THE latest offering in futuristic dystopia movies, writer and director Andrew Niccol’s In Time is a literal take on the phrase “time is money”.
The human ageing gene has been erased, making people potentially immortal. But in order to stay alive people must earn, steal or inherit time – as recorded by a ticking clock on each person’s forearm that will kill them if it reaches zero.
Justin Timberlake plays Will Salas, a factory worker who lives day-to-day off the time he receives from his low-paying job. At the beginning of the film, Will has a chance encounter with Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer), who has over 100 years on his clock, and a death wish. Like a futuristic Marx he enlightens Will, opening his eyes to the exploitation of the working class in a world where the rich can live forever, and price rises directed from above prevent the masses from ever having time to spare. As Will sleeps, Henry puts his clock to Will’s and transfers him all of his time, killing himself in the process.
For the first time in his life, Will has time enough to pay the hefty tolls required to cross “timezones”. He leaves his home in the ghetto of Timezone 12, and travels to New Greenwich, where the time-rich reside. There he meets the beautiful Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried) and her powerful father Phillipe Weis (Vincent Kartheiser).
But Will’s actions spark the suspicions of the timekeepers – police whose job it is to protect the status quo. Will is soon accused of Henry Hamilton’s murder, further motivating him to shake up the system and redistribute time to the poor.
The clever and detailed creation of a futuristic time-ruled world is one of the film’s biggest draw-cards. From the thieving “minutemen” gangs, to the notion that the nouveau-riche don’t “come from time”, Niccol has not missed any opportunity for a witty time-money metaphor.
The extract year the film is set in is not made clear, but like Niccol’s 1997 film Gattaca, In Time has a retro-future feel about it. While the female characters dress like nightclubbers from 2011, the overall-clad male factory workers have a curious 1950s style (à la Grease Lightning) and the cars are timeless classics from a similar era.
In Time is heavy with economic and social themes, but it is ultimately a film packaged to fit the Hollywood mould. The messages are delivered without subtlety and spelt out early on. Even the more easily approachable emotional themes – such as the contrast between Will’s assertion that if he had unlimited time “he wouldn’t spend it watching the clock” and Philippe Weis forgetting to “really live” because he is so concerned with being immortal – are delivered as if Niccol has refused to bank on audience intuition.
As far as the film’s success is concerned, this will prove to be a double-edged sword. The easily packaged themes and plentiful action sequences will please many; the lack of subtlety will turn away some. Additionally, the casting of a big star like Timberlake in the role of Will will inevitably lead audiences to contrast his Robin Hood-type character with the reality of his $US44 million annual income (in 2008, according to Forbes).
In Time is a cleverly-conceived (if not so cleverly-executed) film. It is fast-paced, enjoyable to watch, and features good performances from its cast. As a commentary on economy and society, it may not be everything it could be, but its still definately worth your time (and money).