The Time Traveler’s Wife Book vs Movie vs HBO Max Show: The Key Differences

The Time Traveler’s Wife Book vs Movie vs HBO Max Show: The Key Differences

Designed by Michael Stillwell

The first episode of The Time Traveler’s Wife opens with a number of clips of Henry (Theo James) traveling through time, butt naked. Immediately, viewers understand the HBO Max Time Traveler’s Wife TV show is going to be different—both tonally and visually—from the 2009 film starring Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana.

Yet, the main plot points are the same, centering on the love story between Clare (Rose Leslie in the show, Rachel McAdams in the movie) and Henry (James and Bana, respectively), and adapting Audrey Niffenegger’s 2003 novel The Time Traveler’s Wife. Both the movie and TV versions of the story are beautifully told as Henry and Clare struggled to navigate their relationship, each doing the source material of the bestselling novel justice.

Niffenegger has tweeted she has never seen the movie adaptation, but is extremely excited about the television show. she wrote“I might be a little overexcited…” So, the TV show appears to have her seal of approval.

Here, the biggest differences between the Time Traveler’s Wife TV show, movie, and original book.

The narration of Clare and Henry’s stories is different in each version.

In the book, the chapters alternate first-person perspective between the two. The movie is told largely from Henry’s perspective, following him in more chronological order than Clare, and then flashing back to her childhood. The TV show begins with direct-to-camera documentary style narration of the two. In a sense, the TV show’s talking heads are much closer to the narrative style of the book.

The book starts with Clare, who narrates, “It’s hard being left behind. I wait for Henry, not knowing where he is, wondering if he’s okay. It’s hard to be the one who stays. I keep myself busy. Time goes faster that way. I go to sleep alone, and wake up alone. I take walks. I work until I’m tired. I watch the wind play with the trash that’s been under the snow all winter. Everything seems simple until you think about it. Why is love intensified by absence?”

In the TV show, the first line is simply Clare asking that last question: “Why is love intensified by absence?” Henry’s first lines in the TV show and the book are the same: “How does it feel? How does it feel?” and his monologue is largely similar to his first section of the prologue.

However, the movie begins with the death of Henry’s mother.

When Henry time travels for the first time changes.

time traveler's wife differences

Jason David as young Henry in The Time Traveler’s Wife on HBO.

Sandy Morris/HBO

In the movie, he time travels first at his mother’s death. In the book, he first time travels at age five at the Field Museum of Natural History. In the TV show, Henry first time travels at age seven in the museum to see dinosaurs. There’s a key difference here: In the movie, his time travel is triggered by trauma (his mother’s death), whereas in the TV show and the book, his time travel is triggered by joy (going to see a museum exhibit he loved).

Henry and Clare’s first date is slightly different in all three versions.

time traveler's wife differences

Theo James and Rose Leslie as Henry and Clare on their first date.

Macall Polay

In the film and the book, Henry and Clare go on their first date at a Thai restaurant called Beau Thai, and in the TV show, it’s a nondescript restaurant—and it’s not clear if it is a Thai restaurant. Henry brings Clare flowers in the TV show and in the book; in the show, she says, “You’ve never brought me flowers before,” and in the book, she says, “You’ve never given me flowers before.” In the movie, Henry shows up empty handed. Last, in the movie and in the book, during the date, Clare mentions Dr. Kendrick and not drinking to prevent time travel—but that is not part of the TV show.

In all three versions, Clare freaks Henry out with her knowledge of him and the fact that they are married in the future. In all three, too, Henry blindfolds Clare and makes her count out loud as he cleans up his apartment before they sleep together.

Henry’s hair in the TV show signifies his age.

henry time traveler wife

young henry

Barbara Nike

theo james time traveler's wife

Old(er) Henry

Macall Polay

We don’t get exactly a physical description at different ages in the book—Clare only remarks he looks younger—and in the movie, Eric Bana’s Henry looks basically the same from his 20s onward. However, in the TV show, Theo James’s Henry’s hair is long in his 20s, and shorter in his 30s, so viewers can easily differentiate the different versions of the time traveler.

Time traveling causes Henry to be sick in the TV show.

Every time after time traveling in the TV show, Henry vomits. “There’s a trash can in front of you,” 28-year-old Henry tells 7-year-old Henry the first time he time travels. “In a minute, you’re going to be sick.” (He soon throws up.) Time traveling causes Henry to be hungry in every version, but this sickness is not part of the book or the movie.

We will continue to update this article throughout the season.


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