Thursday, May 10, 2012

In Time -- immortality and sacrifice

Director: Andrew Niccol, 2011. (PG-13) 

“I don't have time. I don't have time to worry about how it happened. It is what it is. We're genetically engineered to stop aging at 25. The trouble is, we live only one more year, unless we can get more time. Time is now the currency. We earn it and spend it. The rich can live forever. And the rest of us? I just want to wake up with more time on my hand than hours in the day.”  Will Salas (Justin Timberlake, The Social Network) narrates these lines at the start of the film, explaining the curious twist at the heart of this science fiction film: time is currency.

Niccol does a fantastic job in the first half hour of showing how time has become central to everything. The 13 green glowing digits on every person’s forearm blink continuously showing how long they have left to live, in years, months, days, hours, minutes and seconds. When the number hits zero, you time-out; with a sudden jolt you expire. Store prices show in minutes or hours. A car might cost 57 years, a cup of coffee 5 minutes. There is even a 99 second store, just like the local dollar stores. There are Timekeepers, who enforce the law and “keep the clock running;” Minute Men, who rob others of their time; and time zones that separate the rich and the poor, the haves and the have nots.

In the first act we meet Will, living at home with a beautiful woman who we discover is his mother. It could be his girlfriend. It is a shock to see multiple generations all looking the same age. After work, he goes to a bar and intervenes when a stranger loaded with over 100 years of time is about to be mugged by Minute Men. Saving the man, Henry, Will takes him to a deserted building to spend the night. It turns out, Henry is over 100 years old, from New Greenwich in the rich zone, and tired of living. He just wants to die. While sleeping he transfers his time to Will, then leaves to expire, essentially committing suicide. He writes an apropos message on the window for Will: “Don’t waste my time.” This intended pun becomes Will’s mission.

With time on his hands, or literally on his arm, Will goes to New Greenwich to fix the system, to rebalance the economic (or is it temporal) disparity. There he encounters Philippe Weis, a billionaire in years, while gambling with his life in a casino. When he wins, he meets Philippe’s beautiful daughter Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried, Letters to Juliet). At first, she is opposed to the risks that Will takes, such as swimming in the sea, since those with time on their hands avoid making mistakes that might lead to a premature death. Instead, they dawdle through life, without really experiencing it. But with Time Keeper Leon (Cillian Murphy, Batman Begins) doggedly pursuing Will believing him to be Henry’s murderer, Will kidnaps Sylvia. As she spends time with him, she rejects her father’s values and totally embraces Will’s. 

As unlikely as this seems, her life is turned upside down in under a day. And she goes from uber-rich kid to uber-outlaw. What was an outstanding concept descends into typical Bonnie and Clyde pulp material.
As far as acting goes, Timberlake shows the work he did in the Facebook film was not a flash in the pan. He is not an Oscar-contender, but he carries this film in a worthy manner. Seyfried has little to do but look pretty with huge green eyes. Her character is a caricature. Likewise, Murphy has little material to work with. He is the pursuer but not really the villain. The system is the antagonist, chiefly manifested in Philippe but really beyond that single individual.

There are any number of parallels with the gospel message which emerge through a number of contrasting statements from these central characters. Sylvia says at one point, referring to her life of time and ease, “We’re not meant to live like this. We’re not meant to live forever.” The biblical account contradicts this. We were meant to live forever. Adam and Eve were created innocent and pure, intended to spend eternity in the presence of God in the garden (Gen. 1-2). They were meant to live forever.
But obviously we all die. Our body clocks run down and we expire, even if we don’t remain looking young. The original sin in the garden (Gen. 3) resulted in the consequence of physical death (Gen. 3:19). With  a few exceptions, no one is physically immortal. Death is our destiny.

Earlier in the film, Henry tells Will, “For a few to be immortal, many must die.” Here is the idea of sacrifice. In context, Henry is talking about the rich feasting parasitically off the lives of the poor. But Will retorts, “No one should be immortal if even one person has to die.” The biblical concept refutes Will and takes Henry’s idea but turns it around. For many to be immortal, only one must die.

Jesus Christ came to earth with a mission to seek and save the lost (Lk. 19:10). He essentially was the second Adam, the perfect man (1 Cor. 15:45-49). He willingly went to the cross to die so that we might be offered to the chance to live (Rom. 3:21-26). As the high priest at the time said, becoming an unknowing prophet, “it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish” (Jn. 11:50). Now, though we die we still can live in an everlasting life that begins now and continues in heaven. All are offered this gift of life, but not all take. The death of one provides immortality for all who would receive Christ (Jn. 1:12). In contrast to Will’s comment, no one can be immortal unless one person dies – Jesus. Without his sacrificial death, our sin would go unpunished, unatoned for. We would remain unforgiven, destined for death. But since the death was willing and voluntary, no one should refuse to be immortal, no one should ignore the death and resurrection of Jesus. This gracious gift should be gratefully claimed. It is the gift of time, the gift of immortality.

In Time is enjoyable but clichéd. The end leaves too many implications, and the ethical themes are simply not explored. When Philippe tells Sylvia, “You’d steal from your own father,” she asks, “Is it stealing if it’s already stolen?” This opens up an ethical dilemma, but rather than interact with it, the film turns the thief into a Robin Hood figure. It is saying it is OK to steal if it is redistributed to the needy, a take on social justice.

Moreover, the disparity between the two social classes could have been mined for moral material. But it was left alone. How Will could possibly solve the problems of his society remain a mystery. Yet as an action movie it delivers some thrills. On the whole, these 109 minutes is time reasonably well spent.

Copyright©2012, Martin Baggs

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