Andrew Niccol's latest film In Time (2011) rehashes a large quantity of ideas from his 1997 film Gattaca. Both films are set in a near future where the world as we know it is cruelly divided into two segments of society, recalling Fritz Lang's 1927 masterpiece Metropolis. On one hand we have the rich, enjoying a life of excesses in an emotionless, almost-robotic manner and on the other hand, we have the working class, in deep lack of a certain 'currency'1 that the rich possess but living with a lot of heart. The protagonists of both films emerge from the lowest rungs of the working class and through sheer power of will, infiltrate the other side to upset the comfortable balance that the film started out in.
Perhaps Niccol's world is not that far out into the future. Anuj was telling me today of a certain 'Spice' cinema at Noida that had a ticket price of 50 rupees for a regular show at a time when the larger multiplexes in Delhi were charging 300 rupees. The middle class crowd and upwards as Anuj put it, discovered they weren't very happy sharing the same viewing area as the lower classes who could pay that much. So they started watching their films at another cinema- 'Wave' nearby that charged 125 rupees. On my last visit to a PVR multiplex, I had paid an additional 50 rupees to avail a seat in the 'premier' section- which happened to be the very last row sporting larger, more comfortable seats and away from the 'Normal' audience that couldn't pay the extra. I admit I did feel privileged. It was only after the film, as I was leaving the hall, I noticed the 'Gold' class lounge outside. Demanding a ticket price of 650 rupees, it granted access to a VIP lounge and a hall where you viewed the same film as one of less than 50 viewers. Suddenly, I was on the other side now.
Coming back to In Time, Niccol designs the villain of the story as not comprised of total evil but with a strong sense of regard for the 'system' which the protagonist is intending to break. The characters of the Detective played by Alan Arkin in Gattaca and that of Timekeeper Leon played by Cillian Murphy are both men of honor, underprivileged but slightly better off than the protagonist and carrying a strong will to attain their objective- to apprehend the protagonist and detain him for only one reason: to keep the system as it is. Once again, this calls for allegories. In our present world, we do have these 'timekeepers', whose sole job seems to keep the rich rich and the poor poor. No point getting into specifics, I assume everyone knows who they are.
So is it fair to say that Andrew Niccol, the great visionary and the man of original ideas has finally stooped to the low levels of rehashing? I wouldn't go that far. Gattaca was an important document of questioning the ethics of genetic engineering when it came out in 1997. It provided a valuable point of view without resorting to text book moral science. Fourteen years on, the world has come a full circle. In Time is just in time (pardon the poor pun) to provide a questioning of the presently widening rift between the rich and the poor. But does it get its message across as effectively as Gattaca did? I could've done without the Bonnie and Clydesque Bank heists!
'Five' is the long overdue issue. In the works since September, it has finally seen the light of the day. Andres Tapia-Urzua's 'The Artificial Insemination of Reality' is one of the most intriguing pieces I've read in the recent times. Anamaria Dobinciuc's review of the book Cinéma 68 is a look at a record of those revolutionary times in Paris 1968 which formed the zeitgeist of such great films as Bertolucci's Dreamers (2002) and Phillippe Garrel's Les amants réguliers (2005). We've got our people in a couple of festivals this year and the result is Sudarshan Ramani's review of Chantel Akerman's Almayer's Folly (2011) from Mumbai and Ankan Kazi's round-up of this year's International Film Festival of Kerala. Anuj takes a look back at Govind Nihalani's Party (1984) and Ravi Iyer re-visits the brilliantly titled The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2005) to round up the issue.