Author’s note: recognizing that I will occasionally need a break from fiction-writing, lest I work myself into an early grave, I will be showcasing a work – a film, a novel, whatever – from the world of sci-fi here on my blog every Friday for the foreseeable future. You’ve been warned.
I don’t have time. I don’t have time to worry about how it happened. It is what it is.
We’re genetically engineered to stop aging at twenty-five. Trouble is, we live only one more year.
Unless we can get more time.
Time is now the currency. We earn it and spend it. The rich can live forever.
And the rest of us?
I just want to wake up with more time on my hand than hours in the day.
Thus begins the film In Time, spoken in voiceover by Will Salas, played by Justin Timberlake. It works as a quick, concise way to bring the audience up to speed, but it also does something else: it tells us we’re never going to find out how things got this way. And that’s a shame. Seems like it might be an interesting story, the history of how and when humans (at least those in power) decided to live with time as the only currency.
A person stops aging at twenty-five, and their clock also starts, represented by green numerals on a person’s forearm. They get one year of time, which they can spend or add to. Time can be gotten by working or by gambling, and is spent on food or bills. It can also taken at gunpoint by gangsters called Minutemen (who take all the victim’s time, killing them). It is, in fact, fairly easy to get more time, if you’re willing to get your hands dirty. You could, I suppose, break into people’s houses at night and rob them of their time as they slept (it only takes touching your forearm to another’s). As long as you didn’t mind killing people, and you had a good set of lockpicks and a light step, you could live forever. Until you run up against the Timekeepers, the film’s law enforcement organization.
Naturally, some people have loads more time than others, which they have acquired by exploiting the labor (and the rather high mortality rate) of the lower classes. “For a few to be immortal, many must die,” as one character says in the film. As metaphors go, it’s a bit heavy-handed, but what’s wrong with that? Like any good sci-fi, the film gives us a different sort of lens through which to look at our own world, our own troubles, our own faults and strengths. Sci-fi like that isn’t intended to provide solutions. It’s a way of making sense of things, of coming to terms with a less-than-ideal reality. And isn’t it nice to make sense of something? Doesn’t happen often.
In Time was written and directed by Andrew Niccol, who also gave us the beautiful and cerebral Gattaca. Both films offer their own sci-fi takes on the division between the haves and the have-nots, the way society artificially measures a person’s worth. I remember Gattaca being more quietly thoughtful than In Time, which contains a fair bit of well-paced action in the form of shooting, running, and fast driving. The action isn’t just a bunch of blurry, loud nonsense like you get in so many sci-fi films, and for that, I am grateful. We spend plenty of time (ha!) getting to know the characters and checking out the scenery, which I vastly prefer to mindless sequences of violence and special effects. I’m probably in the minority there, among the world’s moviegoers. I don’t care. Go ahead and make your high-budget, high-energy, low-intellect garbage. I’ll stay home and read.
On the subject of cinema, I never saw In Time in the theaters. I simply had no interest in seeing a Justin Timberlake movie. Which was quite unfair of me, to be honest. Firstly, it’s not a Justin Timberlake movie, by which I mean a project thrown together to capitalize on his popularity (and, obviously, he’s only the star; there are lots of other great actors in this film). Secondly, he’s not a bad actor. I think he’s gotten better since he made this movie, but even in this, he ain’t bad. Check him out in the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, if you haven’t already. He’s quite talented, and that is an excellent movie.
And there’s one really good reason I wish I would’ve seen In Time on the big screen: the cinematography of Roger Deakins. I’ll leave you with a few stills from the film showcasing his gorgeous work, and I’ll see you next week.