“For a few to be immortal, many must die.” That was one of the last sentences Henry Hamilton said to Will Salas before jumping off the ledge.
I recently watched an in-flight movie titled “In Time” ─ which features the above dialogue ─ and it wasn’t an intriguing movie just because former teen-pop sensation turned actor Justin Timberlake played the protagonist.
In a nutshell, the movie takes place in a post-apocalyptic dystopian era, where people stop physically aging at 25 due to a genetic mutation, one of the main elements of evolution.
Sounds rather utopic, right?
The flipside of eternal youth, however, is that people can only extend their mortality by working for time.
In “In Time,” currency ─ i.e. notes and coins ─ has been replaced with time units. When a person runs out of time, he or she instantly drops dead. Time is used to purchase food and other items that one needs for daily life.
Humans literally race against time, with the less fortunate earning merely in hours, whereas the wealthy have, and there’s no other way to phrase this, all the time in the world.
While the movie is set in the distant future, and the likelihood of such genetic mutation is rather farfetched, the metaphorical concept of “buying time”, or stalling, is a realistic one that often results in compounded consequences.
The idea or notion of time has been theorized in many different ways by scientists since the first methods of measurement were created and then studied.
Now I’m not a physicist; in fact, physics was the science subject I did not fare well in during high school. But a theory that rings a bell amongst even average Joes is Einstein’s theory of relativity, which in layman’s terms means that time and space are relative, not fixed or absolute, as Sir Isaac Newton theorized.
A crucial function of time ─ and one that is absolute ─ is setting boundaries and deadlines. Seconds, minutes, hours stimulate the need for action. If these time cues weren’t established, we would have no sense of awareness of the expiration of anything in our existence. The only realization would come when it is already too “late,” usually involving symptoms of self-destruction.
I’m not talking about the “best before date” on a carton of milk, but if you enjoy consuming your lactose in a sour lumpy form, and the unpleasant feeling in your stomach afterwards, then I applaud your courage.
I’m referring to how individual perception of time correlate with ones priorities.
Setting a deadline instantly heightens the sense of a task and its importance ─ be it submitting a research paper or stopping the mass killings of civilians.
For over one year, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s troops have been massacring people left, right and center. Assad defends it as an assault on terrorist groups who he also blames for the violence. Sanctions upon sanctions have been slapped on him and his country, but apparently the man’s as much as masochist as he is a sadist, dare I say. He clearly seems completely unperturbed at isolation (I suppose having ex-communist friends builds morale).
It honestly comes as no surprise to me ─ or the millions of people all over the globe ─ that the plan of U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan which was agreed to by Assad (for everyone else’s sake but his and his country’s) will turn out to be another failed attempt at threatening the leader.
This is a clear example of how warped Assad’s priorities or perception of time are. I’m not about to assume what his priorities should be, but as a leader, you’d think meeting people’s needs would be right up there after brushing your teeth and practicing your speeches in front of a mirror.
Leaders of the Arab Spring participating nations ─ save Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi who was rather “special” in his own way ─ deadlines were set and met. Assad, however, seems to be living in a realm that knows no time boundaries.
To return to the line in “In Time,” it seems that Assad has deluded himself into believing his immortality, not actual mortality but in terms of dealing with consequences. Because many, many people have died, continue to die, and will probably continue to die. I’m not trying to be a pessimist but in the case of Syria, I doubt a time limit itself will stop this man’s action. I fear instead the consequences will snowball into such magnitude that he will be pushed right off the ledge, rendering him a mere mortal after all.
(The writer is a journalist at Al Arabiya English and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)