Sci-Fi, 109 Minutes, 2011
This is a good movie. It’s exciting, interesting and action-packed. Good performances, good direction and interesting pacing. It’s a good movie. Go ahead and watch it.
Because now I’m going to rip it all apart by taking it way too seriously.
High-concept science fiction is great, but very hard. You have to take whatever rules you’re presented at face value and enjoy the ride. You do this because – and this is true in the absolutely best of cases – if you think too hard about it, you’re going to ruin it for yourself. At the very least you’re going to tie yourself into knots trying to figure out things that just don’t need to be figured out.
In this case the idea is pretty simple: everybody lives normally until they’re 25 and then their clock starts. They’ll never get any older, physically, but they only get one more year of life. They can work for more time, but must also use it to pay debts and buy services. Time is money and life. The poor live on a constant knife edge and the rich live indolent, dull lives deathly afraid an accident will end their magically long lives.
It’s a metaphor for the super-rich and the 99% with a little “make the most of things” thrown in. Social commentary slightly hidden behind fantastic circumstances.
The movie builds this well. The glowing, sub-dermal clocks on each persons arm ticks away the time to their death. You pay for goods with a wave of your arm or share it with a handshake. You can store extra time, should you be lucky enough to have any, in small devices at time banks. Socially, something touched less on in the script, family life becomes somewhat odd when nobody is older than 25.
So… let’s start to over think this, shall we?
- We only ever see time being used as currency. This is cool, but how does anybody under the age of 25 (those whose clocks haven’t started) ever buy anything? We literally never see anybody under the age of 25 buy a thing, and by any reckoning they should be the bulk of the poor population.
- They should be the bulk of the poor population because the only way the rich could get richer is if most of the poor spend their one year almost immediately and die. If everybody just lived out their year and died there’d be nothing left for the rich to become rich. In the movie, however, there are almost no children at all.
- People only get 8,760 hours (we’re not sure how leap years work in this world, so we’re assuming 365 days). The only way to get more time is to work for it, have it gifted to them or steal it. That means that the pay for any work – any work at all – must be, at a bare minimum, an hour of time for an hour of work just to break even.
- Assuming that people have committed to working 12 hours a day, every day means that, again, at a bare minimum, they have to earn at least two hours for every hour worked just to maintain status quo with no other expenses at all.
- Of course, there are other expenses. We’re told that a bus ride used to cost an hour, but now costs two (this becomes really important). So if you need to take the bus to work every day you’re spending 28 hours a week (not to mention the actual time, you know, riding the bus) just to get back and forth to work.
- We’re told, at one point, that 30 minutes will “get you a decent lunch” so figure an hour a day just to eat. Poorly. Rent, electricity, water, etc. It all piles up. My rough guesstimates are that for a person living at the poverty level to actually survive their first year they’d need to earn something in the range of 12 times that just to break even.
- Considering this, wouldn’t bartering quickly take the place of time-as-currency for most people? If literally your only other option is to drain your life away, wouldn’t you first try to see if somebody wouldn’t rather have this really nice watch instead? It’s a Casio!
- As an aside: the ratios are all over the place. A cup of coffee costs four minutes. This means that you could take the bus once… or buy thirty cups of coffee. Lunch at an expensive restaurant costs eight-and-a-half weeks. If a minute were a dollar that lunch would be almost 86 thousand dollars.
- There doesn’t seem to be any security on the clocks. We see people get their time stolen while they’re knocked unconscious, for example. So why, at least in the slums, does anybody live at all? Wouldn’t scum simply mug their way to immortal fortunes leaving a trail of corpses in their wake?
- The rich surround themselves with body guards, of course, but the same question remains: if just falling asleep, passing our drunk or getting conked on the head means anybody can steal your life away why doesn’t it happen more? We see that there is apparently no way to track time transfers.
- Another point with the rich should be obvious: if nobody ages over 25 if they have enough time then the rich would never die (barring the rare accident). Wouldn’t we, as a matter of course, end up with generation upon generation of rich folk living longer and longer and, most importantly, never passing their wealth on to their descendants?
- Similarly wouldn’t the rich end up with a huge number of descendants if every single generation could procreate forever? You’d have grandparents and uncles and nieces and nephews all overlapping each other willy-nilly and all demanding ever more of an ever diminishing time-pie (pumpkin-flavored time-pie in the autumn).
- Of course, you couldn’t put any real restrictions on child-bearing because you’d need a massive, ever-growing population of desperate poor to feed directly into an ever-growing upper class.
The real problem is that the system set up is using a consumable as currency; something that never works. It’s the reason that poker games using M&M’s always end up with everybody broke and on a sugar high.
So, again, think about this too hard and you’ll ruin it. But try not to, because it really is a fun little movie.