In Time directed by Andrew Niccol (Regency Enterprises, New Regency Pictures, Strike Entertainment, PG-13, 109 minutes)
Starring Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, and Cillian Murphy
Science without Morals
In Time, the newest work from writer-director Andrew Niccol, is a thoughtful addition to the genre of dystopian futuristic films. Niccol wrote and directed Gattaca, which is easily one of the best science fiction films ever created, and he returns to the theme with a film about a society that has embraced science and technology to the point where it loses its moral compass.
In Time shows us a society where genetic engineering has effectively solved the problem of aging and death — everyone is immortal and stops aging beyond their 25th birthday. Thus, we are presented with the situation where sons and daughters appear to be the exact same age as their biological parents.
A society that has achieved immortality must deal with the problem of finite resources for an infinitely growing population. This “near-futuristic” society has chosen, at birth, to give each person a glowing digital clock on his or her forearm. Everyone is given exactly one year to live and that year starts counting down at exactly 25 years. When the clock reaches zero, the person receives a jolt and instantly dies.
A result of this innovation is that “time” has supplanted money as the effective currency — workers are paid literally by the hour, a coffee is 4 minutes, service by a prostitute equals one hour, and a bus ride costs the time it takes to walk to your destination. Time can be transferred to others through a special handshake or collected by various portable and non-portable scanners.
Minutes before Clocking Out
Justin Timberlake plays Will Salas, a 28-year-old factory worker living day to day with rarely more than 24 hours on his clock. At a bar he encounters a rarity, a man with more than a century of time stored up, whom he saves from a gang of time-stealers. This rich man in return gifts all but a few minutes of his time to Will before “clocking out”, content with the life that he has lived, and depressed at the inequality within his society where many involuntarily clock out each day so people like him can live forever.
Will uses his newfound time to cross “time-zones” to utopian New Greenwich where nearly all its inhabitants have centuries or even millennia of time, acquired through skimming time off the multitudes of lower classes.
In New Greenwich, Will is introduced to Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried), daughter of one of the richest men in the world, but also is confronted by a Timekeeper (Cillian Murphy) who wants to pin the theft of the rich man’s century on Will. Rather than go into custody, Will kidnaps Sylvia, evading the Timekeepers, and going on a journey where the couple explore the morality of a society where the deaths of millions prop up the immortality of a few. Along the way, the characters learn the value of time, since in New Greenwich, the “time-rich” leisurely enjoy every activity, unlike in the slums where eating, drinking, and walking are done as quickly as possible. This dichotomy clearly illustrates the truth that the greatest resource one possesses is time — if it is used well.
The Morality of Redistributionism
It’s easy to see this film as an allegory where time is equivalent to money and feel either vindicated or disappointed when the film explores the morality of redistributionism, similar to the folktale of Robin Hood, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. I think this film goes deeper than that. Much like how Gattaca displayed a society whose genetic discrimination seems horrific to the audience while the characters largely did not notice the injustice right before them, we see in Will and Sylvia an awakening of senses to the injustices of the status quo.
The deeper meaning is to remove the blinders from all our eyes, to look for the injustice that may be right before us, and to respond to the call to make society a better place. Who knows what modern practices will seem horrific to our future descendants?
In Time is a well-executed and thought-provoking sci-fi/action film that appeals to a wide audience, even those who generally don’t appreciate sci-fi. Nearly all aspects of the film’s production are good, the acting is acceptable, and it is noteworthy that Justin Timberlake has made a successful career transition from music and comedy to dramatic acting to the point that he feels quite natural in this type of role. If you are looking for a good sci-fi/action film, I recommend checking out In Time.
Robb Stankey is a graduate student in Genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In addition to his interests in genetics and science fiction, he enjoys homebrewing and cooking with his wife, Jessie. More content from Robb can be found at http://r.robbplusjessie.com/.