Wednesday, March 14, 2012

On IN TIME and suspending disbelief

I watched In Time and it spurred a whole host of questions in my mind. This is definitely a movie where you have to check your brain at the door. But what is it about some movies that make that harder than others? The movies that are obviously not trying to be serious are easier. We can suspend our disbelief for our favorite comic superhero or super heroine. We just want to watch him or her fight bad guys with slick, fun-to-watch skills.

When it comes to science fiction, it's a little trickier. I think the first thing is that the premise has to be somewhat in the ballpark of feasible, right? Or is it just that even if it's too far out there, it has to have logical rules?

In In Time, time is a commodity. Everyone is born with (or inserted with at birth? - not quite clear) a subcutaneous clock on their arm. They have 26 years on the clock. They live for 25 and then the clock "starts." People exchange time on their clocks for services and goods. When their clock starts at 25, they stop aging. But if they don't earn more time to add to their clocks, they'll quickly use the year they start with long before that year is up.

At first glance, it's an interesting premise. It puts a whole new spin on “Time is Money.” It plays to our dual desire to live forever and never age.

In the In Time society, there are time zones - but not like we have today. These zones are to separate the classes. And apparently the powerful system that governs society can raise the cost of living in the zones of the lower classes at will, causing the clocks of those unfortunates to run out. The script suggests that many must die for a few to live forever. But how does the death of some poor soul increase the amount of "time" available to the rich? That’s never explained.

Transactions are conducted by grasping each others arms and magically, the correct amount is transferred sans device. And never is their a suggestion that anyone would take more, even though some are mugged or timed out by thugs or well-dressed, greedy people.

And if this can be done person-to-person and is all digital, what’s with the clunky cases that have a concave edge that fits over the arm to download or upload time? I suspect they’re a device to enhance the whole Bonnie and Clyde thing that the co-stars have going on. A bank robbery isn’t as exciting if you can’t take stuff out of a physical vault. And didn't I see this on the news in the 70s? Her name was Patty Hearst.

What's with the old-fashioned rotary (or perhaps push button) phones again? Is writer/director Andrew Niccol a Battlestar Galactica fan?

And puzzle me these…

If Will Salas (played by Justin Timberlake) and his mother (Olivia Wilde) are so short on time and in debt, where did she get all those fancy, new-looking clothes?

What society would stand by and put up with prices going up arbitrarily on everyday services without any advanced warning? They may be the powerless, lower classes, but they are still the masses! The rich are afraid of accidental death and the poor have nothing to lose.

What's with the women always running (and very well) in high heels? OK, this is just a personal pet peeve that spans all genres.

Wouldn't looking exactly the same all your long life be a little boring? I'm surprised they don't do things to alter their looks in other ways to break the monotony.

The flashing lights on the retro cop cars are too close to the edge of the windshield. That would distract the heck out of the driver. Just saying.

Speaking of the cars…what fuels them? Still using fossil fuels in this advanced medical-manipulation age?

That’s another thing. It seems like the time thing is the ONLY advancement. How likely is that?

The life clocks have to be part software - or wetware. Where are the hackers?

Was I just in a bad mood that night, unwilling to just park my brain and enjoy? Or was it the inconsistencies? I loved Logan’s Run (the 1976 movie based on a similar premise) and didn’t get bent out of shape over the mysterious tech. I can’t wait to see MIB III. I do know how to shut my brain down and enjoy. Why couldn’t I this time?

What makes it hard for you to suspend disbelief? What makes it easier? Let the discussion begin!


Budd said...

I liked it, but it did have a lot of why questions. here is one. before handing over millions of years, why don't you take enough so that you can survive the next few hours.

Ann Wilkes said...

Good one, Budd. I did think that at the time as well. And how come anyone can get the policeman's daily time? They can do all that, but no biometric security?

Terri Bruce said...

Awesome blog post! Though the random commodity pricing question - have you check the price of gasoline lately? LOL! Sometimes the masses just sign and keep going.

I had the same problem with Source Code - this movie made NO sense to me. Yet the Fifth Element (wait, why is the wepon suddenly a person?!) - totally love it. Go figure.

I think your comments about the "world building" totally hit the nail on the head - because they didn't spend enough time building a world that immersed you (i.e. why has nothing else advanced? why are the clothes so fancy? why fuels the cars? Etc.), you're not really engaged. I think as writers, this is so critical. The world has to feel real. If it does, we're in it and we buy it and we suspend belief. If the language or the architecture or technology throws us out of the story, we're done. Awesome observations - thank you!

John-Paul Cleary said...

Great blog post.
I think the premise is fantastic.
Inconsistencies aside I love when it's left to your imagination to fill in the blanks.

Fritz "Doc" Freakenstein said...

The problem with In Time is that it sets up to be a thinking person’s science fiction drama and then delivers a contrived, implausible melodramatic action flick. As science fiction fans, we should not have to “suspend our disbelief” to enjoy a genuine science fiction film, because it should make every effort to make its premise and the technology around it as accurate and believable as possible.

I too had many questions while watching In Time that kept me from immersing myself in the film. If medical science ever did create immortality through genetic manipulation, I don’t think that it would be equally distributed throughout the population as it is in this film; for the very reason that it would create massive overpopulation and unemployment. Given that this process is somehow transmitted to offspring and cannot be controlled, how is the living time clock implemented to begin with?

I too found it irritating that In Time lacks any kind of futuristic look. All the vehicles, buildings and all of the tech – except the living time transfer devices - in In Time are basically the same as our current time. If a film wants us to believe it is taking place one-hundred-and-fifty years in the future, it should give us some indication of that by showing us more advanced technology!

If you care to read any more of my dissection of the film In Time, you can read my review of it on my blog here:

Maurice Mitchell said...

SQT, my brain must have been shut off after the first "running man scene." I totally missed those plot holes. Good point about the time boxes they stole.
I featured this post in our blog.
@Budd Good point. I can understand being selfless, but giving away life? If you want to be altruistic wouldn't it be better to stay alive and help people?

The Geek Twins

Justine Graykin said...

I just did a blog ranting about Time Travel in particular and bad science in general over at Clarion. The gist of what turned into a rather brisk discussion is just how faithful to science (meaning current best scientific theory) a story needs to be to be satisfying to the reader. Of course it's all personal preference, but it has to be a damn good story for me to cut it any slack for bad science or plot inconsistencies. And even a cracking good yarn is spoiled for me if the premise doesn't make any sense, or the world-building is shot full of holes.