Friday, 2 December 2011

In Time

"For a few to be immortal, many must die."

Before the Occupy movement made the news, a movie made the same point. That the 1% of people in the world have more than the 99% put together; and that just doesn't make sense.

In Time does what a lot of science fiction does. It takes a topic that the world is dealing with and finds a way of making a point in a way that entertains. What Star Trek made a career of doing, this movie recreated.

And it did so with a premise that is simplicity itself: What if we used Time as money?

In a few ways, this movie has a better premise than a plot, but that's true of a lot of sci-fi movies. We spend time enough exploring the world that we're being presented with that we forget that the characters living in them don't see it as anything special.

What if we used Time instead of Money?

In Time paints the picture of a world where nobody is over twenty five. You do not age, you do not die of old age. Instead, you are given a clock. Everyone has a thirteen digit clock on their arm, always there. And that clock counts down, second by second. When your clock hits zero, you simply... stop. In the poverty stricken parts of town, you find bodies of people who ran out of time, and nobody stops to dwell on it, because they can't spare the seconds.

This clock, is your currency. You can add time to your clock, or eliminate some of it. And this is the currency of the world. A cup of coffee can cost you four minutes of your life, your power bill a few hours. If you are willing to part with a day of your life, you can have a nice bottle of wine, if you beg for help you might get a few minutes here and there. When you get paid at the end of the day, you get another 24 hours, win a lucky poker hand and you can get more. Lose too many hands, and you leave the poker table feet first.

People in real life have tied their whole living to their money; this movie just eliminates the need for an ATM.

But what absolutely floors me about this movie, is that this world is not at all different from our own. The majority of people are still dirt poor; living, (literally) from day to day, hoping they can scrape together enough to make it to tomorrow, as the cost of living rises on them, and there's nothing they can do. Meanwhile the proverbial 1% at the top of the chain can have centuries to live, not caring how long anything takes, or how desperate others are; because they have all the time they could ever need.

Naturally, the premise is so much fun to explore, and you will do so long after you leave the cinema. The movie itself follows a poor working class man named Will Salas, played pretty well by Justin Timberlake, as he goes about his life. Early in the movie he meets a rather wealthy man who has more than a century to live, and is disgusted by it. Naturally, when your actual lifespan can be stolen from you the way your wallet can be stolen in the real world, flashing a century around to a bunch of people who count their future in hours is a dangerous prospect.

Our hero rescues this wealthy man from his own 'suicide-by-crime', and is rewarded, with a gift of the whole century. Suddenly free of his 24 hour death sentence, Salas starts moving up in the world, suddenly one of the 1%.

Naturally, this idyllic 'ending-to-eternity' story cannot last, and he draws the attention of the Timekeeper, a cop that monitors the give-and-take of this currency in the world; who begins hunting him. He is helped by the inevitable love-interest of the story, Sylvia Weis, played by Amanda Seyfried.

The character of Sylvia is an interesting one, as a bored socialite that literally is born with eternal life ahead of her, and is uninterested in spending all eternity terrified of dying by accident, as all her circle are. The two of them go on a Robin Hood style crime spree, taking from the rich and giving to the poor, who embrace the fact that somebody is literally giving them longer to live.

Its an interesting exploration of old questions. If you never had to lose anything, how far would you go to play it safe? If you suddenly had an extra year to live, would you spend that year living any differently? If you suddenly got given everything you could ever want, would you be willing to share it? Is it wrong for a few people to have everything, if it means many people have nothing. These are questions that people have to face in real life, and they are retold in this movie, as all the best sci-fi movies do.

But what makes this movie good are how the little touches make it so realistic. Poor people always run everywhere, because seconds count. Rich people go everywhere surrounded by security, and play everything ultra-safe, refusing to so much as go for a swim, or take a long jump, paranoid about the notion of death since they never have to face it themselves.

And thus the world of this movie, background from the main movie plot, is disturbingly like ours. The struggling people in poverty can't so much as leave their home for a holiday because they cannot afford to waste the time, and when costs go up, it can be fatal to them; while the Uber-Rich have more than they or their children or their grandchildren could ever hope to use; and are totally paranoid about losing it.

You can view it as a typical action flick, and in a way it is, but take a look at their world and ask yourself how it applies to ours. In Time does what a lot of science fiction does. It takes a topic that the world is dealing with and finds a way of making a point in a way that entertains.