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Text Commentary

Opportunity Cost in "In Time"
by Dirk Mateer `

In Time, a 2011 film starring Justin Timberlake, depicts an economy that uses time as the sole form of currency. Time is used to purchase all goods and services in the economy and without time, you die. At birth, every person is allocated one year that begins after his or her 25th birthday. In order to continue living, you must accrue additional time by whatever means necessary. Additional time can be earned by trading, fighting or even by robbing each other. The entire film revolves around the everyday decisions about how to allocate a scarce resource and whether that allocation is fair and equitable. SCENE [52:30 - 53:50]: The main characters, Will Salas and his girlfriend Sylvia Weis are down to their last few minutes of time. They trade her diamond earrings at a pawnshop for additional minutes of life. This movie cleverly covers many basic economic concepts, such as opportunity cost, scarcity and bartering. It also deals with other, more complex economic themes like the unequal distribution of wealth. The opening lines of the film begin with the main character, Will Salas, getting ready for work. He lives in the ghetto, where the poor struggle each day to meet their basic needs and people are literally dying in the streets. The rich, he explains, have more time and can live lavishly. We find later that the disparity between the rich and the poor is vast. The wealthy class has thousands of years to spend while the poor live in terms of hours and minutes. QUOTE [0:00 - 1:49] (Will Salas): “I don't have time. I don't have time to worry about how it happened. It is what it is. We're genetically engineered to stop ageing at twenty-five. The trouble is we live only one more year, unless we can get more time. Time is now the currency. We earn it and spend it. The rich can live forever and the rest of us? I just wanna wake up with more time on my hand than hours in the day.” SCENE [12:59 - 14:30] Henry Hamilton, a wealthy man from a privileged time zone has lived to be 105 years old and still has over a century of time left. He is saved from a gang of thieves by Will who is unaware that Henry is tired of being ‘immortal’ and came to the ghetto with the intention of dying. Henry gives Will some insight into how the corrupt system works by stating: “Everyone can't live forever. Where would we put them? 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 when most die. But, the truth is, there's more than enough. No one has to die before their time.” In the film, Will’s mother is celebrating her 50th birthday and, although she still looks like she is 25, she is still nagging her son, like all mothers are prone to do, about his lack of providing her with grandchildren. However, since time is scarce and used to pay bills, decisions about how to use it wisely are very pronounced. Will explains to his mother that the opportunity cost for having a child is too high, he doesn’t have time for a girlfriend because he is working to live. QUOTE [2:38 - 3:40] (Rachel Salas, Will’s mother): “Oh, I was sure I'd have a grandchild by now.” (Will): “Oh, here we go!” (Rachel): “Bella's daughter is always asking about you.” (Will): “Who has time for a girlfriend?” We quickly begin to see that the poor in this film are not only struggling with limited resources, but are also faced with rapidly changing prices. In this economy, all prices are completely flexible. The prices of goods and services rise erratically and without notice. Businesses post their prices on electronic boards and they change throughout the day. QUOTE [4:27 - 4:47] (Will Salas to the Coffee Server): “Four minutes for a cup of coffee?” (Borel, Will’s best friend): “Yesterday it was three!” (Coffee Server): “You want coffee or you wanna reminisce?” (Will): “Two coffees, please.” Will’s mother also has a dramatic experience with inflated prices. Earlier in the day, she tells her son that she will pay the rent and the other bills that are due which will leave her just enough time to pay for a bus ride home to spend her last remaining minutes with him before her time runs out. When she attempts to get on the bus, she finds out that the price of a ride has doubled from one hour to two hours. Without enough time to pay for the ride, she must run to meet her son before her time expires. QUOTE [19:07 - 19:50] (Bus Driver to Will’s Mom): “It’ll be two hours.” (Mom): “What? I thought it was one hour.” (Driver): “Prices have increased.” (Mom): “My son will pay the difference when we get there.” (Driver): “It’s policy, we can’t do that.” (Mom): “It’s a two hour walk. I only have an hour and a half.” (Driver): “Then you better start running.” The wages that are paid for labor can also change from day to day. Will works at a factory producing mechanisms that encapsulate time on a production line. When he is paid for his labor at the end of the day, he finds that he now has a quota to meet and his wages have been cut without prior notice. QUOTE [5:07 - 5:47] (Will Salas to the Timekeeper): “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! What is this? Where's the rest?” (Timekeeper): “You haven't met the quota.” (Will): “My units are up from last week!” (Timekeeper): “So is the quota. Next!” (Will): “That's a joke, right?” (Timekeeper): “Next!” The structure of this future world around the currency of time sets up some interesting “rules of the game”, which are the formal and informal institutions that govern interactions in the economy. The world is split into time zones, with the wealthiest living together in New Greenwich and the poor living in the ghettos of Dayton. In the wealthiest time zone, people move slowly because there is no rush to do things since they have a virtually unlimited amount of time. When Will travels between time zones, he draws attention because he moves too quickly having been used to life in the ghetto. Interestingly, the rich seem to live in constant fear of experiencing a random act of violence (having their time stolen) or dying, so they surround themselves with bodyguards and other safety measures. For example, they buy cars only to put them on display since it would be too dangerous to drive them. Sylvia Weis, daughter of one of the wealthiest men in New Greenwich explains, “The clock is good for no one. The poor die and the rich don’t live.” SCENE [40:53 - 43:33] Will is questioned by the Timekeepers (police force) about moving between time zones after he was given a century of time. When asked what he is doing in the New Greenwich time zone, Will responds, “It's not illegal, is it? To change time zones?” The Timekeeper draws attention to the fact that Will has violating one of the unspoken rules by answering, “No, it's not illegal. It's just rare.” Late in the film, we begin to see some of the forces at work behind this dystopian economy. Philippe Weiss has built a monopoly power, the Weiss Corporation, which has been manipulating the market for time. These time financiers prey on the poor by offering high interest loans, which become impossible to pay back when prices rise. In the style of Robin Hood, Will and Philippe’s daughter Sylvia hold up one of Weis’ Time Banks and give all of the time away stored in the banks vaults, flooding the market with time, changing the rules of the game and redistributing wealth. The pair then steals Philippe’s million hours from his own private vault in order to take down the system from within. When her father questions Sylvia about stealing his time she reasons, “Is it stealing if it is already stolen?” indicating that since he acquired the time illegally, he cannot question her actions to return it to its rightful owners. QUOTE [1:11:37 - 1:13:27] Sylvia Weiss announces to the crowd “Weis Timelenders is now offering interest free loans with no payments. So help yourselves and take a day. Take your time, it's free!”

This Commentary is related to the following Clips:
Opportunity Cost in "In Time" by Director: Andrew Niccol; Producers: Andrew Niccol, Marc Abraham, Amy Israel, Kristel Laiblin, and Eric Newman (2011) "In Time," a 2011 film starring Justin Timberlake, depicts an economy that uses time as the sole form of currency. This clip and write up were provided by: Kim Holder, University of West Georgia