Film review by Sophie Fuggle
In Time (2011, written and directed by Andrew Niccol)
A film which obviously got short schrift when it came out last year but despite a somewhat bland performance from Justin Timberlake and his instantly forgettable leading lady, Amanda Seyfried, offers an interesting take on the accumulation of capital in a world where the cliché time is money gains a whole new currency (sigh).
Set in a dystopian future where everyone is genetically engineered to stop ageing at 25, time is now the only form of currency. On their 25th birthday, every individual is given a year which will count down to zero unless they earn more time either through their own labour or by transferring the time of others onto their own clock – the digits of which are embedded onto their arm. Everything is measured in time – a cup of coffee costs three minutes, a bus ride, two hours. Society is carved up into time zones. This is less a question of geography and more a division of wealth. But isn’t this already the case in contemporary Europe and North America? Those who have accumulated decades and centuries of wealth live in New Greenwich (see what they did there?). Trapped in the same bodies for eternity, the time-rich elite live in perpetual fear of dying by some careless mishap without getting to spend their time since time cannot be transferred postmortem. The poor live in the ghetto – anyone in possession of more than a month worth of time is at risk of having it stolen by time bandits or confiscated as suspicious by time keepers, the police force, led by the unrelenting Cillian Murphy. Hence, those in the ghetto live from day to day, hand to mouth, forced to work increasingly harder to survive until the next day. Here, we are confronted with Žižek’s question about life and death – who is really alive today? No one, it seems. Those in the ghetto have no time to live let alone reproduce (the overpopulation in the ghetto seems unlikely given there is no time for the shameless depravity that was the scourge of the nineteenth century working class although there is still plenty of time for alcohol abuse). Those living in New Greenwich are sick to death of living but feel compelled to proceed with their tedious quest for immortality.
Thus, a 19th century model of labour achieves its apotheosis in Deleuze’s society of control. Individuals are reduced to the digital clocks on their arms. Ageing has stopped and so, therefore, has the reification of youth. Of course, we are encouraged to appreciate the obvious milf and even grilf references here. There is also some cursory exploration of the concept of speed, riffing on Paul Virilio’s notion of dromology. How quickly one does something identifies one’s social class. The rich have time to waste, the poor don’t.
The film posits the idea of what might happen if time was redistributed – a very thinly veiled attempt at critiquing the power and inequalities of today’s global financial markets. So the obvious criticisms are posed by both the time magnates and the time keepers. The system must be maintained at all costs. The stakes are upped here since there is now a direct link between the wealth one possesses and one’s mortality – ‘for a few to be immortal, many must die’ – a link often obfuscated in debates about the global economy. Yet, unsurprisingly the film doesn’t go far enough. There is the token emancipatory moment where the inhabitants of the ghetto awaken to a bright new dawn where there is enough time for everyone. But that’s as far as it goes. Timberlake and Seyfried assume the roles of Bonnie and Clyde posing as Robin Hoods, stealing time through a series of bank heists – a somewhat archaic form of robbery for a society which has dispensed with money altogether. We’re not given a glimpse of what a society in which wealth is fairly distributed might look like – just one in which fear has been (temporarily) transferred from poor to rich.
Still, a different perspective on timebanking (currently championed as preferable form of exchange to money). Where money functions precisely because it has no real value behind it, In Time inspires some (albeit superficial) reflection on the social reconfigurations – which are really only intensifications of existing social hierarchies and divisions – that would inevitably occur if alternative modes of exchange were to acquire primacy following widespread depletion of resources, environmental disaster and overpopulation. No longer a question of biopolitics but temporo-politics.