Are you ready for the first Hollywood movie of the “Occupy Wall Street” era? And can you guess which way the film leans on the issue of “corporate greed”? Well, whether you’re ready or not--or like it or not--here comes “In Time,” a sci-fi thriller, starring Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried, opening Friday.
As with much of science fiction, “In Time,” while it pretends to be about the future, is really about the present. To see the movie is to get a glimpse into the mindset of the Zuccotti Park/Occupy Wall Street crowd.
Indeed, if you happen to think that Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi’s memorable 2010 description of the Wall Street firm of Goldman Sachs--“a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money”--applies to the whole of the capitalistic system then you will love this new film.
“In Time” imagines a future America in which medical science has figured out how to make aging stop at 25. But there’s a catch: Once people turn 25, they have precisely a year left to live.
In this dystopian future, life is metered to the second--literally; everyone’s forearm has a glowing green numerical display embedded in the flesh. So everyone can see how many seconds, minutes, hours, and days are left until he or she is “timed out” and instantly drops dead.
The only hope for living longer than another year is to work or wheedle an extra time-payment, thereby replenishing one’s clock of life. In other words, the entire economy is now based on time; while ordinary workers--semi-slaves, really--hustle to scrape together additional minutes, the super-elite have measured their own lives in additional hundreds, even thousands, of years.
Timberlake plays a proletarian worker who lives in the “ghetto,” as it’s called in the film. He is scrambling for every minute, until one night he performs a courageous act and is rewarded with a gift of an extra hundred years of life. Timberlake then uses that century to buy his way into the elite enclave of “New Greenwich,” there to seek justice from the time-monopolizing moguls.
“In Time” might be compared to the 1976 sci-fi film “Logan’s Run,” which imagines that everyone is scheduled to die at age 30. But whereas “Logan’s Run” was a Green parable--imagining that overpopulation and scarce resources would “necessitate” the death of everyone at a young age--“In Time” is more of, shall we say, a Red parable. That is, the neo-Marxist message of the film is that evil capitalists are literally killing people for their own advantage and status-enforcing enjoyment.
As the evil capitalist overlord chuckles to Timberlake, “For a few to be immortal, many must die.” Moviegoers are thus free to insert their own “one percent vs. ninety-nine percent” analogy here.
Although “In Time” was directed by Andrew Niccol, who also helmed the thoughtful sci-fi film “Gattaca” back in the 90s, this new movie is laughable as futuristic speculation. Consider: Here’s a world in which advances in technology have enabled immortality at the push of a button, and yet at the same time, cops chase bad guys in 60s-vintage cars--not flying cars, or even flying vehicles of any kind, such as helicopters.
Indeed, people actually use pay phones. Why the low-tech? The movie doesn’t say, but we might speculate that the filmmakers wanted to preserve a retro look, perhaps so as not to divert audience attention away from the “Matrix”-influenced black outfits, or from the youthful casting choices; everyone in the film looks as if he or she stepped out of a buffed-yet-pouty Abercrombie & Fitch advertisement.
As for the film’s plot, much has been borrowed from another bit of lefty U.S. history.
Once inside the posh precincts of New Greenwich, Timberlake’s character meets the evil time-mogul’s beautiful daughter, played by Amanda Seyfried. In a sequence evoking the notorious case of heiress Patty Hearst, who was kidnapped in 1974 by the self-styled “Symbionese Liberation Army”--and who ultimately came to identify with her kidnappers and even joined in some of their crimes--Seyfried falls for Timberlake, and so the two escape back out of New Greenwich.
The real-life Patty Hearst was soon caught, served brief jail time, and then resumed her privileged life. In this film, the daughter becomes a bank-robbing Bonnie to Timberlake’s Clyde, knocking over her own father’s time-riches, and there’s also a touch of Robin Hood: The his-and-her robbery team steals time and then distributes the extra months and years to the time-starved. And so, the film tells us, armed robbery is good--if it’s in a good cause.
Oh, and another item of interest: At a time when incidents of anti-Semitism are dogging “Occupy” protestors across the country, it’s worth noting that the surname for the evil mogul family in the movie is “Weis”--which seems a lot like “Weiss,” a common Jewish name. Of course, “Weiss” simply means “white” in German; so perhaps that’s the moviemakers’ excuse if challenged--the film doesn’t attack Jews, it attacks whites.
We might also add that there’s something strange, even hypocritical, about rich capitalists denouncing rich capitalists. Nobody in Hollywood is poor, and it’s been estimated that Justin Timberlake earned $44 million in 2008 alone.
For the record, any income over $506,000 per year puts one in the top one percent; The Wall Street Journal has thoughtfully provided an online calculator.
One final irony of “In Time” should also be noted: Of all the goodies that millionaires and billionaires can buy for themselves, longer life is perhaps the most elusive. Yes, the rich can afford to see more doctors, and stay in nicer hospital rooms, but for some major categories of disease, the rich don’t do much better than the poor at gaining cures, because money can’t buy something that doesn’t exist.
So we can think, for example, of the recent premature deaths of Farrah Fawcett, Christopher Reeve, Patrick Swayze, and, of course, Steve Jobs. All had plenty of money, and yet all died in their 50s or early 60s.
In fact, the little-noticed fact about American health care is that the pipeline of new drugs and medical treatments has substantially dried up in the last two decades. And that’s the life-giving pipeline that all of us, rich and poor alike, depend on. For example, the number of new medical devices approved by the Food and Drug Administration has fallen by 55 percent, while the number of new drugs approved by the FDA has fallen by 63 percent.
In other words, as American politicians have been busy fighting over health insurance, private and public, the key component to health itself--more and better medicine--has been disappearing.
Even George Soros and the Koch Brothers can’t bid their way out of that medical dead-end; if the drug hasn’t been made, it can’t be sold--at any price.
So to sum up: “In Time” is a nonsensical sci-fi movie with a lefty political message that gets it exactly wrong about those goods that the rich can monopolize. So while it’s a perfect date movie for, say, Alec Baldwin and Susan Sarandon, everyone else might be wise not to waste their precious time for it.
James P. Pinkerton is a writer, Fox News contributor and the editor/founder of SeriousMedicineStrategy.