Monday, December 5, 2011

Whofore Art Thou and The Time of Your Life

I stopped by the 4 Star to catch a double feature yesterday.

Anonymous starring Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave & Joely Richardson; directed by Roland Emmerich; (2011) - Official Website
In Time starring Justin Timberlake & Amanda Seyfried; directed by Andrew Niccol; (2011) - Official Website

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Anonymous tells the oft debated "authorship question" with respect to William Shakespeare's works. I was familiar with the suspicions surrounding Shakespeare from an ACT production of The Beard of Avon from 2002. In a nutshell, there are many pieces of circumstantial evidence which would indicate that Shakespeare was not the author of the works attributed to him. These include his education, the mundane language used in his self-written will and his daughters' illiteracy. Speculation about the true authorship of Shakespeare's works focuses on Sir Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe & Edward de Vere. Anonymous goes with the theory that de Vere was the true author.

The political intrigue around Queen Elizabeth I serves as the backdrop for de Vere's nom de plume. Although a fan of conspiracy theories as well as this specific one, I found Anonymous surprisingly uncompelling. The political maneuvering of the Elizabethan court left me uninterested. The film also used a flashback device which I found confusing at times.

The performances were impressive at times including Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Elizabeth, Sebastian Armesto as Ben Johnson, Rhys Ifans as de Vere and Jamie Campbell Bower as young de Vere.

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In Time is a nice science fiction film. The premise is that human have been genetically engineered to stop aging at age 25. At that point, they must earn time in order to live which is the currency of the land. They are given one year at age 25 but everything such as groceries, bus fare, etc. costs time. Poor people are working day to day literally. If they run out of time, they die or "time out." Time remaining is conveniently displayed on an implant on one's forearm.

As you can imagine, this sets up many potential plot lines. Wealthy people have centuries on their forearm. It is easy to steal time (one simply grabs another's forearm and flip it over to take the other person's time). Also, since people stop aging, it is impossible to tell someone's age by appearance. Justin Timberlake plays Will Salas, a poor but hard working & honest guy from the "wrong time zone." Olivia Wilde, 3 years younger than Timbelake, plays his mother in a small role. It is her death combined with a chance encounter with a wealthy but suicidal man that sends on his journey.

That journey is ill defined at the start but moving several time zone to the ritzy New Greenwich puts Will in the big leagues. He encounters Philippe Weis at a Texas Hold'em match and takes him for millennium pot. Weis is an ├╝ber-wealthy time lender with a rebllious and beautiful daughter, Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried). Quickly, Will & Sylvia become attracted to each other. Raymond Leon(Cillian Murphy), a timekeeper (aka cop) investigating the death of the 100 year old man Will encountered to get his first century, arrests Will on suspicion of murder. Will kidnaps Sylvia to make his escape.

Although initially hostile, when the rich girl sees how the other side lives, she quickly buys into Will's evolving plan which seems to be Bonnie & Clyde meets Robin Hood. The two start robbing time banks and distributing the time to the poor. Will has gone up against the world's financial system. Wealthy and powerful people need the poor to always be short on time to exploit them for their own profit and immortality. Using spectacularly monopolistic price fixing, the powerful simply increase interest rates and the price of goods and service such that the time Will has given for free is devalued. How's that for a New World Order?

Eventually, Will and Sylvia decide to steal a 1,000,000 years (also called an epoch) from Sylvia's father to destroy the financial system. This is where the wheels fall off for In Time. The film does a good job developing this dystopian world (not unlike Metropolis) where power is concentrated in the hands of the few. As Salas inches towards socialism, the film seems to decide that it can't quite utter the words or cross the threshold. At any time, I expected Salas to yell "Workers of the world, unite!" Rather than socialism, the ending veers towards anarchy as Will and Sylvia go on to rob bigger time banks, presumably to distribute the time free to the poor. It's like Jesus Christ and Joan of Arc in science fiction.

The selfless nature of Will Salas, a hardscrabble kid from the ghetto, is the chief complaint I have about In Time. That a rich girl would fall for him is not unusual. In fact, it's common enough to be a trope. Salas' behavior defies logic and convention and takes the film to the boundaries of socialist propaganda (right down to the Jewish cabal led by Weis). A more ambiguous hero and ending would have served the film much better. A little more exploration of a society where everyone is 25 years old on the outside but some unknown age on the inside would have also helped the film.

Still, I couldn't help but enjoy In Time. Its time premise was thought provoking and held up throughout the film. Timberlake has become a decent actor. Cilian Murphy as Timekeeper Leon and Vincent Kartheiser as Philippe Weis stood out. Kartheiser could play a young Steve Buscemi.

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