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
, 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
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
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,