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Oct292011

'In Time' review - More time, more problems

What if time and money were the same thing? This is the idea behind In Time, a new film by Gattaca writer and director Andrew Niccol. It's a fantastic question and opens up a great metaphor to the way we've already structured our society. I only wish the rest of the film was as inspired as its core idea. Woefully, the characters, setting, plot, and visuals of In Time lack much imagination at all. A great cast and wonderful musical score hold this film together, but the dichotomy of Niccol's fascinating ideas and predictable execution means In Time probably won't stand the test of time.

A future society?

The concept goes something like this. Somehow, in the future, a technology is invented that allows human beings to live forever without fear of disease. Everyone's biological clock is shut off at age 25. Sounds great, right? Well, not exactly. To make sure the world doesn't overpopulate (I guess), everyone has a bright green LED clock attached to their forearm at birth. When they hit age 25 that clock turns on, both pausing their aging, but also controlling how long they live. If your time runs out, your heart will stop and you die. Everyone starts with 1 year of life left at 25. If you want to live longer, you have to work to earn more hours onto your life. There is no money in this world. If you want to use a payphone, it costs a minute of your life. If you want to ride a public bus, it costs an hour. Want to buy a high-end sports car? That will run you 59 years. Niccol's world is the ultimate form of capitalism. If you succeed you can both be rich and live forever. If you can't hold a job, you could very well die in the street. 

Embracing extremes, Niccol's society is far crueler than our own money-based world. Though it's hard to break free of the circumstances you're born into in today's world, in Niccol's vision there are literal gates separating the ghetto from the world of the rich--12 of them, each requiring more and more time to cross. The final gates cost 2 years. The ghetto looks more like an 80s music video than a place where people are actually suffering. Worse, the technology in this movie is both futuristic and archaic. In the ghetto, everything looks like the 1970s, right down to payphones, a lack of cell phones, and big muscle cars. Even the people seem like 25-year-old charicatures instead of real people. Everyone covers up their clock though. Just as you wouldn't want everyone to know how much money you have, you don't want everyone knowing how much time you have left. Thievery is as easy as someone grabbing your hand. They can suck your minutes right up.

When our hero, Will Salas (Justin Timberlake), is busted for murder, cameras catch everything except the supposed murder/time theft he committed. As it turns out, a man with 104 years of life left decided to give all his years to Salas and then kill himself. He doesn't jump off a bridge, but waits for his time to run out while sitting on it. Suicide is easy around here. 

Unfortunately for Salas, there doesn't appear to be a justice system. Instead, guys in leather trenchcoats named Timekeepers (Cillian Murphy plays the main cop) roam around the streets busting people for murder and stealing time, which are pretty rampant in the ghetto, but they don't do a good job of it despite the presence of a camera almost everywhere (big bulky cameras). Despite not having any evidence but a video placing him near the scene of the crime, the Timekeepers have label Salas a murderer and time thief.

Money and time don't mix

This brings up one of the many disadvantages with combining time with money. If someone calls you a timethief, the cops will take away your entire life and leave you to die. How is that fair? There's also no way to save time. If you run out of time, you die, so everyone naturally keeps all of their time (cash) on them at all times. Or a lot of it, at least. But anyone can just grab your arm while you're sleeping and steal your entire life from you. It's as easy as that. There are no passwords or failsafes. Transferring time is as easy as touching someone or putting a metal reciever up to them. Why carry a knife if you can kill someone by grabbing their arm? 

Time is also terrible as a currency because there's no way to invest it. If you have $100, you can let it sit around for a day and it will be worth $100 tomorrow, but with time, these people have to spend a resource that is spending itself as well. If a bus ride costs 1 hour, it may actually cost 20 minutes more because your clock is slowly counting down. It's a dumb system. 

Also, what kind of effed up political climate would it take for such a system to come into existence? Assuming the world of In Time is actually our future (they say it is) and somebody invents a way to live forever. Great. Wouldn't that be an expensive thing, much like botox or plastic surgery is today? You know, a luxury for the rich? Those who save up enough can buy immortality, but the rest will age. Somehow, in Niccol's world, there must have been a populist uprising where everyone demanded access to the technology. But when it was implemented it was done so in the most capitalist way possible.

If the rich have enough power to put up walled gates separating the rich from the poor, why did they let the poor live forever in the first place? It puts them at risk. I'm not sure why the rich would have wanted to give up all of their money and replace it with time either. Was there an exchange period where you could hand over dollars and get time? Does the whole world use the same time currency? What about actual time zones? If I travel from New York to California, will the clock on my arm gain three hours? I suppose these questions are silly, but they're far more interestin than discussing the actual movie. 

A predictable thriller

Aside from these fun ideas that Niccol raises, In Time becomes a predictable genre thriller in no time at all. The movie is full of good performances, but flat characters. Salas is a rebel who wants to change the system and spends his time on the run from Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy), a Timekeeper who knew his long lost father and has it out for him. Salas soon meets up with a girl (Amanda Seyfried) who exists because you gotta have a pretty girl, and the two bicker before falling in love. There are even moments when two characters run for each other and die in each other's arms (poor time management is rampant).

Nothing about the movie is new or original outside of its premise. Still, it's a pretty great premise and gets you thinking whether you like what you see or not. Nothing is too offensive here. All in all, I'd say it's a decent way to spend an hour and 40 minutes. There's something to be said for a movie you can't stop thinking about. And In Time will mark the only instance where the lovely Olivia Wilde will play Justin Timberlake's mother. 

Rating:  (Decent)

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