Sunday, 14 September 2014

They Have All The Time In The World

Well, this was kind of disappointing.

It all started so well. The idea of replacing money with subdivisions of lifespan, so you literally exchange labour for the time you've spent on that labour, is absolutely wonderful.  It literalises the way in which labour requires us to sacrifice elements of our life, for which we are then compensated. The problem comes, of course, when we're not adequately compensated, and here the problem is no longer that we might have to work four jobs and not have enough money to pay for groceries, but that we might have to work four jobs and still end up with less time remaining than when we started the week.

The most affecting scene in the entire film occurs early on, when Olivia Wilde's character boards a bus with 90 minutes remaining, so she can spend the hour's cost for a ride and meet her son in time for him to top her clock up.  With no warning, however, the bus fare has doubled, meaning she can't afford it, and will have to make the journey on foot, a two-hour trip and likely therefore a death sentence.

It's a beautifully unnerving way of making a fundamental point: money does not mean the same thing to all people. For the rich it's just a resource, but for far too many people it's literally a matter of life and death. Something as simple as an increase in bus fares can be disastrous, because it means having to choose between the commute to your job and buying all the food your kids need. And an increase in bus fares can always be arranged, if you need to make sure the workforce is kept too busy to actually protest their situation.  Meanwhile, the rich gather in locations too remote and well-guarded for anyone else to join them, and talk about how evolution requires a certain kind of people to rise to the top, and assure each other that they must be those people, because otherwise they wouldn't be there, would they?

I love that setup. Think what you could do with that, if you wanted to actually dissect how unbearably awful capitalism can get for people constantly poked with the shitty end of the stick.  Instead, after a wonderful first thirty minutes, the film degenerates into a heist movie, Bonnie and Clyde meets Robin Hood as a saviour arises to try and steal a million years (something like half a trillion dollars, perhaps, given a cup of coffee costs around three minutes). Which is just about the absolute least interesting thing you could do here.

It's not completely without merit. There are at least some nice puns in here. Cops are now "time-keepers", criminals who steal your time "minute men", and both are given equal time to screw the working class out of a fair return for their labour. There's a nice scene towards the end where a time-keeper explains they're propping up the system because they've always propped up the system, and rebelling now would be admitting they'd spent the last fifty years doing precisely the wrong thing. Ultimately, though, if there is any kind of message here in amongst Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried taking it in terms to try being smouldering and cool, it's that the best solution to endemic poverty and near-poverty is for a hot white dude to show up and save you.

Which isn't the film's message, of course; the film doesn't actually have a message. Just a phenomenal beginning pissed away in favour of the most obvious film-making imaginable. It's hard to fully engage with a dystopian nightmare of people forced to sell their time when you're too busy wishing you could get 109 minutes of your own back.

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