“In Time” on Eternity: Immortality and Happiness in Theaters near You
November 7, 2011 1 Comment
In Andrew Niccols’ recently released film In Time all humans are genetically engineered to stop aging at 25. Sounds great right? The only problem is you are programmed to die after one more year, unless you can replenish your time.
Time is money…literally. When Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) collects his paycheck, he’s paid in time added to his life. When he goes to the store to buy food, he pays in time. He was born in Timezone 12–the ‘ghetto.’ Most people there live hand to mouth, one day at a time. And if you can’t make ends meet, you come to the end of your time…and your life.
Meanwhile the rich have all the time in the world. They keep poor timezones poor so that people will work quickly, lack hope, and produce time. In order to keep their time producing machine running smoothly, they keep cost of living high so that those in Timezone 12 will never be able to escape. As long as the rich succeed in their diabolical inequity, they are practically immortal, having millenia on their personal clocks to spend frivolously as they will.
Their motto: For a few to be immortal many must die.
Enter Will Salas and Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried), an unlikely Bonnie and Clyde with Robin Hood morality. They steal from the rich and give to the poor. Now, they know that distributing time more evenly, if done at a massive enough scale, will crash the system. It’s possible that giving away time to poor will cause both the poor and the rich to die, albeit in more equitable intervals. So in the face of Philippe Weis, Sylvia’s father and time lending mogul, Will boldly proclaims his mantra of resistance to the system:
No one should be immortal if even one person has to die!
When I heard that triumphant line coming from Will’s lips, I felt like doing a Tiger Woods fist pump on behalf of justice. Everyone should be treated equally! Everyone has a fundamental right to life! But my self-righteous smirk was quickly replaced with quizzical befuddlement. I began questioning my reaction to Will’s motto because my own motto, the Christian gospel, sounds a bit different from his. It is not just a rejection of Philippe’s mantra, but a reversal of it. To put it concisely:
For many to have blessed immortality, One must die.
As I dug deeper into the film, I realized that the protagonists of In Time don’t just reject immortality because it isn’t universal. They reject immortality because it is undesirable. “We’re not meant to be immortal,” Sylvia admonishes her father. Rich people who have the possibility of immortality hire body guards to protect them. They don’t swim in the ocean for fear of drowning. Being so terrified of death and so optimistic about everlasting life, they have neglected to live.
Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer), a rich man who commits suicide by giving his own century to good Will, clarifies Sylvia’s comment. He teaches Will that even though human bodies don’t die, their minds degenerate. Finally, to put the ultimate pessimistic spin on immortality, he makes the very good point that there would be no place to put everybody if everyone lived forever. That’s why, he says, the system was set up the way it was in the first place: Population control.
Ok. Chalk up one point for mortality.
However, immortality has its say, albeit voiced by the antagonist. As Will and Sylvia are trotting off, guns blazing, to upset the system, Philippe shouts after them something like this, “You know you’re bound to fail! Even if you succeed in upsetting the system for a generation or two, someone will come along and set it back up…because everyone wants to be immortal.” In other words, no one will be content to live a life ending in certain death, if the possibility of immortality is held out to them. It seems that despite all the problems immortality in this world might cause, human beings have a really hard time seeing personal annihilation as the solution. There’s an inherent longing in the human person for life.
It seems to me that neither Philippe’s system nor Will and Sylvia’s resistance will do. But the good news is that the Christian Gospel transforms their pessimism into reality and their life-depleting optimism into life-renewing hope. In the Christian faith, the very human hope for immortality is held in tension with the reality that immortality in a world like ours, where bodies and minds deteriorate and human relationships turn destructive, is not all that desirable. That’s why the picture of blessed immortality painted in Christianity is of a new heaven and a new earth. Instead of simply extending life on this old, decaying third rock from the Sun, Jesus will return to renew, refresh, and revive life itself.
For many to have blessed immortality, One must die.
This is not some pie in the sky optimism. It’s not as if all the evil we see in the world is just forgotten. For such a just world to exist, justice must be accomplished. For such a refreshing and renewal of life to be possible, the evil in the humans who will inhabit this new world has to be put to death. Otherwise, we humans would inevitably mess up that pristine world too. To make this renewed creation possible, Jesus Christ took our evil upon him in the cross. It was put to death with him so that blessed immortality was possible. And when he was raised to life, blessed immortality was made possible.
It seems to me that the story God is telling is more compelling than both Philippe’s system, which perpetuates worldly brokenness to pursue eternal life, and Will’s resistance, which forsakes eternal life to minimize the brokenness.
Instead, because of Christ, you can have the eternal time of your life.