In Time (2011, USA, Andrew Niccol)
Films based on Andrew Niccol's stories have always presented fascinating ideas in an accessible manner, thereby allowing audience to be exposed to engaging topics within the safe confines of a Hollywood framework. This has applied to his three directed films (Gattaca, S1m0ne, Lord of War) and those directed by others (The Truman Show and The Terminal). In Time continues this trend by packaging an intelligent idea in a multiplex friendly package. The story is set in a future where humans stop aging at 25 years of age and only have one more year to live after that unless they can buy, steal or inherit more time. This has the potential to allow some humans to be immortal and live as long as they can keep gaining more time, much like how video game characters continue to stay aline by gaining extra time. These time centric ideas kick the film off nicely but unfortunately the multiplex friendly side of the production steers the film into autopilot mode resulting in a run of the mill second half which does not utilize the promising setup. Still, the film contains many memorable scenarios and dialogues.
Time = Money
In the film, humans can transfer or gain time by grabbing each other’s hands which updates the time counter on their forearm. This exchange gives new meaning to the phrase “money changes hands”. When a person runs out of time, their counter resets to 00’s leading to their inevitable death.
Time is the only currency required for financial transactions which gives literal meaning to “Time is Money” and other associated phrases. The ability to pay for things with their time makes each human a walking ATM machine with no need for a wallet or a purse. So humans can use their time to pay for a restaurant meal or bus fare.
A wealthy person is clearly visible by the amount of time they have displayed on their forearm counter. So the phrase “You must come from time” describes those with ample time.
When a character gives Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) a century of his time, he leaves a simple message on the window:
“Don’t waste my time”
These words take on a much more positive meaning in the film's context.
And common everyday phrases such as the following take on a deadly meaning in the film:
“Give me some time”
“I am not giving you a second”
“Your time’s up”
“Out of time”
“By tomorrow, you won’t have time to stand around”
When someone gets a new lease of life thanks to borrowed time, the following words take on a richer meaning:
“I never got to properly thank you for your time”
Or the following perfectly describes a thief: “All the time he has taken”
A father upset at his daughter’s time wastage: “I am not about to see those years go to waste”
The famous deep throat phrase “Follow the money” also gets a new twist in the film. After Will Salas leaves town (“The Time left town”) with his new time gift, the law (appropriately named timekeepers) wonder what to do. The answer by their supervisor Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy) is simple:
“What we always do. Follow the time”.
A city/state is divided into time zones so a border crossing into a wealthier time zone requires varying time deposits from a month to a year:
“Please deposit one month”
The timekeepers are able to track all the time counters in a zone. A poor time zone consists of people with hours/months to live so naturally if an influx of decades shows up on someone’s counter, then something is wrong.
The richest time zone suburb is appropriately called New Greenwich. While people struggle to survive on hours and days in the poor time zones, in New Greenwich the wealthy have so much time that they waste it away in a casino. With his new found wealth, Will decides to go gambling where he encounters Philippe Weis (Vincent Kartheiser). The following words appropriately describe Will’s reckless wager on a game of cards:
“You could say I am gambling my inheritance”
Philippe is part of the evil corrupt rich who justifies his rich time lifestyle as “Darwinian capitalism”. The words “quality time” or “a man with a million years” easily apply to him as well.
Mother, Sister or Daughter
A direct consequence of stagnant aging process is that everyone looks 25 years old, which makes it difficult to recognize certain relationships. So when Salas eyes Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried), Philippe reads Will’s mind:
“Is she my mother, my sister or my daughter”?
And then at a party, Philippe introduces Will to his mother-in-law, mother and daughter (from left to right):
Of course, the most confusing aspect of this time relationship is watching Olivia Wilde play Will Salas’ mother.
Several scenarios and dialogues in the film are fascinating because of the literal meaning placed on time vs money phrases. That is why it is such a disappointment to see the film settle into a conventional good vs evil chase story and not fully explore the potential laid out by the setup. In this regard, the film is as disappointing as Pitch Black, another film with a great setup but an all too conventional second half.