Tuesday, May 15, 2012

In Time

On my recent flight across the Atlantic I had the opportunity to watch a film that my daughter has been encouraging me – pressing me really – to watch since she saw it last year. She was right. I was not disappointed (even on that tiny little screen in the back of the airplane seat).

The movie In Time presents us with a future earth in which all humans stop aging at 25 years old. From that point, they all have the potential to live forever in the same physical condition they have at that age. They can die from things such as murder and physical accidents, but their bodies do not face natural aging and no one dies of old age. As we would expect, this situation comes with a catch. Each person also has a built-in clock (in their forearm). When a person turns 25, that clock begins to count down. At age 25 each person receives one more year of life. In order to prolong her or his life, a person must accrue additional time. This can be done through working, through theft or other means. There are even shops that lend time (at usurious rates, of course). If your clock runs out of time, you die instantly. It should also be noted that in this world everything is paid for with time off your individual clock. If you want a drink or something to eat, you pay with time. If you need to ride the bus, you pay with time. Rent – paid with time. So the people of earth are in a continual battle to earn enough time to meet their needs and stay alive.

We also learn that in this future world, people are divided into different time zones. Ostensibly people are free to travel between different zones, except that at each time zone border there is a fee (in time) to cross. As one moves from the lower zones into the upper economic zones, that fee grows increasingly expensive. By this means the wealthy keep the poor safely distant. In the wealthy center zone, people have so much time that they cannot possibly use it all. They are, essentially, immortal. These are the people who control the global time system. They are the ones who lend time to the poor and profit from their misery. The whole system is exploitative and injust – but it is set up so that the wealthy maintain their power and control.

That is, until our hero Will Salas arises. He decides to challenge the system and as he does so finds an unexpected ally in Sylvia Weis, the daughter of one of the world's wealthiest men. Together they undertake various activities to try to empower the poor and break the control of the wealthy. They are a classic Robin Hood pair and I won't write any spoilers that give away what they do and whether they accomplish their mission. I will say that I found the journey they take compelling and captivating. I certainly cheered for them to succeed.

This movie addresses a key issue of our time, but by framing it in terms of the effort to control time, it provides us with a different perspective. After all, the difference between time and money isn't that great, but having or not having money doesn't strike us as a matter of life and death – although in fact for many in the world it is exactly that. This movie challenges that idea that in order for a few to enjoy the full benefits of life – in this case immortality – the majority must suffer, scrounge to get by and, ultimately, die. It also challenges the significance of the life that the wealthy lead, portraying it as devoid of meaning and purpose. After all, once a person has accumulated so much wealth, what can one possibly do with it? Life becomes a mundane pursuit of banal pleasure, especially in a world where one knows that one will never die of old age. Being immortal, it turns out in this world, really isn't all that it's cracked up to be.

Nonetheless, as the film shows us, those in power will go to great lengths to preserve that power. Although underdeveloped, the film touches more than once on the idea that those in control continually manipulate both wage and price scales so that the poor remain perpetually poor. The system works inherently against them and in favor of those who possess power.

In a stark manner the film then confronts us with a reflection of our own society, doing it in a way that can motivate us to think and question and challenge the status quo. I can't imagine anyone who, watching the film, would take pity on Sylvia's father rather than rally to her battle against the system that privileges her against the majority. I saw in the film an echo of what the “Occupy” movement represents in its finest aspects. It's not just entertainment, but social critique. The film also challenges the viewer to think about the purpose of her or his life. As Sylvia asks: "Do I really want to spend my life trying not to die by mistake?" Surely life is worth more than that and society can be about more than the wealth preserving their power at the expense of the majority.

Have you seen the movie? What are your thoughts about it?


  1. I have seen this movie and I enjoyed it. I am planning to show it at my movie club later this year.

    My only complaint was that I thought it turned into too much of a chase movie toward the end. I would have liked a little less action and a little more consideration of the themes. But all in all, an entertaining and thought-provoking film.

  2. Fortunately I had not read or heard any commentary on the movie prior to watching it, other than my daughter's very favorable one. So I could watch it without the bias induced by others. I would agree though that it did devolve into more of an action/chase movie and could have explored some of its themes more fully. But it was not a bad effort on the whole and I'd be happy to watch it again--I'll have to in fact with Sharilyn.