November 6, 2011
I very much wanted to see this because it’s written and directed by Andrew Niccol, who wrote and directed Gattaca, probably the best science fiction movie of the last twenty years. He also wrote The Truman Show, another splendid speculative film. It’s been awhile since he’s tackled science fiction. So, how did he do?
This is the kind of wonderfully crunchy thought-experiment science fiction that I love, and that doesn’t often show up in movies. In Time depicts a world where time has replaced money, and your currency — your lifespace — is printed on your arm, constantly ticking downward. A cup of coffee will cost four minutes of your life, thank you very much. The idea is explored through the lives of the characters, rather than in an opening scroll, which is how it’s supposed to be done. And the implications are well thought out, indeed — in the well-to-do part of town, people move slower. They have time to spare, after all. All the obvious plays on language are there: wasted time, lost time, a panhandler asks if “you’ve got a minute,” a mugger will “clean your clock.” It’s kind of fun. There’s a sinister implication: those in power, whose clocks read centuries, are rigging the system to keep the poor classes living day-to-day — literally. In the ghetto, people who never have more than a few hours on their clocks spend their days earning the hours that will let them live for just another day. And if this is starting to sound like a highly relevant metaphor, you’d be exactly right. In fact, it’s best to read to the whole thing as an allegory.
In the end, I have to admire how apt a metaphor it really is. When I was an hourly wage slave, I often thought of it as selling my time. Selling my life. A trained chimp could have done my work for the most part. I was young and poor — all I had was time to sell. At $6 an hour, because that’s what it was worth. (In fact, some financial health programs encourage you to think of your finances as hours in your life — if it’ll take you four hours of work to pay off that sweater you want, how much do you really want that sweater after all?) When I quit working to write full time, it was because I looked at my paycheck and realized I was selling my life for $11 an hour. My time had become much more valuable than that.
I appreciate a movie that tries and mostly succeeds at clever. I especially like good science fiction. I have some quibbles with the film itself — my friends and I each had a different scene that drove us bonkers and threw us out of the story. The second act is filled with a lot of terribly unnecessary action sequences. And again with the kidnapped woman falling in love with her kidnapper. . . But Niccol has a great sense of style, and a mediocre Niccol film is still miles above most of what’s out there that’s calling itself science fiction these days. I’m also becoming a fan of Olivia Wilde, just because. She’s Hollywood gorgeous and manages not to act like it.
Oh, and as far as that old “immortality would be boring, nobody really wants to live forever” trope — I would be happy to test that out for you all, and find out if living forever young really is boring and unattractive. Just let me know.