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.

  • Just off the top of my head, you could farm time by making sure to have a load of children... Commented Jan 24, 2015 at 0:28
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    @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
    Commented Jan 24, 2015 at 0:35
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    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
    Commented Jan 24, 2015 at 0:39
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    Even if you account for multiple births, you won't increase it much. Unless of course the numbers are artificially inflated. I still think that guess is too far fetched to be realistic. I highly doubt the movie makers had huge baby farms and sex slaves in mind when they built their economic system.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Jan 24, 2015 at 0:41
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit: Even if you're right, that doesn't answer the question, which is not "What's the most ridiculous way someone might be able to game the system?" I'm asking for an actual plot explanation.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Jan 24, 2015 at 1:00

11 Answers 11


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
    Commented Nov 12, 2011 at 11:42
  • BTW, interesting analysis...
    – Flimzy
    Commented Nov 12, 2011 at 11:44
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    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 :( Commented Nov 12, 2011 at 13:23
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    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
    Commented Jul 16, 2012 at 12:39
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    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
    Commented Jan 3, 2013 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
    Commented Nov 12, 2011 at 22:46
  • @Flimzy see the edited answer
    – user56
    Commented Nov 21, 2011 at 20:58
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    @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
    Commented Nov 17, 2012 at 10:56
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    This isn't at all supported by anything in the movie, it's idle conjecture. Commented Jan 3, 2013 at 22:09
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    Exactly! The end of life is built into the genome— it isn't actual units of the fourth dimension.
    – user30472
    Commented May 10, 2015 at 3:13

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.

  • So your answer is essentially that time = some power source, possibly electrical, so time comes from converting power into time?
    – Flimzy
    Commented Jan 3, 2013 at 7:07
  • @Flimzy That's how it looked to me, especially with the bulky battery packs. Commented Jan 3, 2013 at 22:07

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
    Commented Oct 31, 2014 at 13:46
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    @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. Commented Oct 31, 2014 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
    Commented Oct 31, 2014 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. Commented Oct 31, 2014 at 14:08

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.


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.

  • 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
    Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 21:55

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.

As a real-world example, US currency used to be based on the amount of raw gold and silver held by America in Fort 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.


Some good answers here, but missing some critical points, so I'll add my own answer.

First of all, when you think about an economy and a currency, the question is, why does the currency have value? Our currency used to be gold-backed. Now it's basically valuable because (a) the gov't says people must accept it in payment of debts, and (b) you can pay your taxes with it. Still, the central bank's job is to make sure to match the money supply to the value of real physical wealth in the country, but increase it by around 2% per year inflation (I won't get into the reasons for that). The gov't and central bank have some quite complicated ways of managing the money supply, the simplest way being to print or destroy money, but there is also the money multiplier effect of banks to take into account.

In this movie, the currency has value because you have a device implanted in your arm that will kill you if you run out.

Also, it naturally drains down at one second per second times the population (over 25). The central bank can just keep increasing the virtual time at the same rate, since it's all just data being moved around. Some of this is created by "gifting" the 1 year to each 25-year-old. The rest has to be added, typically through debt, but in this movie I think the government just creates it. That's how the government gets money instead of taxes. They create "time" and give it to you for working, which allows you to live. It's absolute slavery, and very evil.

Note that you can also pay rent and buy food, etc., with time, so the central bank also needs to add time to circulation to match the growing wealth of the country, or else you get crazy inflation or deflation. Note that they show a scene in the movie where prices suddenly inflate. That typically means either a whole bunch of wealth was destroyed, or a whole bunch of money was created.

In fact, in the scene just before, thugs looted a bank and stole time. You would think this would add more time to the money supply, but it's questionable. In the bank, it's subject to the money multiplier because they can loan it out, so taking it out of the bank and putting it in your "pocket" actually reduces the money supply. In the movie, the government is seen raising prices as a punishment, so I guess this means it's a government controlled market, not a free market for these goods. It does kind of make sense that if the amount of goods for sale (coffee, etc.) is fixed and you dumped a whole bunch of cash on the local population, you'd expect prices to rise in the short term. Across the whole economy, I don't think that's the case. You'd see a slow-down in spending on capital items like cars/houses because the bank would reduce loans.


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

  • This doesn't answer the question.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Oct 31, 2014 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. Commented Nov 2, 2014 at 18:30
  • Your answer doesn't say that, though. And "he" is me.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Nov 3, 2014 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 Commented Nov 3, 2014 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
    Commented Nov 3, 2014 at 12:48

Here's the only valid explanation: At the time in history where immortality became real and overpopulation had to be avoided, those clocks were introduced. All the existing money in the world was turned into time: Authorities, banks, governments, people like you and me - everyone gave their money and non-physical assets from their bank accounts, their pockets and their piggy banks to the government who turned it into time. At that point, people just had as much time as they had money before. If they were younger than 25 at that time, their time was saved in their accounts, at 25 one year was transferred automatically to their bodies and after a few decades, the system as seen in the movie was established. Money, however, does not expire second by second while the time on your clock does.

So, each second you lose on your clock will add back to the governmental money pool. You lose a second, the country's reserves gain a second. When you die prematurely (getting shot, car accident, other), all your remaining time will be sent to the country's reserves or your heirs. The display on your dead body's arm, however, still reads your actual time. This is for the coroner or eye-witnesses of your death to witness how much time you had left so your dependants, children, other heirs can claim what you leave them. When Fortis shoots that one man from behind, he says "what a waste". Not because the time is lost but it is sent to the bank account of the man, waiting to be forwarded to heirs or - if the dead guy has no family - sent to the government reserves, but is out of reach for Fortis. The country's reserves are being used to give one year to every newborn child.

So this is a closed system where no time can be won or lost. It is just transferred. The amount still accords to the amount of money around in the country at the time when money was turned into life-time after immortality was invented. In the early days, some people surely refused to get their children "clocked" but since you are connected to the system via your clock all the time, every pregnancy will be reported automatically. Not only to make sure there are no secret children without clocks but also to know when to sustain the life of a pregnant woman with zero time until she gives birth in order to avoid the death of two people since the baby still is entitled to its one year and is not to be blamed for its mother letting her time run out.

How do people pay before they turn 25? They have accounts where they store the time given by their parents and relatives as allowance or on their birthdays just like kids today get money. They don't have a clock so bullies can't kill them by stealing their time on the school yard during recess. When children/teenagers want to go to the ice cream parlor, a restaurant or a bar, they pay with a credit card connected to their time bank account. However, if their bank account reaches zero, they will not die, they simply will not be able to buy stuff anymore. The one year they get at 25 remains unaffected because it will be sent to them at 25 and directly to their body.

I guess card payment is still possible after 25, it is just not shown in the movie because it is not that important for viewers to know. The people in Dayton only are so poor that they carry all their time with them. Makes sense to store most of your time in a bank account, so robbers aren't encouraged by reading your clock.

  • Welcome to the site. This is virtually impossible to read - can you please insert some line breaks and paragraphs for readability?
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 14:57
  • Added some line breaks at random - feel free to edit and improve it.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 14:59
  • Looks good to me now, thank you. I hadn't planned to write that much, hence the lack of formatting, sorry.
    – CFS
    Commented Jan 27, 2016 at 15:49

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.

  • This is addressed in the question and, I believe, ruled out by observations in the movie.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 22:27

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