Tick-tock: “In Time”

November 22, 2011

You know what my big problem was with Gattaca? Okay, we got a future society in which the overclass consists of people genetically-enhanced in utero, while kids who just pop the normal way–you know, grab bag—are the oppressed underclass and relegated to a second-class, lower-blue collar existence. Ethan Hawke is one of those natural kids who dreams of being an astronaut, only his breeding prevents it. Oh yeah, and he has a congenital heart-condition! Wait a minute, I get that it sucks his station in life prevents him from his dream, but what’s keeping him out of space is the fact that you need to be healthy to be an astronaut! Even without the eugenic apartheid state, this guy couldn’t be an astronaut. Picture it: “Oh my god! The steel-toothed beasties are eating through the hull! Ethan Hawke, fire phasers! Please save us Ethan Hawke!” “I…urk…my heeeaaarttt!!!” CHOMP! CHOMP! “Oh no! We’re being eaten! And all because Ethan Hawke’s heart stopped working!” So that’s my problem with Gattaca. But we’re talking about Andrew Niccol’s new movie In Time. But it kind of the same movie.

Once again we find ourselves in a future society where people have dicked with genetics in order to create a vastly unequal society. This time, however, people only live to 25 years of age, and after that you have to purchase extra time, minute by minute (but you don’t age–bonus!). It’s like Logan’s Run with a less gay wardrobe design and fewer suburban shopping malls standing in for interiors. Your life-clock counts down on a green LED digital clock on your forearm. The rich can stay 25 for decades or even centuries, while the poor must live day-to-day—literally. See, time is (disgustingly-literally) money in this society. Wanna buy a can of future-Mountain Dew? It’ll cost you a couple minutes. Pawn shops, banks, loan sharks all collect and pay out in time. When your time runs out, there’s no passing Go, you just keel over and die in the street. Of course the upside is that you always look 25, so at least you leave a pretty corpse.

Will Salas (Justin Timberlake), a young nobody from the ghetto, gets a burr under his saddle when his babe-a-licious mom (Olivia Wilde—more on that later) dies in his arms when she can’t afford bus fare and spends her remaining hour running home (in high heels—bad idea, that). But then a dying millionaire bequests Will his remaining century or so. This is enough money for Will to pay the toll into the nice part of town and buy some nice clothes and go amongst the swells. There he makes even more time at a casino and meets Master of the Universe Philippe Weis (Vincent Kartheiser) and his orb-eyed, bob-haired, hottie daughter Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried). She thinks Will is sex-on-a-stick, while Will is all like, “Uptown girl…I can’t afford to buy you pearls…oh wait, yeah I can.”

Alas, before they can meet too cute, Will is set upon by a cop—called a Timekeeper (strap in, there are a lot of similar puns)—named Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy). He busts up the swanky party, but Will takes Sylvia hostage and runs back to the ghetto to hide. Oh, and they both lose all their time, so they have to beg, borrow and steal. At first Sylvia sees this as a giant buzzkill, but after a tour of how the other 99% live, the Stockholm Syndrome sets in and she joins Will as they go all Bonnie and Clyde. They rob her father and his cronies and start giving back to the time-poor. But they have to outrun Ray and his fellow (sigh) Timekeepers as well as a prancing underworld kingpin. Yeah, he’s pretty retarded.

So, you can see what writer/director Niccol is going for here, right? Social commentary 101. It’s an idea Rod Serling would have tossed off on the back of a matchbook late in a Twilight Zone season when he was up to smoking his body weight in Camels. Niccol does an admirable job chronicaling the day-to-day existence of the working poor, and he should hit closer to the bone than Gattaca’s paranoid, anti-genetic engineering screed (which, I strongly suspect, is on heavy play in Jenny McCarthy’s household). Unfortunately, it’s all too silly to really tap into the fury of the OWS set. On top of that, we never really understand how any of this works, so we just have to take it on faith that some futuristic magic allows people to exchange time by doing that macho-handshake thing Arnold Schwarzenegger and Carl Weathers did in Predator. He tries to portray the time-rich as living in gilded cages, terrified of unnatural death, but, um, isn’t everyone? Sylvia balks at a moonlit swim in heavy surf, and, know what? I wouldn’t be too keen on courting a midnight riptide in a place with lousy lighting either. That’s not decadence, that survival instinct. But we also have….

* Yeah, let’s get this out of the way now: People don’t age, so Justin is Olivia Wilde’s son. Yeah, the unintentional Oedipal issues don’t just lurk there on the screen, they sat next to me in the theater, ate my popcorn, and borrowed my iPhone for some Angry Birds action. If everyone lives like this, why isn’t the world filled with nine-headed mutant kids? (Here is where we need a little of Gattaca-land’s fascism)

* Speaking of that 25-year-old stasis, Cillian Murphy has seen many summers since he was 25, and he wears every one of his 36 years on his haggard face (weirdly, he looked about 25 in Tron: Legacy). I kept waiting for an explanation for this, but…ah, I guess some people just look like hell right out of the box. His character is also ambiguous to the end, but we never get a sense of what he believes. He shows some glee when the system begins to break down, but in his last speech he professes his loyalty to the old ways. Hey, way to piss away the only three-dimensional character.

* You know, for being King Sexyboy of the Universe, Justin Timberlake is kind of a weak and whiney presence on screen. He’s got a reedy voice that doesn’t so much announce him as star as it does, a douchebag supporting-character. Small wonder his best role was as the oily Sean Parker in The Social Network.

* Seyfried shoots a Performance Center .45 pretty well for someone who’s never even seen a gun before. Also, she wings Raymond in one scene, who reacts as if he’s experiencing a muscle-cramp, and not, you know, the major tissue-trauma that accompanies a big-bore gunshot would that could have easily taken that arm off.

* Hey, check that awesome teaser poster with the neo-Blade Runner cityscape. Looks cool, huh? Yeah, there’s nothing like that in this movie. Most of it takes place in an industrial badland that looks a lot like South Milwaukee.

* Again, how does any of this work? There’s a contest where you can try and suck people’s time by doing the Predator handshake, but…goddamn it, how?

* Will and Sylvia take off in a car from the party and get chased, but slip the (Jesus…) Timekeepers. So, I guess there are no helicopters in the future.

* Once more, Olivia Wilde has to run a mile to reach Will to get more time, so why is she wearing heels? If every second counts in this life, why isn’t everyone wearing track shoes?

* In several scenes, Will and Sylvia’s redistribution of time causes some mini-riots. Is this really the best way to go about this? I’d think that much currency dropped into a depressed urban would cause a riot faster than a pardon for Bernie Madoff. Granted by Dick Cheney.

But, In Time does make you acutely aware of how much of our precious, not-for-purchase-or-Predator-handshake-tranferable time is taken by mundane daily things. As a matter of fact, I don’t know why I’m wasting mine by watching and reviewing terrible movies. Man, I should give this up and get out of the theater and live life! Wait…there’s an Adam Sandler movie where he plays his own twin sister? Eh, I’ll live life some other time…


  1. Thank you, thank you, and thank you for being the one and only person on the planet (other than myself, it seems) who saw through the “I HAVE A DREAM!” B.S. of “Gattaca” to the simple fact that if one has a bad ticker, one does not get to be an astronaut. Full stop. As for your thoughts on “In Time”: yes to all of ’em, especially with regard to Cillian Murphy. He looked pasty, bored, and (a first for him: he’s usually the guy I’m looking at and thinking “Sandwich: STAT!”) bloated. I kept wondering if his collar was too tight. As for the fate of his character… what a waste. It’s as if Niccol said, “You gots t’ go now, Cillian!”, and Cillian just shrugged and said, “Good enough. I’m gone.” Anyway: fun review! Thanks for sharing!

    Oh, just one more thing: If Will had a butt-ton of time, why didn’t he just go MEET his mom when she got off work? He might even have paid off a few of those bills while he was at it, thereby eliminating the need for that ridiculous Mom Death Scene (in which we got to see, if nothing else, that the film’s budget didn’t allow for ANY random auto traffic, as both Will and Rachel were sprinting right up the middle of the street). BAD SON ALERT!

    • Ha! I didn’t even think about that, but yeah, Will had been given all that time at that point. What? He couldn’t spring for a cab? Cillian’s scenes were really strange, like they left something on the cutting-room floor and subbed in that atrocious end to his character. And, yeah, he really did look bored.

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