In Time: Sci-Fi or Pun-fest?

With the recent financial crises and the shadow of further economic meltdowns in the pipeline, bankers are the new trend of villains in the media.

In Time posits a world where lifespan is currency, readable in glowing green numbers on your arm that display your financial position and remaining time on Earth. People are paid in life, and with enough money you can live forever. Society is stratified into economic “time zones”: life-theft is common in the ghetto, while in the wealthy sector of New Greenwich, the rich have the luxury of walking slowly.

The rather annoying Justin Timberlake plays the main character, and Olivia Wilde his mother (people never physically age above 25-years-old), though she’d probably do as well in Amanda Seyfried’s bobbed-hair role.

I was ultimately left feeling very dissatisfied with the film, plotwise and theme-wise. The interesting setting amounted to nothing more than the opportunity to unleash a bunch of time-related puns within an action-movie polemic. This is a long fall from Gattaca. Spoilers follow.

In Time never explains how this world came to be, or what the underlying structure of the economic system is. Time-as-money isn’t really as distant a concept as the writer/director/producer Andrew Niccol thinks it is, and his polemic misses the mark.

The idea of living from paycheck to paycheck is well-delivered, and there are some more sophisticated elements  (the post-windfall death, the robber/murderers, opportunistic pawnshops, the different valuations that longevity brings). However the movie obscures its conceptual incoherence with car chases and shootouts.

Timberlake’s road to Damascus revelation made no sense: the supposedly capitalist society employs price controls to kill off the lower classes (upon whom they rely on for labour and as customers); the solution to this runaway inflation is to rob banks and inject huge amounts of cash into the money supply.

Cillian Murphy’s character is wasted in the meantime, the hints of his more complex past amounting to nothing more than making him a class traitor. Seyfreid plays an privileged, naive girl seduced by Timberlake’s risk-taking; when he takes her hostage she realises that she has bitten off more than she can chew but then joins him to rebel against her father. It’s a fictionalisation of Patty Hearst’s story.

Anyway, the excellent premise is wasted as Niccol attempts to indict a strawman of Darwinian capitalism. There are many ways Niccol could have made the villains more deserving of audience ire and the film more coherent, but instead he leans on making rich people obnoxious or guilt-ridden about their avidity and asserting their responsibility for all sorts of implausible evils without explaining it.

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