IN TIME: A Metaphor of Time as Money

The new science fiction movie In Time opened this weekend and I had high hopes.  It was written and directed by Andrew Niccol, the guy responsible for Gattaca, one of my favorites, and it stars the multi-talented Justin Timberlake who continues to surprise me, the stunning Amanda Seyfried, and the never-disappointing Cillian Murphy.  The film lived up to my expectations, even if it didn't exceed them. 

The production values were excellent, the premise was intriguing, and the performances were genuine, but even though my wife and I enjoyed it, I felt that it tried too hard to hit us over the head with its underlying metaphor ("time is money").  The short blurb description on sums up the strength and weakness of the film (which most professional critics trashed, according to the review-aggregator site, but most general moviegoers liked): "In Time's intriguing premise and appealing cast are easily overpowered by the blunt, heavy-handed storytelling."

As a writer, Niccol has impressed me with the aforementioned Gattaca and the delightful The Truman Show, and even his lesser films, S1M0NE, The Terminal, and The Lord of War, had fine moments.  Here again he has some good characters and rich subtext, but often kills the momentum of the quick-paced, action-packed plot with simplistic dialogue that states the obvious or, worse, preaches its metaphoric message without letting the story play out and speak for itself.

The movie's release seems perfectly timed to capitalize (pun intended) on the current headlines -- its not-too-subtle moral calls for social change and redistribution of resources, using science fiction tropes in a futuristic setting that isn't too far removed from our familiar modern world.  Niccol's script is sprinkled with preachy lines that often undercut legitimately well-staged dramatic scenes that adequately deliver the point he aims to tell -- as if he second-guessed himself as a storyteller and kept forcing himself to repeat what he wanted to say over and over again, even if the first time was sufficient enough.

There is plenty to like about In Time, and although the movie has an undeniable thematic bias, it still manages to show the chaos that ensues from its system-shattering ending.  The film bravely admits that taking "time" away from the hoarders and distributing it to the oppressed masses will not solve society's injustices, but makes no pretense in declaring that the existing system is broken and needs to be replaced (if not in our real world, than at least in the fictional world of the story).

In Time ends with the potential for both a sequel to explore what happens next now that the status quo has been shaken up with devastating results, and also a prequel to flesh out some of the questions raised about the past of Cillian Murphy's driven hunter and his encounters with the dad of Justin Timberlake's neo-Robin-Hood character.

In Time is science fiction at its metaphoric best, using speculative fiction to aim a mirror at our present way of life, and at its mainstream worst, afraid to trust its audience to understand the story and reach its own conclusions.