There are so many glorious things wrong with the delightfully inept In Time that one barely knows where to begin. I suppose I should mention that one of the first things the main character articulates, via voice-over, is "It is what it is," which I've helpfully included the algebraic formula for, lest it come off as too complex:
A = A
This will clue you in as to the sort of film you're dealing with here, one that takes your valid question of "How did all this happen?" and answers with "It happened." Despite this, the initial plot points seem to hold promise, which makes it all the more tragic that when the grand finale rolls around the jarring lack of logic and ham-fisted attempts at an overarching metaphor eventually doom this project to nothing more than a clumsily executed preach-a-thon.
Justin Timberlake is Will Salas, pronounced "Solace," because naming him "Fred Goodguy" felt too on the nose. Will inhabits a world where everyone magically freezes at the age of 25 BUT (and isn't there always a rub to the "freezing in time" method?) you also only have a year to live from that point on, your clock starts when you are frozen. Menial labor gets you more time, but it's tough to keep up with the rent, buy coffee, and live the good life when you generally have less than 24 hours left on your ticker, both heart and clock, because when your time "runs out" an electric shock is sent to your heart and *poof* you are dead. Money has been replaced by time units; rich people simply have more time. It costs time to travel from city to city (or district to district as In Time refers to them), which has the natural effect of limiting inter-district travel. So the poor (or folks running out of time) tend to be cordoned off from the rich (guys and girls rocking 100 years left to live). Your remaining time is displayed on your arm, so that everyone in the audience can watch it count down. Time transfers between parties occur when two people's arms touch in a certain way. The rich are immortal. The poor are living SECOND TO SECOND, emphasis added by the film itself.
All of this is well and good. Olivia Wilde is Will's (Justin Timberlake) momma, only she too is frozen at 25 years and fully attractive, finally fulfilling the promise of Hollywood that we'd no longer have to look at anyone who wasn't a 9 or a 10 on the hot meter, and all in service of the plot no less. As Salas wakes up to open the film, his clock is running, and he has less than a day to live. This is everyone's existence in the ghetto, people die all the time, prices keep on going up, and no one can quite figure out why everything is so terrible. It's like the lyrics from that song by The National, "Bloodbuzz Ohio":
I still owe money to the money to the money I owe,
The floors are falling out from everybody I know.
You work to live, with no hope of upward social mobility. But again, we're not at the troublesome parts just yet, and the first 30 minutes do contain some semblance of a working narrative. The framework of one, at least. Then Will's district is visited by a tall handsome stranger who is carrying 100 years on his arm. 100 YEARS! With that kind of time, you could, well, keep on living! This stranger is immediately accosted by time thugs, but the dashing and debonair Will bails him out. Now it's just Will and the suicidal "100 YEARS!" guy, alone in an abandoned warehouse, which seems to be the primary architecture of the city. Flash-cut to what can only be deemed as "one of the most manipulative and pointless scenes of the year" wherein Will's mom is RUNNING OUT OF TIME. Can Will reach her IN TIME? Is Justin Timberlake poised to take over the "guy who runs fast on-screen" title from Tom Cruise? And who installs the little timers on each person's arm when they are born? All these questions and more will be sort of answered!
Boom, flash-cut to Will deciding he's had enough of the ghetto. He decides to leave, meet a rich girl, and either live the good life or overthrow the entire system. It's unclear which one he's actually attempting, as he firstly dresses very nicely and buys himself a great car, not exactly the stuff of warrior poets. Amanda Seyfried is that rich heiress -- her dad is sitting on eons, or whatever new slang people have invented for having a lot of something valuable, as money no longer exists as a concept. Some poker is played (Will is awesome at poker, y'all!) and a dance is had between the poor kid who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks and the well-off vixen who is looking for a little excitement in her life. While in Richy Richyville (the film calls it New Greenwich) Will begins to gain some clarity about how some people have all the time in the world while others are wasting away every second. The reason, according to the film, is that "Many must die so that some may live forever." I'd encourage you to try to attempt to unpack that statement as many times as I did over the course of the nearly two hours I watched this one for. At this point, I'd like to treat In Time as a hostile witness and question it thusly:
LL: Why must many die so that a few may live forever?
IT: Because we said so.
LL: But ... it doesn't really seem fair, does it?
IT: No, it doesn't.
LL: Well, why do the people about to die just take it?
IT: Because that's what the script tells them to do.
LL: OK, sure, but doesn't this just set up sort of a half-baked Robin Hood scenario?
IT: Ummmm ... yeah, I guess a little. But we've got Justin Timberlake in this one. You love him on SNL, right?
LL: I do, but please, let me ask the questions here. I guess I just don't get why everything is so one-note. Your bad guys just hoard time because "the poor people wouldn't know what to do with it" and the poor people just take it because they don't seem to have any awareness of the world around them. Wouldn't people with seconds to live try and rebel against the system?
IT: Yeah, but it's a metaphor, do you get it? We're saying that in this case time is money. As in, why are there these rich people in the world while all these other people are poor?
LL: OK, I'll admit that's an issue, but I'm not sure you begin to scrape the surface of why things are the way the they are. I mean, you don't tackle education, drugs, taxes, banks, short-term quarterly business practices...
IT: Well, no, we mostly have Justin Timberlake running around. We felt like that was our trump card.
LL: The prosecution rests.
As such, the general theme of In Time has some merit, but the execution comes off as a fifth grader's first poem ... which he's cleverly written into the shape of a question mark. In Time is the kid who has just read Grapes of Wrath and figures out that poverty is bad. But the "why" of the situation, why some people less fortunate, why a society would turn to this sort of caste system, why there would be limited "time" to go around isn't ever considered. Without that "why" firmly in place you've just got a bunch of people running around, making expository speeches, wasting everyone's time.