Corporate Villains, "In Time" and Occupy Wall Street

John Hanlon

11/2/2011 12:01:00 AM - John Hanlon

Several months ago, film critic Nell Minow – aka The Movie Mom-- presented a segment on “Roger Ebert Presents” about corporate villians where she noted that "the most frequent villian in movies is the American corporation." She added that many films, which are often made and distributed by corporations themselves, use corporations as their “villain of choice”. That’s definitely the case in the new thriller, “In Time,” which pits a lowly working class man against a group of rich fat cats.

In the film’s alternate universe, time is the new form of currency. People pay for their morning coffee with minutes and “99 seconds only stores” exist for bargain shoppers. When a person reaches twenty-five years of age, a clock appears on their arm counting down the moments in that person's life. By either working or stealing, individuals can get more time added to their lifespan. However, the poor are paid badly and the rich businessmen hoard massive amounts of time in the rich section of town.

Justin Timberlake plays Will Salas, a 28-year old working-class man, who wants to steal from the rich and give to the poor. With the assistance of Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried), the ungrateful daughter of a corporate businessman, Will plans to change the system and spread the “time” around so that everyone gets their fair share.

If this story sounds to you like a not-so-subtle take on class warfare, you would be right. The script, written by Andrew Niccol, doesn’t even try to hide its liberal message. When the movie was released last Friday, critics picked up on its underlying themes. In her analysis of the film, critic Rebecca Cusey of SixSeeds.tv wrote that the film's concept “reflects the socialist or even communist notion that wealth is at a fixed level, a constant pie that must be sliced into pieces, but is controlled by a small segment of the population.” She added that Occupy Wall Street protestors may be pleased with the story but that buying a movie ticket would undercut their message by “putting money in the pocket of 20th Century Fox and the theater chains.”

Cusey is right in her analysis of the film’s political message but it isn’t the film’s message that refrains me from supporting it. Some films with blatant liberal messages are both thought-provoking and enjoyable. However, “In Time” is so blatantly political that it drives it message across at the expense of plot twists or character development that it should have included.

There are dozens of ridiculous lines of dialogue that just repeat the film’s key message. One character says “There’s more than enough. No one has to die before their time.” Later on: “For a few to be immortal, many must die.” Even later: “No one should be immortal if any one person has to die.”

If you don’t understand the writers’ message, you’re not paying attention.

In many ways, “In Time” reminded me of “Avatar,” another blatantly political film that sacrificed characters for ideology. As in “Avatar,” "In Time" includes a storyline about a person who rejects their own lifestyle to join with another class of individuals to help undermine the social class that they grew up in. Both films could have been good if they toned down their messages and focused more on their stories and on creating interesting characters.

I’ve never been one to avoid a film because of an actor’s political beliefs or to miss a film because I disagree with its message. But when a message takes precedence over a strong story and interesting characters, a movie often falters under the weight of its own ideology. And that’s the case with “In Time.”