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In this imaginary Earth, humans have a digital clock on their forearms, clicking off the years, months, days and hours. They exchange time by grasping hands and interfacing, Will Salas, a citizen of some unexplained future or parallel world, who finds himself on the run from the law. In this world, genetic engineering has been used to switch off everyone’s body clock at age 25. At that point, they have one more year to live, but can work or make deals for more or commit crimes.
The 25-year limit had the curious effect of making everyone more or less the same age, which explains the sexy Will’s mother. One day, Will has a conversation with a morose man named Henry Hamilton, who explains he is 100 years old and has another century in the bank. He’s tired of living.
Their conversation drags on into philosophical depths, until both falls asleep. Will awakens with an extra century on his clock and looks out the window to see Henry preparing to jump from a bridge.
He runs out to stop him, is too late and is caught by a security camera, making him a suspect in the man’s death. The movie now shows Sylvia Weis, daughter of the richest man alive, Philippe Weis, who has untold centuries on his clock and is essentially immortal. The movie I suppose is an allegory in which time is money in a brutally direct way. For some of these people, time burns a hole in their pockets.
For me, the most suspenseful scene involves a high-stakes poker game. Think about it. An opponent bets his whole pot: his life. Do you see him, or do you fold? If you lose, you’re not broke, you’re dead. That said, a great deal of this film has been assembled from standard elements. Narrow your eyes to focus on them: Will Salas has the Identikit look of modern young action heroes: shaved head, facial stubble. For contrived reasons, he is paired with a beautiful young beauty and must drag her along with him as they’re pursued by gunfire.
The rich man moves nobly through a setting of opulence. The villain Raymond Leon is androgynous and elegant, mannered in his cruelty. There are chases and so on. The only original element is the idea of timekeeping as a framework for these off-the-shelf parts. The only character of personal interest is Henry questions abound. The cars look like customized luxury boats from the 1970s; there’s a Lincoln Continental with the slab sides but no nameplate. The time is said to be “the near future, ” yet Henry has already lived a century. Don’t even think to ask about the mechanism of the timekeeping, or how human life is stored up in what look curiously. And what of etiquette? Is allowing people to see your forearm as vulgar as flashing a big roll of cash? The tick tock of the mortal clock gives the science-fiction thriller ‘In Time’ its slick, sweet premise. Set in a near or far future in a segregated city that resembles the separated, weirdly depopulated neighborhoods in and around Los Angeles (where it was shot), the movie imagines a world in which everyone stops aging at 25. (Just like in Hollywood!)
On that birthday a glowing green digital clock on everyone’s left forearm starts running, giving them just 365 days to go and then 364, 363, 362. When the days run out, the clock stops for good. In this future world in which time is literally money everything, including food, shelter and wages, is valued in minutes, hours, years, decades it’s possible to slow the escaping hourglass sand by buying more time, as the rich do. The poor, of course, are slaves to time: many die young and stay pretty, and are preyed on by time bandits called Minute Men, who clean clocks at gunpoint. In the ghetto, an industrial-looking time zone called Dayton where Will lives, most people only scrape together a few extra hours. At 28, he has managed to put three additional years on his life, but the cost of breathing keeps going up. What set him back an hour yesterday may take two hours off his life tomorrow. It’s a resonant, timely premise. It’s also in keeping with the same themes about life and its simulations that have been grist for its writer and director, Andrew Niccol.
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