In a world where time is literally money

Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried) gets escorted around town by Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) -- and a gun.

Kai Ryssdal: Imagine, if you can, a world without money. Or more accurately, where money has been replaced by time. What you get then logically, is a world where the poor literally live day-to-day -- the only way they get more time is by working. And the rich can live theoretically forever.

That's the premise of Andrew Niccol's new film. It's called "In Time." Thanks for coming in.

Andrew Niccol: Good to be here.

Ryssdal: This is -- not to be too trite about it -- but time is money, right?

Niccol: Yes, time is literally the currency in this movie.

Ryssdal: Where'd you get the idea, where did that come from?

Niccol: It comes out of "Gattaca," a movie I made a long time ago. I knew then that the Holy Grail of genetic engineering was to switch off the aging gene. If you can switch off the aging gene, and theoretically everyone can live forever, you have to find a way of avoiding massive overpopulation. So they came up with a body clock in my society, where we can trade time -- you earn time and you spend time.

Ryssdal: In one trailers I saw for this had a guy going into a coffee shop and the cup of coffee costs, whatever it is, 14 seconds more now than it did before.

Niccol: Four minutes, actually.

Ryssdal: Yeah, four minutes, and the coffee shop guy says, 'Yeah, you don't want it? Tough, don't buy it.'

 

 

Niccol: Right. And of course, if you come from a poor timezone in this society, if you run to that coffee shop, you can maybe get two cups of coffee, but if you walk, you can only get one, because your life is literally ticking away.

Ryssdal: That's actually very interesting, because it's very current now, right? We are the 99 percent, it's the top 1 percent, it's Occupy Wall Street. There's a very current vibe going on that I'm not sure you were thinking about two and a half years ago when you made this movie.

Niccol: No, it's proved to be very timely, but as soon as you make the decision that time is currency, then you have to base it on the economic times of today.

Ryssdal: Let's play a cut from the film. It's Justin Timberlake's character, a guy named Will Salas, running into a guy who's got more than a century of time built up. And he saves him from a gang of thieves, who call themselves the Minutemen. Let's play the tape.

 

 

Timberlake's character, Will Salas, doesn't make a whole lot of money. He's got usually, I think if I remember right, less than a day on that clock on his arm thing.

Niccol: Yeah, right, he wakes up with less than a day, everyday. And if he doesn't go to work, he dies. He will literally time out.

Ryssdal: It gives living paycheck-to-paycheck a whole new meaning.

Niccol: Yeah, it's also sort of a perfect metaphor of living in the moment, because you are watching your seconds drain away. So you are more conscious of what you're doing.

Ryssdal: Not only is it current with the Occupy Wall Street and the haves and the have-nots, but it's very, you know, this thing that's been happening in this society for the past 15, 20 years of getting busier and busier and not having enough time to do everything that society demands of you today, whether it's work or pleasure or family or just being, you know?

Niccol: Yeah, we've become very A.D.D. And so much so that in fact, the body clock that everyone has in this movie, it's genetically encoded. I had to speed up seconds at some point in the movie because when there's a shot of the clock, not enough seconds elapsed quickly enough. Because a second seemed to take an awful long time. So I actually had to speed up time, which proves how A.D.D. we are.

Ryssdal: Yeah, and actually in this film, A.D.D. can be fatal, right? Because if you're not paying attention, you're going to run out of time?

Niccol: You've got to watch the clock.

Ryssdal: Andrew Niccol, his most recent film is called "In Time." Andrew, thanks a lot.

Niccol: Thank you.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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