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Dystopian Genre: Andrew Niccol’s In Time

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The dystopian film In Time (2011) directed by Andrew Niccol, portrays a world where quite literally time is money. Once you run out of time – you die. Due to scientific advances people stop aging at 25, but after 25 a person is genetically-engineered to live only one more year. With a glowing, green clock counting down from one year on their forearm. You can earn more time at work but must sell if for goods and services for example a cup of coffee costs 4 minutes. The strict power structure of “time zones” allow the wealthy, who live in New Greenwich, to live forever while the poor, who live in ghettos; are forced to beg, borrow, or steal enough hours to stay alive. The context of the text is the 21st Century, with rapidly rising populations and technology advancing every day. In Time is a Dystopic text because; it is a mechanism for social critique and meets Malak’s conventions of the Dystopian genre. Conflict in In Time is represented between the individual and society. In a traditional Dystopia, personal choice is replaced by uniform decisions made by impersonal bureaucratic machinery, this is reflected throughout In Time by the heavily controlling timekeepers and constant surveillance.

The ghetto is juxtaposed with rich, green New Greenwich, which at first glance acts as a binary opposite to the ghetto, but with deeper analysis, is as much of a Dystopia as the ghetto. This is because the rich stay alive due to their easy accumulation of time, but are too consumed with not “dying by accident” that they do not truly live life. “The clock is good for no one, the poor die and the rich don’t live”, the pun of ‘live’ suggests that in this Dystopian society nobody benefits. The ignorance and limited understanding of upper class society gives them a false sense of power.// The ideologies embodied in Dystopic texts represent the values being critiqued by the composer. The main ideology represented, is that ‘time is money’, the extended metaphor is reinforced throughout the text. Niccol, critiques society’s obsession with money, implying his own values, that time is more important than money. The characters in the text display a greed for time; they are willing to let others die for them to live. This despairing concept condemns society to a frightening future, with little hope. In Time partially meets the Dystopian conventions of two-dimensional characters and static society.

In the text, characters are not truly two-dimensional. Will Salas is characterised as a flawed, unique individual. This convention is subverted for the purpose of selling the text; it is made more popular by having likeable characters. The main characters Will and Sylvia, are successful in distributing more time to the ghetto. The personal triumph of the protagonists, subverts both the static society and two-dimensional characters conventions; the characters are personally successful, but overall there is no change. “Don’t fool yourself because in the end nothing will change because everyone wants to live forever”. // In this static society, controlling and rigid structures prevent change and progress. The nightmarish ghetto resembles a disaster stricken city. The establishment shot captures the barbed wire topped fences, the industrial factories and emphasises the overall poverty of the ghetto. Niccol critiques inequality of wealth and poverty in society. In Time adheres to the power and forewarning conventions of the Dystopian genre; power is portrayed as functioning mercilessly in a totalitarian society. It directly relates to level of knowledge.

The poor, who live in the ghetto, are powerless as the truth is hidden from them. Timekeepers are used to control society and enforce laws. The power held by the timekeepers is displayed through body language when Will and Sylvia are seated and the timekeepers are standing, this demonstrates who is in control. The rich, who live in New Greenwich, hold power and to maintain this power, they continue to raise inflation rates, ensuring that people from the ghettos continue to die. Niccol is critiquing the inequality of wealth in modern society, by presenting a world that is far from ideal and suggesting that if current trends do not change, this is where we are headed. Forewarning is evident in In Time, the composer demonstrates this by exaggerating certain elements and taking them to an extreme point without compassion or humanity.

Niccol critiques humanity’s desire for immortality, the dialogue “for one to be immortal, many must die” accompanied with a high angle shot from Will’s perspective, convey that he is without power and part of the “many must die”. This is a forewarning that if society continues along the path of genetic engineering, our society will resemble that of the Dystopia presented in In Time. Niccol critiques society’s high value of immortality, this resembles his own personal values, portrayed through the voice of dissent “No one should be immortal if even one person has to die”.

Dystopian texts critique society’s values. In Time does not perfectly fit all of Malak’s conventions; they are subverted for the purpose of selling the text. Dystopias present an imagined place which is unpleasant and chaotic, they are nightmarish, pessimistic and provide little hope for humanity.

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