps to the future he has created a ten-year span in which he is missing.  People who know-and-don't-know will feel sorry for Clare, left to raise that child by herself, that worthless husband she had been supporting having abandoned her just before the baby was born.  The girl will be born, and Clare will name her something.

Ten years later, that daughter will be at the zoo on a school field trip.  We know that she herself has already traveled to the past, creating anomalies within this anomaly.  The critical question is whether she will recognize her father.  If so, she will call to him, wanting to meet him; if not, then history will have to repeat itself to reach that point.

Yet there is evidence that Clare named her daughter Alba, and that Alba would recognize her father in the future.  The latter is evident:  during the time that Henry is in the future, Alba must mature to reach ten years old.  Before she is ten, she has already made several trips to the past, including one in which we see her observing her parents before her birth.  She knows him on sight, and she knows that he, like she, is a time traveler.

The former question is not as obvious.  However, it seems at first strange that her name is Alba.  It is not at all a common name; to the contrary, an Internet search turns up few people of that name.  What it is, though, is the technical name for a particular type of love poem in which typically the lovers are separated at dawn.  It is thus an ideal name for Clare to have chosen for the daughter of her husband who vanished from the world just before the birth of their long-awaited child.  Clare chose that name while Henry was missing from time.

Alba then recognized her father, introduced herself as his daughter Alba, and in that history told him that he vanished before she was born and she never had the chance to meet him, although she had spied on him in travels to the past before her birth.  Henry may or may not have been aware of the significance of the name, but when he leaps back to the past he takes it with him, telling Clare that he met her, and her name was Alba.  Clare, too, might be oblivious to the meaning at that moment, but they accept that the name chosen was Alba, and thinking that they cannot change what was or will be, they name her Alba.

In ten years, history shifts again.  Alba was born with her father present, and knew him for the first five years of her life.  (There is another wrinkle to this, subject of our next article.)  She discovered her own time traveling, probably aided by her father's explanations of his own life.  He probably told her he would meet her at the zoo.  Then at the zoo she tells him in turn that he died five years before, and the changes are complete.  History takes its final form; Henry now anticipates his death.

The choice of the name Alba may thus be taken as an indication that replacement theory, not fixed time theory, is genuinely behind this story.  It is difficult to divine where Alba gets her name if not from the fact that Henry left before she was born and, in that history, never returned.

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Melodic Break

It seems odd to speak of temporal discontinuity in a time travel film, but it happens, and it has happened in this one.  That is one of the quirks connected to Henry's next reported trip.

It is not the trip reported next; it is not reported until the end of the film, when he appears in the meadow long after his death, and once more says farewell to his wife and daughter.  Yet he tells them that Alba is about a year old and he is thus about thirty-nine, which makes this his next reported departure after he meets Alba at the zoo.

The wrinkle this creates for that scenario is that it means that having first vanished before Alba was born never to return, and then rewriting history by returning before she was born, he again vanishes when she is a year old, leaps ahead to a time after his death to meet everyone in the meadow, never to return again in that history and then again returns to what he would consider his present to live the life.  That means that the "first" time he meets Alba at the zoo, she never knew him because he vanished before she was born; and the "second" time they meet at the zoo she never really knew him because he vanished when she was only a year old.  It also means that on neither of those occasions nor this one does anyone know that he died.  He has not yet been alive in the year in which he dies, so that event still is yet to happen.

That's not too much of a problem, because once he returns he once again rewrites the history between that point of return and this future meeting, and in that time he will have the opportunity to travel to the time when he will be shot, and return to die in his present.  The scene we see will eventually happen as we see it--but for one mistake.

Watching the film, we have already seen Henry ask Alba how she manages to keep herself from traveling when she starts to feel that she will.  She tells him then that she sings, and attempts to get him to do so.  His effort fails, and he vanishes from that wheelchair despite the effort.  That was after the October frostbite event (in our next article) and before his Christmas death (also ahead still).  That means that prior to the last two months of his life he knew nothing of Alba's technique of singing to avoid time travel.

Yet when he is in the meadow, and everyone is afraid he will vanish before Clare can arrive, Alba tells him to sing, as if he already knows that will help.  We can excuse her; she already told him that singing helps her.  However, he responds that he can't sing, as if he understands what she means.  He cannot understand that singing is the way to keep from traveling, because he has not yet been told this.  He should be confused by the suggestion, not remembering what he has not already heard her tell him.  That will never change; she will not tell him about singing until the last months of his life, so he will not know about it when he is in the meadow.  (It does not work under fixed time either.)

Continuity is difficult in time travel films, made the more difficult with multiple travelers making independent trips.  It is necessary to keep track of the sequence of history in the world, the sequence in which those histories are replaced, and the sequence of events as experienced by each time traveler.  One little mistake, as the Captain said, but this particular mistake cannot be resolved on any theory of time.  Henry does not yet know that of which Alba reminds him.

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Death Foreseen

In October of his last year alive, when as Alba promised she was five and he must have been about forty-three, he traveled to a place and time where he was locked in a freight car in the cold.  He returned badly frostbitten, and was thereafter wheelchair-bound.

We are missing several trips.  This is when Alba tells him that singing helps her stay, and that means that Alba has already (at five years old) made enough trips in time that she knows what it feels like before she goes and has developed a response strategy to prevent it.  We also know that he apparently has been making many brief trips, which he attributes to the pain medicine (more on that below).  We do not know when either of them left nor where they arrived, and so we have gaps in the data.  We will have to extend the benefit of the doubt that none of these trips were disastrous.

However, on this occasion when Alba is trying to get him to sing (as his mother was just before she was killed in the car accident) he leaps forward to Christmas Eve, finds himself naked on the snow outside his window, drags his crippled body to the French windows, and inside sees--what?

We have the same travel to the future problem we have faced several times before, including with the lottery ticket, the home purchase, the tryst in the car, the zoo visit, and their meeting in the meadow:  when he travels to the future, he creates an original history in which he left and never returned.  Even though that was only perhaps a month ago, it means he is not home, he does not appear inside bleeding to death from a gunshot wound, and he is not present at the party.

He is not there long this time.  Whether anyone might see him and open the door is speculative; Clare probably did not have the Christmas party without Henry's encouragement (she mentions at the party that he shouldn't have let her do it, but he says he wanted her to be with people).  It might be just Clare and Alba; they might have gone to bed, or they might have come outside to see the fireworks.  In any case, there is no clue at this point that something bad is going to happen.

Henry has to return to his departure point and live through those last few weeks to reach the point at which he makes that final string of trips, so that he can return to Christmas Eve.  Then the version of him who traveled from a month or so before will be able to see him dying in the living room, and will return to change history--not by preventing his death, but by preparing for it.  He knows.  The interactions of multiple anomalies has meant that it took a few runs through history for it all to reach that point, but it reached it.

There are still complications with it, but those remain ahead.

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A Question of Stability

It was mentioned that Alba developed a technique of singing to prevent herself from traveling in time.  She also tells her father at the zoo that Dr. Kendrick calls her a prodigy because she can sometimes control where she goes.  This raises a serious issue.

For a replacement theory history to stablize into an N-jump, the same time traveler being the same person must make the same trip from the same point to the same point, with the same intentions.  Our analysis to this point has assumed that because Henry has no control over his time travel this result is very nearly assured.  That assumption might be invalid, and if it is the story collapses:  if in the repeated history Henry might not make a trip that changed the past to what it now is, the resulting infinity loop would be the end of all stories.  Is the assumption defensible?

It is suggested at various moments that Henry's condition mimics epilepsy, and on that basis it is suggested that certain drugs might control it.  It is also suggested that alcohol and stress might induce an "attack" and so send him elsewhen.  On the other hand, when he vanishes over Christmas vacation upon his return he speaks of all that he attempted to do to induce a return including get drunk, and when he was locked in a boxcar freezing shortly before his death the stress did not cause him to vanish.  Nor does he ever learn how to resist the trips.  It may be that nothing Dr. Kendrick does makes any difference for Henry.

That might (and hopefully does) mean that Henry leaves from points in time that are genetically predetermined--he is this old, he travels to this time, regardless of what has happened in his life to now.  That would preserve time, because Henry would always leave from the same moment and arrive in the same moment, and eventually history would stabilize if he doesn't manage to kill his past self in the process.

Alba, though, presents a problem.  She specifically states that she is able to resist traveling, and that she can control where she goes.  If either of these statements are true, it means that the fate of time depends on whether a young girl will make the same choices at the same time if she has in some way altered her own history.  The odds are against it.  If she has any control, any choice, then what she has done in the past will probably impact her choices in the present enough that there may be a mistake.  There are too many trips made and not made for the minor changes not to have some impact at some point.

However, it need not be so.

Someone once told me that he had the power to command the wind to stop.  He qualified that it was not always so, but he always knew when he could do it.  I took interest, and asked whether he was certain that it was not the other way around--that is, was it possible that he somehow knew the wind was about to stop, and was compelled to give the command--like snapping fingers at traffic lights that are about to change?  He admitted that he would be unable to tell which was the case.

In the same way, Alba believes that sometimes she prevents herself from time traveling by singing, but sometimes it does not work; that sometimes she is able to choose her destination but sometimes she cannot.  Is it possible that Alba has no more control than Henry, but has tricked herself into thinking so?  Just as people are fooled into believing that full moons make people crazy, Alba may have noticed those times when she guessed what was going to happen and mistaken them for control.  Or as it is with dreams, she might arrive in a place and incorrectly remember that this was where she was trying to go.

If that is the case, if Alba's time travel, like Henry's, happens when it happens, goes where it goes, is completely out of the control of the time traveler but genetically coded without any environmental influence, history can be saved.  If not, it is unlikely that nearly any of the events of the movie would ever have happened, because one of them would have created an infinity loop long before we reached the end..

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Not Quite the End

Before he died, Henry saw himself dying.  We covered that, to some degree.  He anticipates it happening Christmas Eve, so he throws a party, says farewell to his good friend Gomez and his wife Clare.  Then he vanishes.

He appears in the woods by that meadow where he always did to meet Clare.  Philip Abshire, Clare's father, is younger than we have yet seen him, and is hunting in the snow.  He shoots at the buck a few feet from Henry, and when he reaches the spot he sees Henry's blood.  Henry is gone; whatever imprint he left in the snow is not clear enough to have meaning to the hunter.

The colorless imagery and the youth of the hunters here suggest that this was a long time before, possibly before Clare was born, possibly before Henry's mother Annette died.  It might be the earliest arrival Henry ever made.

If that is correct, then on the last day of his life Henry de Tamble causes the entire history of his life to be rewritten, traveling to a time possibly before he was born, and being shot by a man he will not meet for thirty years, whose daughter he will marry.  He leaves his blood in the snow.  However, the man will never know it, and so Henry's impact on history will be minimal.

He then leaps forward to a time shortly after he and Clare bought their home, landing in that living room not far from where he was when he left.  He is seen briefly by himself, Gomez, Clare, and Charisse, and then vanishes again.  This again changes history; it is their first hint that Henry is going to die relatively young.  They are not certain he is dying, but it certainly looks that way.

He leaps forward again to the living room at the time of his departure, but he is not yet finished changing history.  His arrival is witnessed not only by those in the house, but by himself, naked outside pressed against the glass of the French windows staring at himself on the floor.  That self sees himself die, then travels back not more than two months now with the knowledge of when and where it happens:  the fireworks tell him the date.

We started with the description of Henry saying farewell to his friends.  He did not do that in the original history.  He was able to do that because he had already seen himself die, but that means that we had to have this interaction of events, that he traveled to the past and came back to the future to be seen by himself traveling from the past and back again after having done so once before.  The interaction of the timelines here would take pages to unravel; for our purposes, it is sufficient that Henry did not witness his own death until he died, and then that changed history because he witnessed his own death and took that knowledge with him back just far enough to prepare for what he anticipated.

Henry is dead.  Although he will still make two trips from the future--returning from saying goodbye in the meadow and from meeting Alba at the zoo--we have covered those.  Still, the story is not over.  There will be a few more changes to history, thanks to the fact that it's genetic.

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Alba, Know Thyself

Henry died.  His remaining forays from the future are for him in the past, even if Clare and Alba still await them.  The story of The Time Traveler's Wife has ended; she is now the time traveler's widow.  However, the time travel story is not over, because she is also the time traveler's mother.

We are given only minor details surrounding Alba's travels through time, but are told enough to know that they are somewhat extensive.  Shortly after her fifth birthday she is advising her father concerning how to resist time travel, which suggests she has had enough experience with it to recognize that it is happening and to have tried ways to avoid it.  When he meets her at the zoo she speaks about having spied on them before she was born, and having traveled back to hear her grandmother Annette sing.  All of these trips are potentially hazardous.  Two, however, stand out as particularly so.

Sometime when Alba is about ten, probably not long after she met her father at the zoo, she attends her fifth birthday party.  There she has long conversations with herself, and she tells her younger self that this is the year Henry will die.

Given replacement theory, this has to be a change in history:  ten-year-old Alba cannot visit five-year-old Alba until five-year-old Alba has lived through the five years to become ten-year-old Alba, and only then can the elder make the trip to visit the younger, changing history.

This forces us to wonder why she chose to tell herself what she originally could not have been told.  Perhaps she wished she had known, wished she could have anticipated, had the time to spend with her father before he died.  In any case, she tells herself, and her younger self discusses it with her father, and ultimately with her mother.

It then gets quirky.  Alba makes another visit to her younger self that October, while her father is away freezing in a boxcar.  At this time she tries to explain death to herself.

To be clear on the sequential sequence of events, at five Alba experienced her father's death, possibly as a complete surprise.  At ten she traveled back to warn herself of the impending death.  She then lived through that death again, and when she was ten she made the same trip to warn herself.  She, however, was a slightly different person--she had been warned, she had been through this.  This sets up a sawtooth snap because the message changes the messenger and so the messenger changes the message.

Assuming that history stabilizes (it must, or we cannot get past it, and it can so we accept that eventually it does), not long after ten-year-old Alba visits her younger self she does so again.  This time she explains death.  This strongly suggests that ten-year-old Alba felt that when she was five her ten-year-old counterpart failed adequately to prepare her.  Yet if that were so, why did it not result in ten-year-old Alba delivering the message differently the next time through?  We are certain that the message was delivered differently, probably several times, until it stabilized; but why did it stabilize in a form that left Alba dissatisfied enough to want to change it yet again?

The best answer is that she was cut short.  She wanted to expand on what she had said, but when she came to the party there were so many things to say, so many things to do, that after she got out the part about father dying and comforted her younger self that it would be all right, she was out of that difficult-to-predict time, and returned to the future.  It stabilized with this truncated visit, Alba never quite able to tell Alba everything she wanted to say; and then she had the opportunity to say more on a subsequent visit.

That, though, again changes the first visit.  The Alba who visited Alba's party was trying to tell her everything, and failed to do so; and the Alba at that party never got the rest of the story.  But once Alba visits in October and covers the rest, that Alba when ten will know that she is going to be able to do this in two parts.  That takes the pressure off the first--and in so doing puts it back into another sawtooth snap until it stabilizes again, and does the same with the other visit, two very complicated interacting anomalies.

It is not impossible for these to stabilize; Since Alba makes one more trip, we assume that they do.

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The Truth Will Out

Several liberties are being taken with this article; that is, assumptions are being made concerning when and how things occurred that are not absolutely clear in the movie.  The bases for these assumptions will be given, as this wraps up our long and detailed analysis of The Time Traveler's Wife.

We know that on Christmas Eve when Alba was five, Henry traveled to the wood by the meadow, where a young Philip Abshire shot him.  For stylistic reasons, we have already suggested that this is the earliest moment in time Henry de Tamble ever visited, and that he was in that sense killed before he was born by the father of the girl he ultimately married.  (There are fathers of daughters who would like to have been able to do that, but since it didn't prevent the wedding it did not have the usually desired outcome.)

An instant before the shot is fired, there is a sound.  The subtitles say that that sound is Alba calling her father.  Take that with however many grains of salt you wish; it appears that the filmmakers want us to believe that just as Henry saw his mother die, Alba saw her father shot.  It may be the curse of the time traveler, that the violent death of a parent is an event to which you will be drawn.

We do not know how old Alba is when she sees this.  However, it appears she never tells anyone--does not tell Henry how he dies, does not tell her younger self how it happens.  Since Alba does not seem one for keeping secrets, it seems likely that she never told anyone in the course of the film because she did not know, did not know that her grandfather shot her father before her father was born, in the wood by the meadow where her father and mother always met, until after the last time she saw her father alive, at the zoo.

That means this last time travel event frames the entire story.  When Alba travels to the wood and sees her father shot, she has arrived at the earliest time recorded and departed from the latest, the longest trip in the story, rewriting the entire history of the world for the entire lifetime of her parents to that point, almost fifty years of repeated history.

No one would know it; no one would have any awareness of it.  The only difference of which we are aware is that two hunters heard a sound they did not recognize as the voice of a little girl an instant before it was smothered by the blast of a rifle.  All of history will play out as it did.

Yet Alba will know what happened.  From tales told by her father to her mother, memories from Gomez and Charisse, fragments pulled from her de Tamble grandfather, and her own visits to the past, Alba can reconstruct the entire story in the form of the final history.

The story is not only viable (although barely so), it is even plausible that someone can tell it.

Kudos on an excellent movie that is at least possible in time travel terms.

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