Time is Money (Duh!)
I have been following, with a mixture of interest and bemusement, the saga of the bit-part actors who are suing the venerable and generally trustworthy IMDB on the grounds that it has released their real ages into the public domain. This, say the thesps in question, is going to seriously impact upon their ability to get work, as Hollywood and the rest of the industry is only interested in people who are perceived as being young and fresh, and no-one is ever offered a job playing a character younger than they really are.
What causes a mildly raised eyebrow on my part is that the actors don't seem to have a problem with the industry itself (casting directors, producers, and the like) having this attitude – or if they do, they seem to have accepted that it's inevitable and beyond the power of anyone to change. But for the IMDB to facilitate it, even inadvertently? It's litigation time! I am reminded of the morally-minded group who, following a shooting spree which they believed was provoked by a violent movie, left the local gun store in perfect peace and proceeded to picket their video rental outlet.
Well, it's not a fair nor especially logical world and this fact is the subject of Andrew Niccol's new movie In Time, which has its own take on the intersection between youth and money and suchlike. This is a SF movie set in an indeterminate future in which human biology has been rewritten so everyone stops aging at the age of 25. To reiterate: everyone is physically 25 in perpetuity. The drawback is that society now uses lifespan as a currency – wages are paid in the form of hours, days and months, your current balance is recorded in a glowy green clock on your arm, and should your time tick down to zero you croak, usually dramatically.
Niccol's movie does a good job of establishing this slightly demanding premise and introduces us to factory-working everyman Will (Justin Timberlake, actual age 30) and his mum (Olivia Wilde, actual age 27). Will's general resentment of the system finds an outlet when he rescues a world-weary member of the super-rich (Matthew Bomer, 34) from a local gangster (Alex Pettyfer, 21 – eh?). Will finds himself with a lot of time on his hands as a result, but also – due to an unexpected tragedy – a desire to make the rich pay.
So off he trots to the preserves of the super-wealthy where he meets tycoon Weis (Vincent Kartheiser, 32) and his spoilt daughter Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried, 25 – fair enough in this case). However he is also being pursued by incorruptible lawman Leon (Cillian Murphy, 35), who believes Will's stolen all the time he now has to play with. But Will's exposure to both extremes of the system has opened his eyes to its injustice and he is now a man on a mission...
Slightly mind-bogglingly, a lot of commentators are describing In Time as cerebral, thought-provoking SF very much in the same vein as Inception. Come on, guys... once you get your head around the basic premise, this movie isn't much more cerebral than Logan's Run, which it superficially resembles in many ways. It's a very Seventies-style piece of SF: not an awful movie, but nothing very special either.
It looks fine – the film-makers have created an austere, abstract world of some style, but this seems to have been inspired by the characters, who are all pretty much ciphers, designed to facilitate the plot. Timbo does a workmanlike job as the lead but the romance between him and Seyfried fails to stir and as a result most of the movie feels like a rather mechanical succession of plot developments and set pieces instead of an engaging narrative. (The climax is very contrived, too.)
But the problems run deeper than this, to the very heart of the film's premise. Normally I tend to be hard on movies where the future is utterly identical to the here and now barring the single innovation on which the plot is predicated, but in the case of In Time this would be missing the point, which is that the similarity between the movie's world and the real world is intentional. (The movie doesn't bother trying to explain the precise details of how its world came into being, for what I suspect is the same reason.)
Well, look. If my engagement with In Time as a film of ideas and with a statement to make had taken the form of a conversation, it would have gone something like this:
In Time:'So here is the world of the story. Multitudes carry on desperate existences of privation and hardship so that a few can live in luxury.'
IT:'The majority are crushed by the poverty of the time they have, while a tiny minority are dehumanised by the excess which surrounds them.'
A:'Still with you.'
IT:'And it doesn't have to be this way! The whole system is an artificial construct supported by the vested interests of the few and the power structures they manipulate!'
IT:'And... the real horror at the centre of this story is... (pauses for effect) That the world in which we live is exactly the same!'
(IT sits back, beaming and nodding sagely.)
A:'...sorry, is that all you've got?'
A:'Is that supposed to be profound, or a surprise, or something? I figured out this was a fairly unsubtle allegory for modern society in the first ten... well, actually the first time I saw the trailer for the movie. It's not exactly deep.'
IT:'Umm... well... I bet a few people will look slightly differently at the world around them now. You never know, it may open a few eyes to the facts of existence.'
A:'Well, maybe, but what kind of person wanders around in the world and achieves an age where they can go to the cinema without realising the nature of our modern economic model?'
IT:'People who go to see a movie just because Justin Timberlake's in it?'
A:'Hmm, shrewd casting.'
...but seriously, folks. I'm as contemptuous of western capitalism as anyone else with eyes and a brain and a soul, and if you're pitching me the notion that it surely can't be beyond the collective wit of humanity to come up with a fairer and more humane way of organising our lives, then I'm buying, but In Time has nothing to offer on this front beyond some very superficial observations and an overwhelming belief in its own profundity. The artificial nature of the allegory it presents also prevents it from having to come up with a coherent alternative system for Timbo and Seyfried to put in place, but in the real world things are different.
All credit to Niccol for getting such a subversively-themed movie made at all, but the very inanity and shallowness of its ideas really mean that in the end it's nothing but a bundle of good intentions with no real insight or anything meaningful to say. It's a proficiently made movie, but nobody involved really gets the opportunity to shine. If you think that putting up a pup tent outside Saint Paul's Cathedral is the key to bringing down the world system and bringing about a new utopia, then I expect you will think In Time is a classic of challenging and intelligent SF cinema. For the rest of us, it's a passable piece of entertainment with – it seems to me – distinct delusions of grandeur.