I remember trying to work my way through John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress when I was much younger. I don’t remember a whole lot of the content, rather I recall the throbbing intellectual pain that comes with trying to process something way over your head way before your time.
I do, however, remember developing my first real appreciation for allegory based on the little I was able to get through, and by the time I finished Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia I believed all the best stories in the world worked on that most noble of narrative devices.
I’ve been proved wrong since then, of course - it seems like we as a species are quickly losing our ability to speak in parables. George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead tetralogy notwithstanding, many attempts at modern allegory tend to fall short, the latest example being Andrew Niccol’s sci-fi thriller film In Time (2011). But in a very interesting twist, while the film bumbles over the sort of melodramatic dialogue that can only be acceptable to a sense of misplaced self-righteousness, it does bring up a number of interesting points.
At its core, the film is a very driven and well-intentioned treatise on social justice, something that we here at Relief care very much about. In this case, it’s in regard to the growing disparity between the rich and the poor when it comes to quality of life. In this not-too-distant-future, time is money - literally, it is currency. You get your first twenty-five years free and then (what a birthday present) your heart lights the fuse to a genetic time-bomb of sorts. Congratulations; you have a year left. Spend it and die, or work and earn your next sunrise.
Of course, if you’re a savvy capitalist, you can quickly make a minute last an hour. In fact, there are people who have literally millions of years stored up for themselves.
Hundreds of thousands of lifetimes that, in most cases, could have and originally did belong to other people.
There are some, though, who see something very wrong with a system that can turn out like this. Not least among them is Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) who, after receiving a “monetary” gift of astounding proportions and losing his mother at her last second, decides to take his new-found century and... What else? Overturn society, of course.
“For a few immortals to live, many people must die” - It’s a mantra that gets tossed around a lot in this film, and our Christ-given sense of justice should cringe accordingly. Who has that right, exactly? “No one,” the film answers, “And we’re going to fix it!”
...By enlisting the help of an impulsive socialite and holding up time banks at gunpoint and redistributing those eons to preachers, children and the downtrodden, apparently.
Truth be told, the situation doesn’t sound too far off from what we see in our own world today. “We are the ninety-nine percent!” - how often have we heard that recently? This is a film in which the ninety-nine percent fights back and literally dissolves the one percent among the masses. It’s a Robin Hood tale told by some of our most recognized actors. Subtle it is not, but it does get its point across.
The efficacy of that point, however, is another matter. It should set us on edge that this film’s idea of social justice essentially amounts to terrorism, and at several points we lean forward and expect that the protagonists are about to learn from the repercussions of their actions: among the first things anyone does after benefiting from Salas’s generous crime spree is to go out and buy a gun to defend themselves. Even the misguided paladin, Time Keeper Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy) - yes, I gagged too, you are forgiven - has moments of very real wisdom and social consciousness. Yet he and everyone else who serves “The One Percent” gets what’s coming to them in the end; bad people are confirmed in their badness, good people remain responsible and, at least onscreen, incorruptible, and whether you’re bad or good is almost as simple as asking how rich you were at the beginning.
Every nationalist revolution in history, every change in power, every religion, every drama of government and society - not to mention the Gospel of Jesus Christ - will tell you that the whole question is far messier than that.
“What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” - Matthew 10:27-30
Lyle Enright is an editorial intern with Relief. He will graduate in English from Trinity University Illinois this May.