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Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011 05:09 pm

In Time, a clever look at modern economics

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Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried in In Time.

There’s always been an edge to Andrew Niccol’s work, which doesn’t make him necessarily unique. However, it’s the clever way in which he delivers his cautionary dystopian visions of the future (Gattaca and The Truman Story) that makes him one of our most entertaining filmmakers. His latest, In Time, is no exception. It looks at a world in which time is literally money, a society in which millions don’t live week to week, but rather day to day. Periods of existence are meted out as payment for labor, while the very few who control time sit idly by, trapped in a system of their own making.

Niccol’s script is scant on the details of how this came about, but we’re quickly told that everyone is genetically engineered to stop aging at the age of 25. At that point, a year is granted to you in the form of a digital readout on your forearm, which begins its fatal countdown to zero. Time can be added to your clock by working, for which you are paid in hours or days, trading, or stealing, while time is lost by paying bills or buying goods or services. A cup of coffee costs four minutes; a decent lunch will set you back half an hour while a luxury car is 59 years. Cost of living increases are set by the wealthy to keep the poor in their place, while restricted time zones are set up to keep the haves and have-nots separated.

This is the world that Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) is born into. While he knows times are hard and the chips are stacked against him, he keeps his nose to the grindstone and does what he can to survive. However, the death of his mother (Olivia Wilde), who literally runs out of time, and an unexpected gift of 100 years from a wealthy stranger who’s grown tired of living, gives our hero a new lease on life and the will to change things. Changing time zones, he’s soon rubbing elbows with the wealthy and meets Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried), a socialite whose father has amassed a fortune in time.

The timely parable is obvious, and is reminiscent of 2009’s Daybreakers in which vampires stood in for the wealthy and blood (oil) was currency. Niccol doesn’t have to do much to make comparisons to our own international crisis where the unfair distribution of wealth is concerned. The current Occupy Wall Street movement is the sort of unexpected real world tie-in that Time’s publicists should be noting. The film is replete with clever double entendres in which common phrases concerning time suddenly assume a double meaning. “Don’t waste my time,” becomes a deadly serious admonishment while “Somebody’s going to clean that clock,” is an obvious threat that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Don’t even get me started on the “99 Second” store.

The film is quite clever during its first hour. Then it becomes a combination of Bonnie and Clyde and Robin Hood as the two young lovers decide to steal from Sylvia’s dad and give to the poor. This redistribution of wealth is a cathartic hoot even if it isn’t all that original. A subplot involving a menacing time thief (Alex Pettyfer) is hardly developed and proves to be a distraction. Still, Niccol keeps things moving at a nice pace, Timberlake and Seyfried are a fun couple to watch and the film’s social fantasy is intriguing, though not likely to happen any time soon.  

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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