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Film in Review: In Time and the Importance of Science Fiction

July 15, 2012

In Time from writer and director Andrew Niccol hit screens in 2011 and I’m hard pressed to understand how I missed another addition to the sci-fi thriller corpus. Sitting around last night I stumbled on this film on HBO and was captivated by the heavy implications of its plot. Most basically, it’s a universe where time is money and everyone is born with a clock that gives them exactly a year that starts counting down when they reach twenty-five. And the rest mirrors society in that the rich get richer (through inheritances and family businesses) in time and the poor get poorer as they live in “the ghetto” and beg borrow and steal for more time. Watch the trailer here.

in time film poster

The not-so-subtle clues to the plot line implications spelled out in the movie posters

The cast includes some pretty big names: Cillian Murphy, Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Olivia Wilde, and Matt Bomer. The film only received a 36% from Rotten Tomatoes  and got a not-so-wonderful review from the Los Angeles Times. It seems like these reviews stemmed from a script that was sub-par and didn’t do complete justice to the fantastic plot line as well as the lack of complete development of all of the implications of the plot itself. But I found the film enjoyable precisely because it doesn’t do too much of the heavy-lifting for you. As the audience, you’re asked to explore this world beyond the movie and make the correlations to our world now that are just dying to be made.

From a feminist perspective, the film is a let down with the typical “millionaire daughter falls for poor (in time) bad boy who changes her world view, etc. happily ever after…” story arc. But, letting ourselves temporarily let that go, there’s a lot to be said for how the film speaks to a society that is losing it’s middle class. Their world is divided into time-zones that divides society based on how much time you have. At one point in the movie Timberlake’s character asks Seyfried’s, “How can you live with yourself watching people die right next to you?” She responds, “You don’t watch, you close your eyes.”

The stratification of society that we see in our lives is slightly hyperbolized into a complete and utter segregation of the have’s (with ample time) and the have not’s (living hour to hour). Watching the film felt like it was the Occupy movement‘s anthem. And when a science fiction thriller where people are physically segregated by wealth feels closer to home than the genre sci-fi would imply (joining ranks with The Island, District 9, Gattaca (also from Niccol)Logan’s Runand Soylent Green, among others), I’m reminded of why the genre is so important to our media world. Because when you give a writer, director, and cast the leeway of being able to describe a work as science fiction, often what we end up seeing is a necessary reflection of some hard truths about our world.

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