Movie Review

In Time: story of exploitation and class struggle

Nasir Uz Zaman | Published: 00:00, Sep 02,2018 | Updated: 21:26, Oct 21,2018

Movie Review

Class struggle and economically divided society are the harsh realities we have to encounter every day. In time (2011) a science-fiction movie, portrays this class division by replacing the idea of money with time. Directed by Andrew Niccol, this film criticises capitalism’s exploitation of labour. Nasir Uz Zaman presents a Marxist interpretation of the film.

In Time, through its sci-fi format, converts a hidden essence into a visible appearance. In this dystopia, the system in which people are forced to live in is definitely gruesome and it is the high time to stand against the system to free the self and the mass by radical and fundamental changes. Director Andrew Niccol presents an explicit view of the world, of its values and politics. In this film money, time and life are so closely interwoven that these three overlap each other and sometimes become a substitute for one another.

The socio-economic and political basis of this film is rested on some of the key points of Marxist ideas. Though, the question remains, whether this film is a dedicated Marxist film or not. But there is no doubt that this film embodies Marx’s critique of the capitalist mode of production and exploitation, alienated labour, class struggle and so on. Rejecting dominant contents of films, 'In Time' embodies and explicitly shows present world where anger, protests and dreams of transformation exist. 

This film is set in 2169 CE with the presentation of sci-fi and dystopic features, where, people are genetically engineered to stop aging at 25 with only one extra added year. If someone’s clock becomes zero, instantly death will occur. The only way to live is to earn and spend time. Time becomes the currency. The film starts by presenting protagonist’s (Will Salas) clock, 23 hours, means that he can live 23 hours and by spending the 23 hours, he can buy commodities. Accordingly, his survival time will come to an end if he does not earn more time.

Capitalist system, presented in this film, shows that the working class people are exploited by raising up taxes and the prices of commodities, exploiting wage and high interest rates on bank loans. Salas’ mother, Rachel Salas, dies as the bus fare becomes double (one hour to two hours) and the shortage of her remaining time. Salas works as a labourer in a factory to produce capsules which are used to reserve time. In this factory he is alienated and exploited- he cannot relate himself to or recognise himself with the product that he produces. The product he is producing is not for him but for the owner, who resides at the top of the capitalist class. Moreover, the owner’s officer refuses to pay him fair wage, a classic example of the bourgeoisies’ exploitation of working class and their labour.

Philippe Weis, a representative of bourgeoisies, is the owner of Weis Timelenders bank who also owns a one-million-year time capsule. Henry Hamilton, a man with 116 years, gives away his time to Salas with the massage ‘don’t waste my time’, raises some fundamental questions about bourgeoisies and capitalist system. He says, ‘Why do you think there are time zones? Why do you think taxes and prices go up the same day in the ghetto? The cost of living keeps rising to make sure people keep dying. How else could there be men with a million years while most live day to day?’ The exact answer is to exploit the working class by which the bourgeoisies can make sure the survival of capitalist system.

Bourgeoisies always remain vigilant to make sure that the working class people never have sufficient money. Philippe, as a bourgeoisie or capitalist, is so much concerned about his wealth that he refuses to save his own daughter. His view is that the asking money is not for her daughter but for working class people.

In this film, different time zones have been portrayed as cities; Dayton is the place for working class and New Greenwich is for bourgeoisies. It is legal but next to impossible to cross a time zone for a working class people due to the high entry fee. To enter in New Greenwich time zone one has to spend more than one year but most of the Dayton people live day to day. This is a capitalist way to keep distance from the working class and also represents the bourgeoisies’ unconscious fear for working class revolution. Without labour-power, the production system cannot run, which leads the collapse of the capitalist system. The crisis in capitalist system begins when working class people get ample time. After having sufficient time by the help of Salas, working class people of Dayton give up factory work and the factories lie idle. People of Dayton start to enter in the bourgeoisie’s time zone, New Greenwich.

‘The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles’- said Marx and Engels in The Communist Manifesto (1848). In capitalist system, classes appear when one dispossesses others with the development of the productive forces and the social division of labour. The productive forces and the social division of labour are the means of production. Taking advantage of owning the means of production, bourgeoisies equip themselves with the instruments of oppression and exploitation to rule over the working class. In Althusser’s word from On The Reproduction Of Capitalism: Ideology And Ideological State Apparatuses, ‘Capitalist relations of production are relations of capitalist exploitation’. Production cannot eventuate without labour-power or workers but the capitalist’s approach is that the means of production belongs to the capitalist but not to the working class. Their one argument is that they risk their capital so they own the means of production and have the right to pocket the profit, squeezing surplus-value from workers. This form of exploitation works and develops because workers or proletariats have to take jobs in the production just to survive. For the survival of capitalist system, the circulation of capital should flow continuously to bring more capital which conducts to chain more sectors to enrich the system, leading more forms of exploitation.

In Marx’s sense, alienation is an action through which a person, a group, an institution or society becomes alien to the results or products of his own activity. It is a consequence of the rigid division of labour and the private ownership of the means of production. Class struggle is a foremost cause for alienation and in communist or socialist society, a notable notion is to abolish class struggle. From Marx’s view, culture and history are created by human labour and suggest a system where workers can relate to and recognise themselves with the product. In bourgeois social system, the relation between the worker and the product is destroyed and tends to hegemonise the workers with the idea that the product produced by the worker is not worker’s product but the product of the capitalist as the means of production belongs to the bourgeoisies.

When a state proceeds with capitalist form, it starts to help and save the bourgeoisies by laws and states apparatuses. Raymond Leon, an agent of repressive state apparatus, represents the same phenomenon. To answer Salas’ question of ‘justice’, Leon says that he does not concern himself with justice. As a time keeper, his duty is to keep time but a question arises as obvious. Whose time to keep? His action shows that his job is to make sure the safety of bourgeoisies’ time. It includes, working class people could not have much time. Henry gifts his time to Salas but from Leon’s view, ‘…that time is in the wrong hands’. So he seized Salas’ time. On the other hand, Fortis, who snatches other people’s time and kills, never becomes a subject to Leon. But when mass of Dayton participated in the movement, time keeper fails to control. This film depicts finite power of state’s repressive apparatus in front of mass movement. 

Obviously, in this real world the fundamental relationships between capitalists and proletariats are veiled in thousands of forms. Considering class struggle and capitalist exploitation as the essence, Andrew Niccol gives the essence a visible appearance in his movie. This film includes some enigmas, limitations and crises of capitalism with the massage that it is not an everlasting economic system. As Paulo Freire rightly puts it, ‘… history is possibility and not determinism’. The possibility is the possibility of a classless society where every forms of exploitation are absent.

Nasir Uz Zaman is a former student of University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh.


More about:

Want stories like this in your inbox?

Sign up to exclusive daily email