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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. 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 infused 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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4 Answers

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
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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
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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
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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
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