In Time

In Time

Static Mass Rating: 4/5
20th Century Fox

Release Date (UK): November 1st, 2011
Certificate (UK): 12A
Running Time: 109 minutes
Writer & Director: Andrew Niccol
Composer: Craig Armstrong
Cast: Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, Johnny Galecki, Olivia Wilde

There are plenty of proverbs, quotes and sayings about time in general and lifetime in particular. The most famous and arguably most poignant one is Benjamin Franklin’s “Time is money”. I never really liked this and similar pop phrases, maybe because I scarcely have enough of either. But if lifetime itself should ever become money, literally speaking, I guess the bets are off. What I’d do with every second of my life would count more than anything, even living itself, probably.

In TimeThe thought is worth some hefty nightmares and can confront us with the shallows of inhumane predicaments. In Time makes use of that potential in entertaining and thought-provoking ways, and is quite a surprising science fiction hybrid between Bonnie & Clyde and Robin Hood.

The story is set in a future where mankind has mastered the ageing process. No one is older than 25, biologically anyway. Just so this doesn’t lead to rapid overpopulation, everyone is given another year after their 25th Birthday, and a digital clock on your forearm is counting down the time you’ve got left, to the second.

Everything you buy, you pay with a smaller or larger part of your lifetime. One month of your life for a night in a luxury hotel, one hour of your life for a bus ride home. Logically, the rich can live forever, the poor live from one day to the next — stealing, begging and In Timeborrowing. The city is divided in zones, with the poorest on the outskirts and the richest in a heavily gated enclave.

When a man worth centuries dares an excursion to the less fortunate parts of town and is about to be robbed of his lifetime, Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) helps him out, only to realize that the man has a death wish. After a philosophical discussion about the meaning of life when you’re immortal, Will unwillingly receives more than a century worth of lifetime from the stranger who thereafter jumps from a bridge and inevitably throws Will into a murder investigation.

From there the plot executes the off-the-shelf elements of action and adventure, but does so in a rather intriguing way. Will’s transformation from an honest guy who knows how to get by to a vengeful vigilante convinces as it is born out of an evocative moment of tragedy. Later he is playing poker with In Timethe presumably richest man on earth (Vincent Kartheiser as Philippe Weis). He’s playing the ultimate risk as the price for losing is not just being down and out but simply dead.

After a life-threatening interlude, the tycoon’s daughter Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried) ends up as Will’s hostage, forcing both on the road of self-discovery and some kind of philanthropy. The couple’s adversary is a stylish villain (Cillian Murphy) who is smart and, as a character, more complex than the average baddie. Mainly thanks to this trio and their In Timeexcellent performance In Time has some depth that’s painfully gone missing in many other contemporary science fiction actioners where the setting is but an excuse to reheat the same old stories.

In Time tells a story that sidesteps the predictable ingredients of the genre just enough so it could be a precursor to a new kind of story that is courageous in its premise and actually challenging in its execution. However, In Time doesn’t quite get there yet. The movie poses abysmal questions about politics and life itself but is always one step shy of driving it to the top. When we see Sylvia’s family — especially her 80-year-old father and her mother — they look all the same, young, healthy and nearly flawless. But the scene doesn’t go much farther than to exhibit the usual pleasantries.

Most puzzling though is the timekeeping technology, or policy for that matter. It reminded me of Inflation and how it’s handled by the powers that be, and the ordinary people. Lifetime is stored in peculiar devices that look more like In Timemonstrous sphygmomanometer than equipment that postpones dying, or brings it closer.

Bar those technical details, In Time is an excellent take on how to make seconds count, the more so as resuscitation doesn’t seem to be an option. And the outlook that stealing lifetime apparently is not as bad as giving it away for free is, in the end, also a trenchant comment on a very present paradigm that threatens to make the lifetime of most people, no matter how long, worthless.

“Life is very short and what we have to do must be done in the now.”
Audre Lorde

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