In Time is a 2011 science-fiction action movie written and directed by Andrew Niccol; such producers as Eric Newman, Kristel Laiblin, Marc Abraham and Amy Israel also took part in its creation. The film stars Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried as the two main protagonists, with Cillian Murphy playing the main antagonist in the cast that includes Olivia Wilde. The film was released worldwide on October 28, 2011. It took the third place according to the box office, being outrun only by the animation film Puss in Boots and supernatural horror movie Paranormal Activity 3. I caught the screening on the opening date at the Cobb Theater in San Francisco where the audience was as enthusiastic as I was at the latest Hollywood cinematic adventure into science fiction, and to see whether Justin Timberlake, who is trying to make the transition onto the big screen, could pull off a lead role in a big budget action drama, with Olivia Wilde by his side to offer motherly support.
The movie tells a story of future where advancement in technology has enabled genetic modification allowing the human race to impede ageing as soon as they hit 25 years of age. But the crux is that people are genetically engineered to only live for one extra year, unless they can get more time to avoid death. Time has become the new currency that is accounted for by a neon watch inked on the left forearm of each individual. Like in reality, the new currency can be obtained through labor, criminal activity or even through inheriting it. Additionally, time is used to buy goods and services and, in the rarest of circumstances, given as donations. The contrast in time between people has created a social hierarchy across civilization called Time Zones, where the poor live in ghettos.
The main character is twenty-eight year old Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) – an industrial unit worker who toils daily taking pains to earn enough time for his mother (Olivia Wilde) and himself. One night, he finds himself involved in the affair between a local neighborhood time-robber, Fortis (Alex Pettyfer), and Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer), a rich man with more than a hundred years in his pocket. After saving Henry from an ill-fated ending, Hamilton passes Will his entire time, leaving himself just enough to get away and die after confessing that his will to live vanished long ago. Will’s new change in fate enables him to partly witness the lavish lifestyle of the wealthy in New Greenwich Time zone, where he gains even more life years through gambling. Eventually he meets smitten Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried) – a daughter of Philippe Weis, a prosperous time mogul.
Wills’ sudden change in fortune, however, arouses the attention of “Time Keepers” – police officers who monitor the time system. Veteran Timekeeper Raymond Leon (Cillian Murthy) leads the investigation of the shift in the system and pursues Will and Sylvia, who have embarked on a streak of time-bank robberies with the aim of distributing the time capsules to the poor. Finally, Leon catches up with the two criminals; alas, in the course of detention he realizes that he failed to replenish his own time before chasing them and dies. As a result of Will’s and Sylvia’s efforts, the poor now have enough time to cross time zones and challenge the power and position of the wealthy as the factories no longer have enough workers to keep them running. The closing scene shows Will and Sylvia planning to rob another major bank in their quest to change the status quo and destroy the system.
The film’s setting is largely a dystopian environment; it is applied in order to accommodate the mostly fictitious and ambitious story line. A dystopia is a primarily hypothetical or imaginary society often used in the context of works of fiction, particularly those set in a tentative time in the future. Therefore, a dystopian society is an environment in which people experience often fearful or rather dehumanized lives, such as in the case of Dayton, the ghetto where the poor residents live. Additionally, the society contains some elements of totalitarian political or economic dictation that is highlighted in the wealthy citizen’s exploitation of the poor through taking advantage of the poor’s dire economic and living situation in the movie.
A dystopian film basically depicts a society or government challenging for the control over authority, freedom and free thought. Others center on the systematic discrimination and restrictions based on a range of factors including genetics, intelligence, and age among others. While most of the movies may possess dystopian qualities, they, however, do not focus on the dystopian aspect as their main plot. Hollywood has managed to brilliantly capture this through cinema in films that include: District 13, Babylon A. D, Book of Eli, Death Race, Fahrenheit 451, The Hunger Games, The Matrix trilogy, V for Vendetta. Many of the listed films are generally considered as dystopian since their story lines broadly emphasize different detrimental societal characteristics that would normally be considered unusual if applied in the current society.
Some look at the In Time movie and see an action sci/fi movie that stars good looking young actors such as Amanda Seyfried and Justin Timberlake. Others watch In Time and marvel at the latest intrigue in sci/fi quandary from director Andrew Niccol, who has a history of producing quality food-for-thought science concepts in movies such as The Truman Show and Gattaca.
One of the major impressions is that the developers of In Time aim at criticizing capitalism. However, Niccols’ film ends up as an unintentionally sweltering satire of America’s absolute incapacity to critique it. The movie’s central idea is so magnificently obvious that it seems like it was adapted from a lost Gene Roddenberry’s script: people stop aging at 25 with a one year allowance to spare; time has replaced money and it can be exchanged between individuals.
The genius part of the whole film is, of course, the topic that money defines life. Money means ability to afford food, medicine and to live in a neighborhood that is not a dumpsite for toxic substances. When the bus driver fails to give Olivia Wilde’s character a free ride when she does not have enough time to pay, she dies in the middle of the street, merely seconds before her son Will can donate her additional time (life). This is a clear illustration of the situation most people face in the today’s world. This is a classic Hollywood melodrama; nonetheless, it is not so much a stretch from the true nature of circumstances. In fact, people really can die in the middle of the street due to financial problems; thus, the movie does deserve at least a bit of appreciation for emphasizing that.
Alas, having depicted this, the film apprehensively steps away and quickly gets back to the refuge of Hollywood familiarities. When Will Salas’s mother dies, she leaves behind a very good looking 25 year old corpse in the middle of the street. Needless to say, this is not how normal poverty stricken people depart this Earth. But if Hollywood shows the audience a dead body, it might as well be a corpse that is fresh, good looking and aged 25.
Justin Timberlake copes with a relatively good performance in the movie compared to the ill-mannered comedy where he co-starred beside his ex-girlfriend Cameron Diaz earlier in the year. Justin is very likable as a young working class man from the ghetto who cares for those around him, but his lightweight performance did not help in building the story in the film. He sort of plays the Robin Hood character of the future, who steals from the rich and gives to the poor, with Amanda Seyfried acting as his loyal sidekick without offering anything more to the film apart from demonstrating that she too clearly suffers from the Justin Timberlake syndrome. I particularly like Vince Kartheiser’s performance as he reprises a familiar conniving role he plays so often in Mad Men. He seems to be the only actor in the cast who actually enjoyed playing his role.
The routine script coupled with a very boring first half, riddled with lack of adequate action scenes, and an ending that leaves a lot of unanswered questions in the viewer’s mind, creates an average film that will fail to connect with many audiences at the box office. I would recommend students to watch this film only if they happen to have a lot of time on their hands, no pun intended.