Over the past year or so, I’ve begun to go through the incredible backlog of science fiction movies that I’ve missed, coming across such gems as Soylant Green, Logan’s Run, Omega Man, Silent Running, amongst others. Coming out of In Time, I found myself comparing it to the films of the 1960s and 1970s, when the filmmaker’s message was key, dominating the characters and story. Andrew Niccol’s latest film keeps close to some of the traditions of the past, as well as some of the surrounding visuals, to deliver a solid, interesting and thoughtful science fiction movie.
Set a hundred and fifty years into the future, people don’t die of natural causes. The human body has been engineered to exist at our whim. To counter over population, you’ve got a 25 year head start, where the countdown clock kicks in. Nobody ages over 25, but if you don’t replenish your stocks, you’ve got a year to live as the clock on your arm starts counting down. Currency has become time: it’s become the currency of the world, in a literal twist on the phrase time is money.
It’s also highly Darwinian. The smartest or those with a good job stay before the countdown hits zero. Those who don’t, die. It’s a highly dystopian system, where the rich get immortality and the poor pay the ultimate price. Will Salas, a worker staying just ahead of the clock, gets very, very lucky when he saves the life of a man who has over a century on the clock, transferring the time over before committing suicide. Salas snaps when his mother dies within moments of being saved at the last minute. (The puns here are endless.) Taking the time that’s been given to him, he goes to the wealthy side of the country (a time zone), and begins to undermine the system, aided by the daughter of one of the wealthier members of society. What ensues is a Bonnie and Clyde sort of story, with all the hallmarks of a blockbuster science fiction movie, with car chases, countdown clocks and an excellent looking cast.
The first thing that really jumps out at me was the fun world that Niccol has set up. There’s a lot of little references and clever world-building here, from the names of the locations to the differences between the rich and the poor: the former have time on their hands, while the poor run from place to place, in a hurry because they really don’t have time to spare. Watching Gattaca the next day, I found myself wondering if that film could be a forerunner to this one: a glimpse of what came before.
This is a film about the idea that people have time on their hands, about the rich verses the poor and a very unsubtle look at how the capitalist system works. As Charlie Jane Anders said in her review of the film, it’s landed in theaters at the perfect time: the Occupy Wall Street movement has been in the streets for just over a month, while right wing politicians and their supporters (arguably the more pure pro capitalist of the political spectrum, at least in American politics) have openly talked about letting people die if they can’t make it on their own. It’s not a movie that pulls punches, and it plays to the strengths of the genre, telling a story that’s really about the present day, just taken out of context a bit.
In this horrific world, the system allows people to die who are essentially no longer useful to society. The rich, in the glimpses of the lives that they lead, have all of the usual excuses: they’re lazy, unmotivated, ignorant, or merely unable to cut it in the world as it exists. They have their supporters who believe wholeheartedly in the system, who have a legitimate point of ensuring that the system stays in place, because the world, as a whole is stable and accepted by all involved.
The problem is, as the mighty come down to minutes on their clocks, they realize how much the cost of the system is. They’ve never had to worry about putting food on their table, or whether they’ll make it home. They don’t have to worry about a system that’s designed to squeeze them out with higher costs of living in a society designed only for the purpose of keeping the small few at the top alive and comfortable. This film lands right on the tone of the political culture in the country.
There’s problems with the film to be sure, but they’re problems in that it’s a film with a budget and designed to bring people into theaters. The cast, guns and car chases certainly don’t hurt the film as a whole, and in the end, make this a well rounded piece of entertainment, one that’s direct and overt, but worth paying attention to nonetheless. In Time isn’t the best science fiction film that I’ve seen, but it’s got the style and pluck of some of those old classics that still hold up because they focused on the ideas over the visuals. I can’t help but think that this one will be looked at the same way, somewhere down the road.
At the very least, the film provides an easy out for a last minute halloween costume: 13 numbers on your arm in glowing green ink or paint. Before you pass out, you can even zero yourself out, and remain in character!