In the future, no one ages once they hit 25 – but of course, there’s a catch. Time is now a commodity to be traded and worked for, and if you run out, that’s it. In such a world, a radical imbalance between the vastly rich and those who are only ever a few hours away from the ultimate end has sprung up. But when a mysterious benefactor gives Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) over a hundred years of life, what will he do with it?
As in my previous review, here again the focus will be on a decent sci-fi concept that doesn’t quite make sense when translated into a big screen adventure. This time around, In Time is under the spotlight, showcasing a world where one’s own life is a trade-able commodity, to the extent that it has replaced all other forms of currency. Coffee, bus tickets, rent, all of these are now paid for in hours and days, and thanks to ridiculous rates of inflation, the poorer classes are continually scraping around for their next day of life.
In this world we follow our young hero Will Salas, who lives with his mother, as played by Olivia Wilde of House and Tron Legacy fame. Despite her youthful appearance, Mother Salas has just turned 50, but thanks to the family’s hand to mouth existence, she only ever has a few hours on the clock. This leads to a wonderfully hilarious sequence in which she discovers that the bus fare has gone up to two hours, meaning that with her remaining 90 minutes of life, she can’t afford to take it (I have to admit that I’ve been on some pretty traumatic bus rides before, but never have I actually hand over the remainder of my hours on this earth in order to ride one). Instead, she must walk to her destination – except that, too, will take two hours! Not only does this incidentally mean that taking the bus is, essentially pointless (unless you’re rushing to make an appointment at which you will be remunerated), but it means she must run to make the rendezvous with her son, only to die seconds before falling into his arms. I’m sure I was supposed to be upset at this point, but the whole scene was so ridiculously over the top that I couldn’t help but laugh.
With his mother gone, things are looking bleak for Will, at least until a random rich benefactor shows up and gives him a hundred years to play with, along with a key secret – there is more than enough time for everyone to live a full life, it’s just that the rich are hoarding it all for the sake of their own immortality. Well, maybe they are, but this statement can’t help but raise any number of questions. Even if we ignore the fact that it’s completely unclear how society transitioned from everyone having a natural lifespan of around 70-80 years, to one in which everyone grows up normally until 25, and then has an inbuilt timer with a default value of one year on it, which can be topped up and traded away as necessary – either to another person, or to special storage machine – there is still much to ponder.
First off, presumably this time is not something that can be manufactured artificially, else it would be greatly devalued and the rich wouldn’t need to steal it from the poor; thus the only way to make more is to give birth to a child, adding a single year to the total time in circulation (although they can only start using it once they hit 25, so it’s a bit of a delayed investment). So the total amount of time in this economy is, therefore, around 7 billion years, which would be plenty, if not for all the people who need to have a share in that. Now obviously, anyone who lives beyond their 26th birthday has automatically consumed more than a year of life, and thus becomes a drain on their economy. This means that a fair proportion of the world’s population must have died (specifically by running out of time) at the age of 25, so that some kind of surplus could have built up – and given the millions of years that we later see stored in the time banks of this world, that means an awful lot of people have indeed met their end at such a young age.
Maybe we can solve this problem, however, in one of two ways. Perhaps when everyone was converted to this new lifespan, their life expectancy from 25-natural death age was converted into time to put into the bank, giving say 50 years per person in the bank, or around 350 billion years (a nice nest egg). Or perhaps the US has conquered some weaker countries where it forces people to breed and then steals their year of life when they hit 25. Nonetheless, there are other problems with the system. The ridiculously high inflation rates inflicted on the poor are themselves unsustainable, and while they may help to gather more time for the upper classes in the short term, eventually they will surely end up killing off all the working classes. At that point the idle rich may indeed be able to live forever, but there will be no one to supply their food, water and electricity, because they’ve managed to kill off all the workers!
But enough of that, what about the plot of the movie itself? When we left Will, he’d just been given a hundred years to play with, so what does he make of that? Well, after unsuccessfully trying to help his friends out with gifts of time, he manages to buy himself into the upper echelons of society, where Vincent Kartheiser struts around wearing lipstick, partying, and hanging around in casinos. Will manages to get himself a few hundred more years with his own gambling tricks, and even woos Kartheiser’s daughter, who is as clueless and naïve as only the extremely rich can be.
Now at this point, you might be wondering, where exactly is this all going? Obviously, somebody asked the writers this same question, because after all this meandering, they attempt to inject some kind of plot into the proceedings. Hence Will becomes a suspect in the murder of the rich man who gave him his hundred years, has all his time confiscated once again, and has to go on the run with his new girlfriend. At this point, the movie becomes some sort of Bonnie and Clyde flick, as the duo start robbing banks to give time back to the people, all the while being chased by a policeman whose obsession with catching Salas seems way out of proportion. And, to be honest, that’s pretty much all she wrote.
As with Surrogates, the subject of my previous review, what we have here is an interesting concept that falls flat on two fronts; first off, under examination, the time-based economy actually makes very little sense, and even if it did (or if we could look the other way), the actual plot of the movie is so paper thin as to leave you impatient for the whole sorry experience to be over. Certainly after watching it, you’ll wish there was technology available to enable you to get two hours of your own life back.