Saturday, November 12, 2011

Re-Defining Possession: In Time

"Don't waste my time," is a familiar pun in Andrew Niccol's In Time. I was not disappointed in its approach to expanding the vocabulary of the "class wars." It doesn't matter what side you are on in the Washington tax discussions, In Time has given us some new perspectives on existence. Humanity has been writing about the war between the classes since there were classes to be at war and that someone has figured out a new way to articulate the difference is quite an achievement; regardless of where you stand on tax breaks or hikes, regardless of how often or how seldom you think of money and regardless of whether you were born to money or born to a heap of bills, it's a smart movie that, I am very pleased to announce, disappointed me in my prediction made, Wednesday, September 14, 2011.
In Destabilization: Reality and Identity, I examined trends in trailers for upcoming films (Margin Call, Contagion, In Time and Anonymous) which signaled shifting modes of identity in today's culture: disease, financial analysis, class and even the great canon of art by which culture defines itself. What I expected of In Time is that identity would be destabilized, in essence, that we would be spinning wildly out of control, like the company's assets in Margin Call, however, In Time does the exact opposite: it firmly anchors existence within the basic framework of time. We literally exist in time because without time, we don't exist.
The only way for the rich to die is basically to do something foolish or be the victim of an act of violence, so they hire two or more body guards to keep them from being robbed and to keep them from doing anything foolish so they can live forever. When Will has beaten Philippe Weis at poker and Sylvia comes to sit with him, Weis notes that Will must be confused about whether Sylvia is his mother, his wife, a sister.... then tells Will that she's his daughter, and notes how much easier things were once. Having met, Sylvia tells Will how the clock beats even the rich because they aren't allowed to do anything, they aren't allowed to live. While people don't age past 25, in this photo, you can see a "timeline" of this system developing: as the oldest in the line-up, Clara, the mother-in-law in the gold dress, symbolizes how "golden the opportunity" was for going over to this way of life; Michele, the wife in the white dress, symbolizes the faith they have that it will work out but the youngest, Sylvia in black, is the daughter and the black symbolizes "death" because she knows ("Weis" means "wisdom" or "knowledge" in German) that the system is dead because no one is living.
Instead of jerking us out of a framework in which we can live and examine ourselves, a framework of meditation and reflection, we are firmly rooted within a framework, we are forced to reflect. The idea, for example, is Darwinian capitalism, the strong survive. What's ironic about that, when Will is playing his high-stakes poker game, he cleans out multi-multi-multi millionaire Philippe Weis (father of Sylvia Weis), suggesting that Will is the stronger and should be the one surviving by the standards of Darwinism (of course, how riddled with holes is Darwinism?). So, in this way, the very model of how the society should be managed, falls apart by its own standards (which is an example of Deconstruction).
We all have biological clocks which tick and prompt us to do or not do certain acts which regard our physical and psychological existence; in In Time, the ticking clock on your arm over-rules the biological clock. Rachel Salas (Olivia Wilde) has turned 50 and laments she doesn't have a grandchild, mentioning to Will (Justin Timberlake) that so and so's daughter always asks about him; his response? "Who has time for a girlfriend?" Courtship and mating literally cost more than the advantage of doing it and provides a new way of what we take for granted: the cost of dinner and a movie and how that, in terms of dating so the species can continue, it costs us. There are 24 hours in the day and Will usually wakes up with only 18 on his clock.
What happens is, each person is genetically engineered to stop aging once they turn (exactly) 25 years old; when that happens, each person is given one year to live until your 26, unless you get more time to live on; the clock doesn't start ticking until you turn 25. By the time you have turned 25, your family needs some of your time to pay off a loan or you need to get a car, etc., so that year to live on goes fast. If you run out of time, you "time out" and die instantly. You can store excess time on these metal things that are like "time debit cards" and time becomes like money in every way: you can barter, steal, loan, and, most importantly, you can share time. In 2011, when the government can barely stay operating and tax hikes and cuts are the determining factor in your political identity, In Time definitely provides a look at how psychologically draining poverty is on people scrapping money together to pay the bills, but I don't think there is anything "preachy" about it, as some critics at rotten tomatoes are alleging.
in a prison, it's that you're not allowed into the inner circle (the time-wealthy, so to speak) where freedom is synonymous with relaxing.
Some critics have accused that the film is okay if you don't look too closely at how it all works; I would disagree, the closer you examine it, the more intriguing it becomes. Will's break out of the time ghetto comes from Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer), a time-rich guy who has lived 105 years and is tired. Wanting to get killed, he takes his time into the ghetto where he attracts attention and is certain to get killed until Will steps in to save him. Most film critics would say that this is just a cliche film device and totally overlook the importance of this moment; however, this is the kind of philanthropy which Will does throughout the whole film and which creates the real lesson. What is most important about Henry Hamilton is his name: Hamilton.
Matt Bomer plays Henry Hamilton who gives Will the century on his clock. When Will first sees Hamilton, he's in a bar with two girls and he's bought the whole place drinks. Having drawn the attention of some thugs wanting to steal that century, Will gets Hamilton out and they spend the night in a warehouse. Hamilton tells Will that after you've lived so long, your mind is spent even if your body's not, we want to die, we need to die.
In the founding of America, in the forging of what this country would be like, how it would operate and, most importantly, how it would pay off its crippling debt after the enormously costly American Revolution, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton was the personality winning President George Washington's attention and approval for his economic systems. Henry Hamilton, then, giving Will a century is breaking Will out of the constraint of the system the way (believe it or not) Alexander Hamilton's devotion to the free market and capitalism would help thousands break out of the constraining systems of economic establishments which ruled the world at that time, making it possible for people to move in and out of social and economic classes the way Will now (theoretically) can move from one time zone to another (time zones are the new "economic classes" in this system). That's the reason Hamilton falls from the bridge when he "times out," that bridge symbolizes "bridging" the gap between classes and time zones and the sacrifice that he's willing to make, just as Will sacrificed to save him from the thugs.
This still provides some interesting information. For example, does this shot look familiar? It should, it was used in Casino Royale, the James Bond high-stakes poker game. The metal device in about the center of the frame is a "time machine" which allows time to be taken from one person to another at the poker table. Where else have we seen time bets in a game? The second Pirates of the Caribbean film, Dead Man's Chest, when the "men" on board the Flying Dutchman bet the time they have remaining on the ship.
The Bonnie and Clyde image of Sylvia and Will robbing the banks and rich of their time to give to the poor isn't what upsets the system, and it isn't what is going to correct the system in the film or in America. What really disrupts the system is Will sharing from his own meager resources. What I have not mentioned heretofore, is that to pass time from one person to another, the classic handshake is used. The great symbol of equality because it confirmed that a person wasn't carrying weapons and could harm you. The hand is a symbol of our strength, and the handshake is the symbol of brotherhood. Will is a generous guy, whether it's to those he knows or the Timekeeper Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy) who pursues him and Sylvia trying to bring them to justice. When Leon gets shot and doesn't have enough time on his own clock to make it until other timekeepers arrive to take him in for treatment, Will gives Leon more than enough to stay alive, even as Will doesn't have much time himself (all the time had been confiscated by Leon earlier so Will is "broke" again).
Timekeepers are the cops for In Time; here, Cillian Murphy portrays Timekeeper Leon who pursues Will and Sylvia to keep time out of the wrong hands. When bribed by Sylvia's father to ignore Sylvia's illegal activities, Leon won't take the bribe of a thousand years for himself. It's interesting because, in a showdown with Will, Will notes that Leon "can run," which is the ultimate sign of the ghetto, because only those who "don't have time," have to run to make it stretch. Leon validate that he's from the ghetto, but he found a way out, and Will quickly points out to him that he's not letting anyone else get out.As a timekeeper, Leon gets only enough time to keep him going throughout the day. Mr. Murphy has done a fabulous job in everything I have seen him in, from the Batman films to Inception and now In Time.
 What's interesting is, when Will takes Sylvia hostage so he can get away, and he's running out of time and needs some from Sylvia, she won't share to save him. They wreck the car and she's robbed, leaving her with only minutes; Will shares his remaining time with her, remarking that sharing is a good idea now, and I think that's really what the film is about. It's not taking money away from the rich or raising taxes, none of that matters, but what does matter, is how we treat each other. For example, I needed four new tires on my car earlier this week but could only afford three, so I told the mechanic which ones I wanted switched out; a couple of days later, I remembered to check the remaining one in case it needed to be aired up and saw that it was a new tire. I thought, "Oh, no, they changed the wrong tires!" Going around again and again, examining the tires, yea, the mechanic went ahead and gave me the fourth tire I needed, and in addition to that, he looked just like Tom Hardy, tattoos and all! As Christians, that's what makes our world go around, giving of what we have and humbly receiving what we don't have. God bless him.
The car crash when Sylvia has been robbed of her time and wants Will to give her some of his. The car provides an interesting "vehicle" of thought and symbols in the film (see picture below). When Will travels through the time zones to his ultimate destination, New Greenwich, named, of course for the Greenwich Mean Time which standardizes time throughout the world, he buys the car and the dealer tells him that delivery charge is included in the fee; delivery for what? For displaying, just like the red convertible from Tower Heist. "Display it? I'm going to drive it!" Will responds, but this ultra expensive purchase and the turning a vehicle (a device for utility) into an object of display is one of the dividing lines between the upper class and lower classes. Further, during a car chase, Sylvia asks Will if he knows how to drive. "What's there to know?" validating that he "didn't have time to learn" because he didn't have the time to spend buying a car because he was working trying to get enough hours to make it through the night.
This is the reason why, as the film itself names it, that robbing from the banks and the rich to give time to the poor won't disrupt the system: the prices for everything goes up as the poor get more and more time. It doesn't effect the rich, they live in a different time zone, only the poor have to deal with inflation. "Taking," the film makes clear, isn't going to be what solves the inequality between the classes, only the kind of conversion that Sylvia has experienced on a massive scale, and a generosity of heart will genuinely change things.
This guy is a Time Mission manager, meaning, that there are places giving out time just like soup kitchens and shelters. After stealing a large quantity of time, Will "holds up" this guy who says he doesn't have much time, he gives it all away, and Will says I know, and gives him a lot of time so he can give it away. Notice, especially in this shot, and in the poster art, that green is the main color of the film. Green is the color of hope, because no one really has hope of "getting free" of the system, but it's also the color of envy because Sylvia envies those who can do foolish things and really live with the time that they have, whereas the poor envy the rich for being able to relax.
This is a great time to talk about the "God Factor" in films. For example, in a film such as The Lord of the Rings, while God is never mentioned, it is a Christian film because it's based on the moral teachings of Christ, the same with The Chronicles of Narnia. Some films, such as Ultra-Violet and Inception, provide you with a world that is recognizable, but the order of reality has to be established by the film makers; because they mention God--even if that's only taking the Lord's name in vain--it's an order which recognizes the Order created by the Divine Will, and anything which goes against that is unnatural. In Time also acknowledges God in the same way (one character is even named "Constantin" after Constantine the Great), but what is the greater act of blasphemy, the engineering the body not to age past 25, or lots of people dying when they can't afford to live any longer so that a few can be immortal and "live forever?" Or, is it that good people let that happen? We have to remember that Time comes from God, the one Who exists beyond Time.
Price includes delivery charge for display.
For everyone, but especially for Christians, we have to be mindful that "Our time is not our own," and every second is a gift from God and we will be accountable for every second, if it was used to make acts of sin or make acts of virtue, like my mechanic, again, God bless him. Is what we are doing "worthy" of our time? Is what we are "spending" our time on "valuable?" What do we "give" our time to? When Hamilton tells Will, "Don't waste my time," it is really God telling us, "Don't waste my time," because we will be accountable for it all at any moment.
As Sylvia notes, when your clock starts, the first thing everyone does is look in the mirror, because that's how you're going to look for the rest of your life. There is a lot of "sameness" in the film, rather like Interview With the Vampire, being "forever young" turns into a curse because, not having the ability to change, you also don't have the ability to really grow-up and become "Weis/wise" and this is the purpose of the car chase scene that takes place with Will going backwards: "backwards" symbolizes making mistakes, so Will is able to outrun his pursuers based on his wisdom he has attained from making mistakes, which the rich aren't allowed to do because they are supposed to live forever, and the only thing the rich can't afford, is to make a mistake, not being able to ever learn anything, they are slowly forcing themselves into non-existence because they won't be smart enough to protect the system that protects them.