The 2011 thriller “In Time” tells the dystopian science fiction story of a world where time means everything.
Social classes are not determined by income, but by the amount of time a person can live. The humans are genetically engineered to stop aging when they turn 25. At that point, their clocks begin ticking and they must earn or steal more time to stay alive. Lower classes work menial jobs for pay in days, while the upper class hoards centuries. Gangsters prey on the weak to steal their time. “Timekeepers'” or law enforcement’s primary concern is to make sure the “wrong people” – the lower class – never have too much time.
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Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) is from “the ghetto,” where people live hour to hour. He meets Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer) in a bar flashing around a wealth of time – 100 years. After Will rescues him from gangsters, Hamilton gives Will his entire store of time. Sadly, Will can’t get home in time to prevent his mother (Olivia Wilde) from “clocking out.” In retaliation, Will travels to the top “time zone” on a mission to take as much time from the wealthy as he can.
However, possessing time that you didn’t earn is illegal. Timekeeper Leon (Cillian Murphy) catches up with Will and takes back what time he’s managed to accumulate. To avoid capture, Will takes wealthy Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried) hostage and goes back to the ghetto. He realizes it’s not enough to take time from the wealthy, he needs to redistribute the time to the poor. Sylvia falls in love with Will and joins him on a crime spree to spread the wealth of time around as much as they can before they are caught…or their own clocks run out.
We’re lead to believe that a small portion – the one percent? – of the population not only controls the vast majority of wealth, but is actively engaged in preventing the 99 percent from ever progressing outside of their “time zone” by strategically raising taxes and interest rates whenever people start accumulating too much time.
The only option left appears to be playing Robin Hood by robbing the rich to give to the poor. The viewer forgives Will and Sylvia for living a life of crime because they never keep more than a day’s worth for themselves, giving away the rest to those in need.
Several times throughout the story, we hear references to “maintaining the system” of the haves and the have-nots. Leon isn’t concerned with catching murderers or other violent criminals, only time thieves. Philippe Weis (Vincent Kartheiser) tells Will and Sylvia that there’s no beating the system of “Darwinian capitalism” that he loves, and yet he is consumed with “keeping the system from crumbling.”
“In Time” works as a contemporary political allegory if one actually believes that a small handful of bankers and corporations personally control all the wealth in the world preventing any possibility of upward mobility from the middle and lower classes. But there are flaws in the execution of the storytelling. The amount of dialogue devoted to stating obvious plot points is painful. When asked why he’s traveling to New Greenwich, the rich district, Will responds with essentially, “I’m going to take all their time!”
The Minutemen, or gangsters who steal time from the poor, at first appear to be central to the plot but end up nothing more than a pointless loose end waiting to be tied up. And the rookie Timekeeper we initially think will bring a conscience to the law enforcement team never serves much purpose except to ask questions, giving Leon a chance to throw some exposition into the conversation.
Seyfried’s breathy monotone and glassy-eyed delivery is, for once, perfectly suited for her character, a sheltered young woman whose life is characterized by monotony. Timberlake has never been able to pull off “thug” for me, and his bravado feels skin-deep. Murphy never gets to utilize his creepy side, and seems bored from start to finish.
The DVD features a fair amount of deleted and extended scenes, most of which offer good character or culture insights.