Andrew Nichol is responsible for two of my favourite sci-fi movies. The director-screenwriter from New Zealander scripted the Peter Weir-helmed Truman Show and Gatttaca. Nichol has proven himself deft at using sci-fi narratives to provide allegories for real world themes. Truman Show pre-figured the advent of the reality show (aside from its religious themes) and Gattaca touched on the arguments over eugenics – both delivered their messages through vivid artistic visions.
In Time is set in a dystopian future where everyone stops aging at 25 but is only given one more year of life. However, time is now the currency required for living and this time can be transferred among individuals, its availability being displayed on an implant on a person’s lower arm. When that clock reaches zero, one dies instantly. Society is divided by social class living in specialized towns called, ‘Time Zones’. Clearly, the film concerns itself greatly with the income gap which is becoming more and more prevalent in the modern world.
Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) lives in the ghetto with his mother (Olivia Wilde). He lives from day to day and barely gets by. One night Salas saves Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer) – a rich man obviously from the wealthy Time Zones with a century of life indicated on his arm – from robbery. The next morning, Salas wakes up with 100 years extra and witnesses Hamilton ‘time-out’ and commit suicide. Before Salas can make sense of his situation, his mother ‘times out’ due to a sudden increase in public transport fares (how Singaporean eh?) – in Salas’ arms no less – and Salas vows revenge.
Sala’s anger brings him into New Greenwich (a wealthy timezone) where he meets millionaire Phillipe Weis (Vincent Kartheiser), falls foul of the Timekeepers – this era’s police force, led by Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy) and kidnaps Weis’ daughter Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried). Inevitably, the couple fall in love, morph into Bonnie and Clyde and change the world!
All well and good but the film simply does not make enough sense for any coherent message to get through. For one thing, the entire concept of the transfer of time between individuals becomes ludicrous after awhile – imagine a person carrying thousands of dollars on his or her person – as scenes of criminals simply stealing time from people attest.
Also, there are many portions of the film that are simply too convenient – take for example the robbery of the Weis time bank by Salas and Sylvia which the couple achieve without any resistance whatsoever. In a later scene, Weis is shown to have over twenty personal bodyguards but his bank has zero security?
In addition, everybody in the ghetto seems to dress inordinately well despite being steeped in poverty – it’s all too stylized to be a realistic slum. And despite the ploy of diminishing life illuminated on the arms of Salas and Sylvia, one never gets the sense that their lives are ever in danger – Salas (a mere factory worker) comes across incredibly like James Bond for much of the film. At the very end, Salas and Sylvia embark on yet another bank robbery – high heeled and dressed to the nines – it’s almost as if Nichol did not want his audience to treat his film too seriously. If so, and based on the evidence here, he will certainly get his wish.