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In Time by Andrew Niccol Film Analysis Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: May 13th, 2020


The film “In Time” delves into the concept of “time” as it has replaced currency as the way to signify wealth and social prestige in the world. The main thematic element of the film is the portrayal between the rich and the poor. The film examines the creation of a correlation between the real world and a fictional one presented in the movie. It showcases class struggle, the factors that prevent the poor from becoming rich, and the way the current system is “rigged” in favour of the rich. There are some Marxist elements in the film’s plot as evidenced by the “rise of the working class” that was theorised by Karl Marx due to the various issues created by a capitalist based system. Overall, it can be stated that the film is an excellent way of portraying the current problems within society about inequality and the pursuit of wealth and happiness.

Standard of Living and Correlation with the Film

One of the main conflicts within the movie centers on the fact that minimum wage workers are not paid enough to reach a decent standard of living. It was revealed that their situation is aggravated by derogatory practices of their employers, which are meant to force employees to see themselves in a low position. Thus, the ruling class ensures better control over their actions and keeps them from demanding better pay and benefits. It was shown was that even working a single minimum wage job was not enough to meet the necessary cost of living in the film. As such, people needed to get a second job to supplement their income.

However, this came at the cost of being physically exhausted nearly every single day with very little pay to show for it. The portrayal of the working class in the film bears a strong resemblance to the present day social situation in many countries around the world. It must be noted that unskilled workers both in the movie and in real life receive low wages, not out of choice but because of the current labour and social system in place, which keeps wages down to keep low wage workers in their positions. This was shown in the film that the cost of living was constantly increased by the rich to keep the working class in their place. It bears a close resemblance to the present day system of inflation where salaries of ordinary workers do not keep pace with the subsequent increase in the cost of living (Ellis and Wilson, 1221).

The economic system portrayed in the film is similar to the one that can be seen in many modern societies wherein the economy often does not benefit low wage workers at all. Low-income housing has all but disappeared, services and education are all geared towards skilled labour with those that are unskilled often being the least cared for a portion of the workforce (Ellis and Wilson, 1209).

The film suggests that this might be because society requires unskilled labourers to remain in the positions they are at that time so that the upper echelons of society can benefit from that. The fact remains the same that if unskilled labourers received higher wages, this would translate into higher costs of production for the middle and upper class. By keeping unskilled workers in their current positions, society ensures that the price of services continues to remain low. This was seen in the film and modern day societies wherein the working class is often paid the least despite working harder at their work places. The inherent problem both in the film and in the global economic market is that the system of employment for unskilled labour is virtually designed in such a way to limit employee rights and give more power to the employer.

The derogatory behaviour and repetitive tasks utilised in the film (and to a certain extent in real life practices) are all meant to degrade employee perception. This is done to ensure their compliance towards work practices and ensure that they will have no option but to go to work again the next day. Within the context of the film, the necessity of having no option is portrayed differently if compared to the real world, but its application is still quite poignant. While in the current social system we have no choice but to go to work to continue living in the way we have gotten used to (i.e., modern-day amenities), the same system is utilised in the film.

However, in a more direct fashion, your capacity to live is determined by your ability to work. This is a message that applies to many workers within the present day societies that we live in wherein people in the movie work not out of passion or enjoyment, but to make their living (Steffensmeier and Allan, 96). As seen in the movie, the entire system is inherently constructed to imprison people within a certain role and a certain economic class to benefit those above. Even though the jobs they do are harder and involve more work, the pay they get is invariably lower than the one which people belong to the upper class of society.

What must be understood is that the economic realities in the movie and the current system within many of today’s countries foster class and economic inequality for the benefit of the few leaving little if next to no choice for those at the very bottom of society. Thus, from a certain perspective, it can be stated that the film “In Time” is merely a reflection of society as we currently live in, yet told in a fictitious manner.

Structural Inequality and the Film

Structural inequality, in essence, can be described as an inherent bias within social structures which can provide some advantages to a selected group of people within society while at the same time marginalising the others (McCarty-Caplan, 246). This can be seen in instances related to racism, education, and discrimination wherein certain segments of the population are categorised and marginalised depending on the colour of their skin and their particular race. Within the context of the film, structural inequality manifests itself through the limitation of a person’s ability to continue to live by imposing limits on the supply of “time.”

Time thus becomes a valuable commodity which is controlled by the rich and doled out in small portions to the poor (McCarty-Caplan, 248). As a result, the poor have limited options involving possible opportunities they can avail of since they are trapped in a cycle of having to work menial and time-consuming jobs to live. Within the context of the real world, structural inequality is one of the main reasons behind the continued limitation behind the school system, and various careers wherein minorities are being discriminated against due to connotations involving their propensity towards illegal or criminal behaviour.

One clear example where structural inequality promotes discrimination can be seen in the current U.S. school system and the use of tracking to segregate performers from nonperformers. While it can be seen as a viable way of providing the proper type of education where it is needed the most, the fact remains that the tracking system has actually resulted in racial lines being drawn with white Americans usually being segregated into the upper tier of the tracking system while minorities are typically set in the lower tier system.

While it may be true that some minorities have difficulties in learning due to their origins (i.e., non-English speaking communities), the fact remains that such a system actually perpetuates the concept of societal inequality where it has come to be believed that white Americans are more set to achieves success while minorities are leaning towards marginal careers at best (Steffensmeier and Allan, 99). A similar system can be seen at work within the movie wherein those who are capable of having more time to do activities outside of work are more likely to succeed as compared to those who are stuck within an endless cycle of having to work to buy more time to live.

Within the present day working environment, structural inequality is not limited to the current school system in lower grades but also in higher education wherein the basis of college admission is the use of SAT scores as an indicator of talent in an individual. The one problem with using SAT scores as the main criteria for evaluating college admissions is that they fail to accurately represent the actual value or abilities that a person possesses.

Based on an examination of various applications of minorities to several colleges, it has been shown that on average, the SAT score of white Americans outclassed that of their minority counterparts though this is not an indicator of superior talent as white students were given more opportunities to learn and develop as a result of their social advantage. This particular form of structural inequality denies the possibility of certain minorities from entering specific colleges resulting in not only a degree of inequality in lower education but in higher education as well.

Within the movie, this takes the form of the separation between classes in the way of those living in Dayton, and New Greenwich wherein the separation between the two cities is based on the inherent opportunities given to people from New Greenwich based on their stock of time.

Other forms of structural inequalities that can be seen in the present take the form of community marginalisation wherein particular types of races are concentrated in specific communities. What this causes is an imbalance in the distribution of wealth where the money is consistently isolated in white populations while minorities are made to stagnate in their respective income niches. Once more, this can be seen within the film, which manifests the difference through the separation of cities for the rich and the poor.

Crime and the Film

Towards the end of the film, we see the main character of Will Salas turning towards a life of crime both to support himself and help to destabilise what he views as a corrupt system. What must first be understood is that all the types of criminal behaviour have some form of a trigger that makes a person manifest his/her inner self. No one is born a criminal or is inherently criminal; rather, attributes in the surrounding environment influence how a person acts and cause criminal behaviour to manifest in the first place.

For example, various social scientists indicate that race is invariably connected to individual propensity or the possibility of being able to commit a crime. African Americans, Mexicans, and Latin Americans are three of the most identifiable demographical groups when it comes to the origins of crime in certain parts of the U.S. (Uggen, 529). Based on this, what I would like to point out is that there is an inherent connection between social inequalities and perpetuation of criminal behaviour. For example, the character of Leon immediately assumes that Will stole the time that was given to him without trying to get all the facts. This assumption was based on Will’s previous characterisation as someone that was just poor.

The three most identifiable minorities in connection to a vast majority of crime at present are also those connected to poverty, social inequality and a distinct lack of education standing and achievement (South and Messner, 90). Data from various school districts around the U.S. reveals that communities composed of African Americans, Mexicans and Latin Americans were among those that were predicted to perform the most poorly in terms of scholastic achievement while communities consisting primarily of white Americans were forecasted to perform at a much higher level (South and Messner, 88).

This is in part due to two factors, which are racial prejudice against the capabilities of minorities and class prejudice against a class with a lower income threshold. These prejudices were seen throughout the film in the relationship between Will and Leon wherein there was a lack of trust, a certain degree of discrimination and an unwillingness to see things for what they were due to the label that Leon placed on Will as someone that should have remained poor.

This sort of social discrimination can be seen at present within school districts. The fact is that the current system of segregation within schools where students at the same grade level are grouped into different blocks depending on aggregate skills is a form of discrimination since it encourages social class disparity. From a sociological perspective, this particular form of behaviour promotes the creation of criminal tendencies in people since it reinforces the social idea that minorities cannot rise above what they currently are. This is depicted in relationships between Will and Leon as Leon could not understand and agree to the fact that the “time” that Will had gained was not ill-gotten as he had not acquired it in some criminal way.

Works Cited

Ellis, William Curtis, and Walter Clark Wilson. “Minority Chairs And Congressional Attention To Minority Issues: The Effect Of Descriptive Representation In Positions Of Institutional Power.” Social Science Quarterly (Wiley-Blackwell) 94.5 (2013): 1207-1221. Print.

McCarty-Caplan, David Milo. “Schools, Sex Education, And Support For Sexual Minorities: Exploring Historic Marginalization And Future Potential.” American Journal Of Sexuality Education 8.4 (2013): 246-273. Print.

South, Scott, and Steven Messner. Crime and Demography Multiple Linkages Reciprocal Relations. Annual Review of Sociology 26 (2000): 83-106. Web.

Steffensmeier, Darrell, and Emile Andersen Allan. “The effects of age-linked stratification and status attainment process on patterns of criminality across the life course.” Crime and Inequality. Ed. John Hagan and Ruth D. Peterson. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995. 96- 115. Print.

Uggen, Christopher. Work as a turning point in the life course of criminals a duration model of age employment and recidivism. American Sociological Review 65.5 (2000): 529-546. Print.

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