Time longer than rope
Without realizing it, I have been a fan of the work of New Zealand writer/director, Andrew Niccols for over a decade. It’s funny how that happens. I first “met” Mr. Niccols, as it were, when I watched his dark, beautiful story about a genetically over-determined future on Earth, “Gattaca” (1997) starring Ethan Hawke, Jude Law and Uma Thurman. Then I was wowed by “The Truman Show” (1998) starring Jim Carrey, an obvious meditation on the perversity of electronic media, reality TV specifically.
Niccols has a penchant for creating other worlds. Worlds that look a lot like our own—only worse. Worlds where certain human powers or branches of knowledge are carried to an extreme, ultimately imprisoning us (sort of a 21st century H. G. Wells).
Although not about the future, but rather about the already-perverse present, Niccols’ “Lord of War” (2005) starring Nick Cage is another must-see commentary on the state of the human soul.
Which brings us to “In Time”. Like the films mentioned above, this film is an interrogation of human civilization, and like “Gattaca” and “The Truman Show”, it gives us an “other world” to visit – a world like our own but far more screwed up. His specific focus? Humanity’s never-ending contest between the haves and the have-nots, between the corporate-police state and the property-less from whom “society” needs protection.
If you ignore the silly poster, if you ignore the genuflection to the Matrix films, if you ignore all the questions and ask yourself – like could this ever be possible – you will find yourself caught up in the characters’ life and death struggle to preserve the most precious thing on Earth – no, not water or air (although that would be cool to see) – but time.
The film chronicles the adventures of a young man named Will, played by Justin Timberlake, who was born on the wrong side of the tracks; he was born poor. All human beings in Niccols’ film live to 25 and then stop aging (science). Then they are given 1 year of life to “spend” after which they must work to stay alive (capitalism). Everything costs time in this world where time is money. A phone call a few minutes, a car, a few years. The rich have more time on their hands than they know what to do with and the poor, well let’s just say they have a short life expectancy. So, it’s just like it is nowadays, isn’t it? Just a lot simpler, a lot more naked (just accept the crazy premise and run with it; don’t ask questions).
Will tries to bring the whole bloody mess down, with the help of the lovely daughter of one of the world’s wealthiest men (he owns over a million years). What follows is a Fight Club-esque fantasy of imperial/capitalist take-down. Only in the movies, right? Precisely.
The film reminds me of “Blade Runner” (1982) too; it explores the motivations and choices of people who are acutely aware of the thin line between life and death. Every word uttered counts; every choice.
It’s a movie that makes you not so much want to say two thumbs up or down, as wonder about where your own life is going, and wonder about the value of your time, about what your time is worth. To you. To those you love and who love you. To your bosses.
What does it mean to give my time, essentially my life, to this institution or that, this cause or that, this place or that, this person or that? What am I doing? What have I done with this thing called time, called my life? What other roads could I have taken? How do I know I took the right one? When will I get “there”, to that place, (God knows where), where I’ll have arrived? I’ll have made it? Succeeded?
The following quote from Shauna Niequist’s book “Cold Tangerines”, has been making the rounds on Facebook: “I have always, essentially, been waiting. Waiting to become something else, waiting to be that person I always thought I was on the verge of becoming, waiting for that life I thought I would have. In my head, I was always one step away… And through all that waiting, here I am. My life is passing, day by day, and I am waiting for it to start. I am waiting for that time, that person, that event when my life will finally begin… But this is what I’m finding, in glimpses and flashes: This is it. This is it, in the best possible way. That thing I’m waiting for, that adventure, that movie-score-worthy experience unfolding gracefully. This is it.”
Now if, objectively speaking, if your life is crap right now, you might want to forget about Niequist. But still, you choose, in small ways every day, you choose your life. I believe we do have big moments in life, but life is not just about big moments. The journey is the destination. You can’t wait for something big to happen, something different; you have to choose each day to be good, to be your best, to love and to give and to lose if you have to. Otherwise you really are wasting time. Your best life is living as best you can, now. I think.
• IAN STRACHAN is Associate Professor of English at The College of The Bahamas. You can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.