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In Time shows a world where time is currency. The film explains that on a person's 25th birthday, their clock "starts ticking", with one year on it. From that point forward, they can buy and sell things by exchanging time with other people. And when a person's clock runs out, they die instantly.

If this 25th birthday gift of a year was the only source of time, the average life expectancy of everyone (who didn't die prematurely) would be exactly 26 years old (or less, if we account for accidental deaths). The movie makes it apparent* that even in the "ghetto" (where people often live with less than a day on their person), many people are older than 26 years old (Will Salas's mother is an obvious example).

Do we know anything about where this extra time comes from? Is more time injected into the system somewhere?

*I suppose it's possible that the average life expectancy is 26, and that the vast majority (meaning literally millions or billions) of people die soon after their 25th birthday (and the movie just never spoke to this point) allowing the wealthy to accumulate such vast wealth.

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Just off the top of my head, you could farm time by making sure to have a load of children... –  Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 24 at 0:28
@LightnessRacesinOrbit: Then murder them all on their 25th birthday? Even in a best case scenario, you'd earn 12 months every 9, to be shared between a man and a woman, with a 25.75-year vesting period. And that assumes 0 mortality before the 25th birthday. That's a pretty low return on investment, I'd say. –  Flimzy Jan 24 at 0:35
You've introduced the requirement to only have one child on the way at any given time. And who says you're going to share the farmed time? Especially if you're not above murdering all of your own children... –  Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 24 at 0:39
Perhaps if you enslave a bunch of women to constantly impregnate, and steal the time from their offspring, you could come out ahead. But it would still be a very large, very noticeable, very time-, food-, and space-consuming operation. If you begin impregnating the women as soon as they're of child-bearing age, you might get 12 babies out of one before she turns 25.... –  Flimzy Jan 24 at 0:39
Do it with two women and you've got 24 years extra to live. That's not nothing. –  Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 24 at 0:40

9 Answers 9

As far as I know it's not explained.

Moreover, it does not need to be explained - since the movie is a Marxist parable. And in that worldview, there's only a finite amount of wealth, and for anyone to get more, you have to play a zero sum game and take it from someone else. The simply took the Marxist narrative, and replaced the word "money" with "time".

For an interesting analysis of "In Time", see


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But isn't that the problem? Doesn't that prove that it cannot be strictly a closed system? There's far more time floating around than one year per birth. –  Flimzy Nov 12 '11 at 11:42
BTW, interesting analysis... –  Flimzy Nov 12 '11 at 11:44
It's only a problem if you care about logic and consistency. Not about feelings and "fairness" (where of course only select few get to decide what's fair). I could write a couple of paragraphs of how the exact issue you presented mirrors black market economy in socialist countries, but it'd be largely off-topic :( –  DVK Nov 12 '11 at 13:23
The game is clearly not zero-sum. People die of other causes (think of the time lost when people are shot). Moreover, time fades out at a rate of 1 second per second. –  fabikw Jul 16 '12 at 12:39
The problem with this answer, as I see it, is that the question is about the mechanics of the In Time universe, but this answer is about the art and literature of the story. In-universe/out-of-universe, as I see it. –  Flimzy Jan 3 '13 at 7:03

You can't have everyone living for ever unless reproduction was greatly curtailed which would result in additional problems itself.

So everyone dies a year after their 25th birthday unless they can pay for more time. It isn't that you are buying actual "time" which needs to have its origin explained. You are buying an extension to your timetable where your life is shut off.

Think of Logan's Run but where you were automatically killed off by your genes. Those who could afford to get an extension would be deemed worthy of postponing their death.

There is no "time" that you are buying - at least not as an actual physical commodity. You are not buying "time" you are buying an extension for the mandated death time programed by your genes. By spending money TPTB allow you to live longer. They reset the clock so to speak.

Think if you had a disease and needed daily injections of medicine to survive. You could live a full life span provided you had access to your medicine every day. Miss one day and you are dead.

Your genes program you to die at 25. If you pay your daily bill, the machine counting down your time resets, postponing the gene's final instructions.

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But where does the time one "buys" come from? That is the question. –  Flimzy Nov 12 '11 at 22:46
@Flimzy see the edited answer –  Gilles Nov 21 '11 at 20:58
@Gilles: I still don't think this answers the question: it discusses the mechanics correctly, but the question is really about economics. When you say "buying an extension", who are you buying from? As presented, Time is a pretty fixed commodity, created only by birth - and there's only enough in the system for an average of 26 years each. (Not counting loss due to accidents.) Consider: If somebody lives even to 45, that needed nineteen other people to die at twenty-five. This simply doesn't match the society we see on screen. –  Tynam Nov 17 '12 at 10:56
This isn't at all supported by anything in the movie, it's idle conjecture. –  Nathan C. Tresch Jan 3 '13 at 22:09

First, I think we should address the mechanism by which this life-timer is enforced. Clearly we're dealing with the concept of post-humans that have been made not to exceed human limitations but to enforce them, or at least if they also exceed human limitations I don't believe we see it in the film. All children would be fitted with the equipment to make them into a post-human at birth, probably by the injection of nanomachines. The nanomachines would construct what they needed in the body and take over basic functions such as heart, lung and digestive systems. At that point there is a built in limit on how long the body can last in the form of a power source for the machines. This is supported by the film: The things that they carried around which were capable of storing a lot of "time" weren't small, like cards. They were more like battery packs. The idea of post-humans that operate the way the post-humans in the film is explored in great detail in the book Illium by Dan Simmons.

Now that we have an idea of how this limit might be enforced, with electricity, we can say that the job those people did probably generated more power than they were being paid. That would allow for the people who control the power grids to always be able to keep the people who are being controlled down, its built into the system. That would also allow for 100% employment, which would be a requirement of a system like this. Unemployed people who cant afford to eat aren't going to care at all how much time they have left if they are afraid of starvation. It would also allow for the people in control to have unlimited life: The more people that they put to work as slaves, the more extra power they can sell back to their wage slaves at profit.

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So your answer is essentially that time = some power source, possibly electrical, so time comes from converting power into time? –  Flimzy Jan 3 '13 at 7:07
@Flimzy That's how it looked to me, especially with the bulky battery packs. –  Nathan C. Tresch Jan 3 '13 at 22:07

The central difference between money in the real world and Time in the film is that Time constantly runs out. Money is not (in the usual course of events) consumed, it just moves from one person to another. Time on the other hand is constantly ticking down.

It's never addressed in the film but the question is right. There must be a central bank or factory or something generating and issuing time, which is then paid out to people in wages and otherwise trickled out into society.

Remember that Time is an artificial limit imposed to restrict population growth, there is absolutely no need for people to die at age 25 from a genetic or technical perspective. It's just a way to keep population growth under control in a world otherwise populated by people who never age.

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There was a line in the movie that mentioned "Is there any new time in circulation?" or something like that.

I think it could be assumed when they went to the time currency, there was a supply of time that was created for distribution around the world. Probably like 100,000,000,000 years or something.

Our own currency used to be based on the amount of raw gold and silver we have in Ft Knox and such.

It could work the same way in this world. There was an amount of time created and controlled by a select few people. Each new person will add a year to the pool.

I would assume when all the time runs out, there will be some sort of redistribution of time to everyone in the world.

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The U.S. hasn't used the gold standard since 1933. –  Flimzy Nov 12 '11 at 17:58
Thanks, I updated. –  OghmaOsiris Nov 12 '11 at 18:10
Since 1933? Then what was the whole point for Auric Goldfinger in the 1960s? –  Tango Nov 12 '11 at 21:43
@Tango - there's a difference between gold standard and gold reserves. –  DVK Nov 13 '11 at 12:03
@DVK -- I was being facetious. Just left out the <sarcasm> tags! –  Tango Nov 13 '11 at 13:20

Since the "time" can be transferred to/from an electronic storage system, and apparently transferred by radio, it is presumably just a cryptocurrency not unlike bitcoin. Aside from the one year of it that you get at age 25, there must be some entity issuing it, unless the mean human lifetime is really only 26 years, which seems quite unlikely.

While the movie doesn't really give us any insight into an issuer, the fact that there are banks strongly suggests that there's probably a central bank, like the Federal Reserve Bank, that is generating new "time" and putting it into the economy. They could lend it out just as the Federal Reserve does with money.

Where it definitely becomes tricky is if there are issuers in multiple legal jurisdictions. Is there US time, UK time, French time, etc., and what is the exchange rate? Maybe the implants used in different jurisdictions aren't directly compatible.

Since it is effectively a cryptocurrency, but more intimately tied to people's lives than normal money, imagine how much effort some people would undoubtedly be putting into counterfeiting time or otherwise gaming the system.

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This was one of my biggest problems with the movie. Why do they need to steal a "block" of time? Why can't someone just hack one of those packs to give more time? Why hasn't it been done already? –  KSmarts Jan 23 at 21:55

In order to understand this you need to understand the mechanics of the devices they are fitted with. When you set your countdown timer on your phone to 365 days is that time borrowed from anyone? Do you get that time from anyone? Humans in the movie are fitted with devices (either at birth or pre-birth) that controls their vitals and contains a countdown timer. That countdown timer is set to 25+1 year. This device has an interface that connects with other "time giving" devices. The time you get as money or as bonus for a job well done or whatever is not some currency created by a central authority. It's a device that increases the countdown timer on the device. Similarly if you set the countdown timer to your phone to 365 days and after a few days have passed you add 10 days more then you are not getting time from anywhere. You are simply adding to the timer. On the other hand a central authority does somehow exist which in fact controls the poor and tries to stop them from getting too much time (that's the whole point of the movie, who has the right to control your life).

In theory a really skilled hacker could hack the device and become one of the "rich" people with unlimited time.

So what I am trying to say is that time does not come from anywhere. Since people are fitted with "programmable timers". Time is simply changing the input the timers are getting.

This is from the point of view of a Software Developper

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This doesn't answer the question. –  Flimzy Oct 31 '14 at 12:30
It does. He asks where time comes from. I am simply stating that time is created from nothing. Similar to a countdown timer on your watch. –  John Demetriou Nov 2 '14 at 18:30
Your answer doesn't say that, though. And "he" is me. –  Flimzy Nov 3 '14 at 12:43
Sorry for the he thing :P I did not notice names. That is what I am trying to explain. That is is similar to the countdown timer in your watch –  John Demetriou Nov 3 '14 at 12:45
I can't go to the bank to add time to my watch. If I did, I would ask "where did that new time come from?" –  Flimzy Nov 3 '14 at 12:48

This was explained in the movie.


There were a number of Time Zones where people lived. Each Time Zone was progressively wealthier. The people who were in charge of time were called Timekeepers. People traded goods and services for time from the Timekeepers. This transference of wealth basically allowed some people to be immortal.

Only the poorest people lived to be 26, or younger. The system was setup to purposefully prevent people from getting ahead.

Later on in the film, we find out that the banks have a nearly infinite amount of time available which could make everyone immortal.

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This addresses the distribution of wealth, not its generation. –  Flimzy Oct 31 '14 at 13:46
@Flimzy the bank had the power to create time at will. It was a fiat currency. They would release more time into the economy when they wanted to. This is similar to the way the USD works. –  Jason Hutchinson Oct 31 '14 at 13:48
That seems reasonable, but where is that stated in the film? Having "a nearly infinite amount of time" is different than issuing new time at will. –  Flimzy Oct 31 '14 at 13:51
@Flimzy I believe this is how it was explained at the end of the film. I would have to re-watch it to verify. –  Jason Hutchinson Oct 31 '14 at 14:08

The way I understood it, new "currency" was generated every time a child was born -- because they start with 1 year on their clock. The only way for one person to have more than a year was if someone else had less than a year. As mentioned, even people in the ghetto were living for many years, so the implication is that other folks were dying in droves within their 26th year.

In order for this to continue, people had to be breeding like rabbits. In order to replenish the year that a person consumed by surviving for a year, that person would need to have a baby. Since men can't do that, women would have to have two -- every year, which is impossible with modern physiology -- but maybe not with post-modern physiology.

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This is addressed in the question and, I believe, ruled out by observations in the movie. –  Flimzy Jan 23 at 22:27

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