The Time Traveler's Wife (2009) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • When Henry DeTamble meets Clare Abshire in a Chicago library they both understand that he is a time traveler, but she knows much more about him as he has not yet been to the times and places where they have already met. He falls in love with her, as she has already with him, but his continuing unavoidable absences while time traveling - and then returning with increasing knowledge of their future - makes things ever more difficult for Clare.

  • In Chicago, the special collections librarian Henry DeTamble has a genetic anomaly that allows him to travel in time; however, he is not able to control the moment or the destiny of his voyages. When the stranger Clare Abshire meets him in the library, she invites him to have dinner with her in his favorite restaurant Beau Thai where she confesses that she has been in love with him since she was six years old. Henry leans that he had visited her many times in the real state of her parents and he falls in love with her. Soon they get married, but the life of Clare becomes troubled with the successive unexpected travels of her beloved husband.

  • A Chicago librarian has a gene that causes him to involuntarily time travel, creating complications in his marriage.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • The movie opens with a woman singing while driving with her young son in the backseat. It's dark and snowing out, and it's Christmas Eve. The young boy in the backseat is five years old, and tells his mother that she has a beautiful voice. It's pretty clear that the boy (Henry) and his mother love each other very much.

    Suddenly, a car in front of them skids out of control, which sends young Henry and his mother's car spinning out of control. Henry freaks out, and suddenly starts to disappear. The mother is staring at him in disbelief and in the windshield we can see a truck about to slam into their car head on.

    Young Henry is now naked and standing in his house, watching himself, his mother, and his father read a book on the couch together. Henry is scared and has no idea what is going on. A second later, he disappears again and is back at the scene of the car accident, standing naked on the side of the road. Suddenly, a man appears, puts a blanket around him and explains the situation. The man says that he is Henry as an adult, and they are time travelers. His mother was killed in the accident. He is too young to understand what is going on now, but he will one day. The older Henry disappears.

    We then see the older Henry appear naked in the library he works at. He gets up, puts his clothes on, grabs some books and brings them to a patron at the library. The patron says "that took long enough" to which Henry replies, "you have no idea".

    We then see the day to day going on in Henry's life: He is a time traveler. He has some type of supernatural power where he physically travels through time. He has no control over his power or when or why he travels. He drinks a lot and is living a pretty messy life. When he travels, he is naked since nothing dead travels with him. When he arrives at the time he is currently living, he must pick locks, and steal clothes and money just to survive. His father is withdrawn and was once a violinist at the Chicago Symphony, but can no longer play because of his drinking. Both Henry and his father have clearly never gotten over the death of Henry's mother and have taken to alcoholism.

    Back at the library, Claire Abshire (Rachel McAdams) is looking for a book. The librarian says to her: "Perhaps Mr. DeTamble can help you". Claire is in disbelief. She looks at Henry and says "it's you!". It's very obvious Henry has never seen her before in his life, but they agree to meet at a local restaurant.

    At the restaurant, Claire tells Henry about how she has known him all her life, that he has visited her since she was a little girl. She says that he visited her a lot, but she has never seen him this young (Henry is about 28 years old at this current time). He explains that certain places he visits a lot because big events pull him in, like gravity. Claire says "I was a big event".

    Back at his apartment, she pretty much throws himself at him. As they are kissing on the couch, Henry wants to know how they first met. Flashback to Claire at age 6, at the meadow at her parents' house. Henry is about 35 years old, naked in the woods, and asking to borrow her blanket so he can cover himself. He explains to a very young Claire that he is a time traveler, and that he knows her in the future when she is older. She doesn't believe him until he disappears before her eyes. Before he goes, he tells her that he will be back next Tuesday, and she should bring clothes for him. From this point on, Claire always leaves clothes for Henry in the woods.

    Back in present day, you see their relationship unfold. Henry loves Claire, and Claire is happy to be with Henry, but she only had known the older, more put together Henry from her childhood, and this Henry is 28 years old and has his faults. But they love each other. He meets her friends Charisse and Gomez.

    Gomez learns that Henry is a time traveler by witnessing it firsthand. He thinks Claire should walk away from the relationship, but Claire can't because as she states, "She has been in love with him her whole life".

    Henry travels back to a time before his mom died and runs into her on the subway. He speaks with her, and says that he is a huge fan of her singing, and that he wishes his girlfriend could hear her sing. They make small talk; she says she has a three-year-old son named Henry. Before he gets off the train, she tells him to make sure his girlfriend knows he loves her. He then tells her, "your son loves you very much". She says, "I know".

    Henry proposes to Claire using his mother's engagement ring. Henry meets Claire's family before the wedding, and learns that her father is a hunter. At the wedding, Gomez is the best man. Before the wedding, Henry disappears, leaving Gomez frantic as to what to do since there is no groom. Suddenly, a much older Henry arrives and puts on the tux. At the altar, Claire is surprised to see that she is marrying a future version of Henry, but they laugh it off.

    At the reception, present-day Henry arrives in time for their first dance. He asks Claire if she is disappointed that she is not married to future Henry, and she points out that she is married to him, he's just not here yet. That night, as the new bride and groom are jumping on the bed, Henry disappears again. He arrives at the meadow with a very young Claire who asks him if he is married. Henry doesn't like to tell people about their future, so while he tells Claire that he is indeed married, he doesn't explain that he is married to her. The young Claire is upset that he has a wife. Henry then disappears and is back in bed with his new wife Claire, and they both laugh about a young Claire being jealous of herself.

    We then see the couple move into their apartment in Chicago, and living the life of a young married couple. However, Henry time travels and sometimes leaves his wife for days or weeks at a time. Whenever he is gone, she has no idea when he'll be back. She is getting more and more upset by this. They have an argument after he misses Christmas and New Year's Day. She says she is stressed because he's never there, their apartment is too small to work in (she is an artist) and she is stressed about her new art show. She goes to work angry.

    Later that night, he meets her at the art studio. He tells her to come with him before "they miss it." He brings her to a TV store and they watch the lottery drawing. He knows all the numbers as they are being called. They have just won five million dollars. Henry says "There are a lot of downsides of traveling, but there can be some upsides too". They now have money to buy a big house with a studio for Claire to work in.

    At their new house, Henry and Claire have Gomez and a pregnant Charisse over for dinner. As they are making dinner, they hear a loud noise in the living room. The four of them run in to see a bleeding, gasping for breath future Henry on their living room floor. He then disappears. All of them are in shock, and present-day Henry just walks away.

    Later, Claire and Henry are discussing what happened. She is worried because in all her life, she has never seen Henry older than about 40. She is worried it is because he died, but has hope that maybe it's because he found a cure for his traveling. She then reveals that she is pregnant.

    Henry finds a geneticist that will try to help him with his problem. The geneticist (Dr. Kendrick) has discovered that it's a chromosome mutation, and it's genetic, which means his offspring will most likely have this problem too. Claire has already had three miscarriages because the fetuses are "traveling" out of the womb. The miscarriages are taking a toll on Claire and Henry, who argue every day. Claire wants one normal thing in her life, and that is to be a mother. Henry doesn't want to put Claire through the stress of another miscarriage, and he also doesn't want a child to have to go through what he goes through, time traveling without warning, being placed in possibly dangerous situations. He has a vasectomy without telling Claire, and after it's done he is upset, which causes him to travel.

    He ends up in the meadow with 18-year-old Claire. She can tell he's upset and he tells her that he did something he had to do, but she won't like it. He won't tell her that he had a vasectomy, and he instead angrily tells her that she is too young to understand anything yet. She slaps him, and he in turn kisses her hard. It's upsetting to her, because they have never kissed and their first kiss was angry. He then kisses her very lovingly, disappears and ends up in the present day at home.

    In Claire's art studio, he tells Claire about the vasectomy. She is very upset. She wants children, and she is mad that he led on an 18-year-old Claire in the meadow.

    Later that night, Henry is sleeping on the couch. Claire's cell phone rings, and it's a young Henry calling. It's January, and he is in a parking garage in Chicago and needs help. She goes to pick him up. When he gets in the car, she talks to him about being upset with the future version of him. She then kisses him and they make love in the car.

    The next week, she tells present-day Henry what happened. She explains that she didn't cheat on him because, well... it's him. Later on, we discover that Claire is pregnant again for the fourth time. While trying to pick out a name for their future daughter, Henry travels. He ends up at a museum, and while walking out a little girl yells, "Daddy!" Henry turns, and a 10-year-old girl is hugging him. She says her name is Alba and she misses him. Alba also has the ability to time travel, but for some reason, she can control it. She also tells him that he died when she was five years old. Henry is upset by this, but back in the present day he only tells Claire that he met their daughter, she is beautiful and smart and they name her Alba.

    We then see Alba being born and a montage of the next five years. As they are getting ready for Alba's fifth birthday, you can see Henry is upset. While Henry is preoccupied with party preparations and thoughts of his own death, an older version of Alba visits, and tells present day Alba that her father will die when she is five. An upset Alba tells Claire later that night, who doesn't know what to think. Later on Henry travels and is gone for a while. When he gets back, he is suffering from hypothermia and needs to be confined to a wheelchair in order to save his leg. Claire tells Dr. Kendrick that if Henry can't run, he can't help himself when he travels and he could die.

    During Henry 's travels, he finds out that he will die on the coming New Years Eve. When New Year's Eve arrives, Claire and Henry throw a party. Claire has no idea that Henry will die tonight, but Henry is taking everything in. He says goodbye to Gomez, and thanks him for being a great friend. He then asks to speak with Claire outside. She sits in his lap with a blanket around them, and he starts saying his goodbyes. She says, "No!" and wants to know why he invited everyone over, and he replies that he didn't want her to be alone. She tells him that she wouldn't change one second of their life together, and they are both crying. He kisses her, and as they kiss it's midnight and there are fireworks. Henry then disappears.

    Henry wakes up in the snow in the woods next to the meadow. It's very early in the morning, almost sunrise. There is a deer next to him. As he watches the deer, he hears a voice in the woods, then a gunshot. Henry screams in pain and disappears. You can then see Claire's father and brother, who were out hunting, arriving at the spot where Henry was, which is now just blood covered snow. They assume they clipped a deer.

    Back at present day, the New Years Eve party is going on when Henry arrives naked and dying of a gunshot wound on the floor. Claire runs to him and they both are saying, "I love you" when Henry dies.

    Claire is next seen lying in her bed, depressed, with her daughter. She is very shaken by the death of Henry.

    Later on, in the meadow, a nine-year-old Alba is playing with Gomez and Charisse's kids when Henry comes walking out of the woods. Alba is thrilled to see her father, it's been 4 years. Gomez's kids run to the house to get Claire while Henry and Alba talk. As Henry tells Alba the story of how he met her mother, you can see Claire running through the woods. When Henry sees Claire, they run to each other and embrace. Claire is thrilled. She asks why he didn't say he'd be here, and he tells her he doesn't want her to spend her life waiting for him. Claire is crying, telling him that she loves him and will always love him. Henry and Claire kiss, and Henry disappears once more. Claire picks up and folds his clothes, and Claire and Alba then leave the meadow together.

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