“In Time”
The pragmatists and realists of the world eschew sci-fi because they think the operating premises are so absurd that they can’t suspend disbelief enough to even watch the movie seriously. OK, granted, there are enough plot holes in this one to cause even the most playful “Once upon a time” aficionado to complain about the inconsistencies. But this movie stayed with me longer than most, and in trying to figure out why, I think it taps into something fundamental about “haves” and “have nots” that reverberates even unto all the “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrations, however ill-planned or seemingly, to coin a word, scatagorical. Though the setting is some indeterminate future, there is a part of this film that feels achingly contemporary.
Justin Timberlake plays Will Salas, who lives in a post-modern United States , where the technology to postpone aging is so advanced that people can become, literally, immortal. The problem is that those resources are limited, and therefore available only to the very wealthy. As for everybody else, well, it seems that when you turn 25, a digital display appears on your left forearm, continually counting down the time you have left. You get one year. Unless, of course, you have debts to pay, which means you get less. And every commodity, from a cup of coffee to paying the light bill, also costs you time. This is all taken care of through scanners that reduce your time by the increments you authorize, kind of like swiping a credit card now. It is also possible to transfer time units from one person to another, and this is where it gets tricky. These units can be taken from you either voluntarily or involuntarily, so personal security is at a premium. Except, of course, the people who are closest to their impending demise are those with the least resources, so, it’s like that biblical refrain, “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” (Matthew 25:29)
What’s really strange is that if you can somehow manage to accumulate additional years, your body doesn’t age past 25. So a man can have a daughter who looks the same age as his wife who looks the same age as his mother who looks the same age as….well, you get the picture.
What’s interesting is that in this cold-hearted scenario, where the rich get richer and the poor just keel over on the street, there is a sense in which the very wealthy, having literally all the time in the world, move very slowly and deliberately, and those who are short on available time are jumping around as if attempting to fit in as much as they can, so you can tell how poor a person is by how quickly he moves. But the rich are also deathly afraid of the random accident, the sudden act of violence, and live in fear of a mortality they think is safely at arm’s length, but they can never be too sure. The poor, on the other hand, have a tendency to be more generous because, well, life is short for everyone they know. And so they live life to the fullest, with a sense of urgency that they literally wear on their sleeves. And so it is the poor who are full of life and love and spontaneity and vivacity, and the rich become almost zombie-like in their fanatic self-preservation.
Oh, and I suppose we’re supposed to root for Will as he romances Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried), the daughter of a zillionaire, at least in time accumulated, but she gains her life only when she risks losing it, which sounds hauntingly like another biblical truth: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?” (Matthew 16:25-6)
Maybe, in the end, our time is all we have, and it is the only commodity with any real currency. And yet it is how we spend it that defines who we really are.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Interim Pastor, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving , Texas