Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

26 November 2011

Time Out, Please

Andrew Niccol's In Time is, frankly, a bunch of cheez whiz.

I didn't dislike this movie so much as I was bored by it.
And I didn't object to the film so much as I thought that it wore out its welcome.

The premise starts out rather interestingly, I must admit. In the very distant future (a future which looks, frankly, exactly 2011, although it has to be many, many years in the future because) humans have been genetically modified to stop ageing at age 25. From age 25, they have one year on their clocks. This year of time is a life-clock as well as currency. So if you have only a half hour on your clock, you will be literally dead if your time runs out. But, see, everything also costs time, so you have to spend your own lifeline in order to get things: coffee, a ride on the bus, a shot of tequila, you get the idea.

So when a small girl says to Justin early in the film: You got a minute? She means, Brother, can you spare a dime? And time zones are really class sectors. Most importantly – and this might be the film's only real insight – working-class people run places and wealthy people walk. Some of us have time to spare. Others only have just enough time to make more time.

The movie looks pretty (you will recall that Niccol's Gattaca also had a gorgeous look to it), and it is exciting at times – there is a poker game that is really fun to watch and an arm-wrestling match that is equally bracing – but mostly the film is filled with half-baked political theories about where money goes and who has it and how rich people keep poor people poor.

It's not that I object to social equality – I do not – it's that I object to generic notions of what that equality might mean. I also object to any political theory about capital that does not also include a political theory of labor. In Time stretches any question of its believability and loses itself in abstract notions of universality that argue that we all should die and no one should live forever and rich people upset the balance of things by making some people die younger and living longer themselves. Except that this isn't the problem with the world. The problem is not that rich people ought to die as well as poor people. The problem is that rich people are rich and poor people are not.

It seemed to me as I was watching the movie that perhaps quality was the real problem instead of quantity, but In Time wasn't really interested in that either, frankly ignoring people's working lives and focusing instead on trying to stay alive. The movie is smart to equate the two, perhaps, but In Time is short on analysis and long on moral abstractions. The whole thing is rather stupid.

Still, it had redeeming qualities. Colleen Atwood's costumes are gorgeous if not at all futuristic, and Justin Timberlake is, as always, fun to watch. Amanda Seyfried runs at full speed for half of the movie and does every bit of this running in heels. I admired both her speed and her commitment to fashion. A lesser woman would surely have ditched those fabulous shoes in order to pick up the pace. It just goes to show you that even when time is money and even when running out of time means losing your life, there are some sacrifices that just ought never to be made.