Andrew Niccol is the master of dystopia — he wrote The Truman Show and directed Gattaca. His latest dystopian film, Now, stars Amanda Seyfried and Justin Timberlake. We've read a huge chunk of the juicy, twisty script. Spoilers ahead.
Just like with the screenplay for Rian Johnson's Looper last week, we got hold of some casting pages from Niccol's movie, which is filming now. This time around, though, there were 91 freaking script pages, or enough to get a really good sense of what the film is like. The same caveats apply as last time: We're pretty sure it's genuine, but not 100 percent sure. We haven't read the entire script. The script may have changed before, and during, filming. (Edited to add: and some of the pages are actually two different versions of the same scene, from different script drafts.)
That said, this definitely feels like an Andrew Niccol script — it's very dark and dystopian, and fairly contrived. It feels more like a thought experiment than a believable world that people would actually live in, and in many ways it's a metaphor for the world we live in now.
So in the future of Now (formerly titled I'm.Mortal) everybody has a clock in their left wrist. It doesn't start counting until you reach maturity, and then you start out with a year. The clock counts down how many years, days, hours and seconds you have to live, and as long as you keep adding time to it, you can live forever. Most people in this world only have a day to live at any given time, and have to keep scrambling to add more time to their wrists before it runs out. The super rich can have thousands, or even over a million, years left to live. You can give time to someone else by putting your wrist under theirs and transferring it — the person who's taking time away from the other person has "the upper hand."
And everything in this dystopian future is based on time instead of money. You can pay for food, drinks, hotel rooms and transportation by giving up minutes or hours of your life. There are roving gangs of Minutemen who grab people and steal all their hours, leaving them with just minutes to live. (There's absolutely no defense against someone coming and getting "the upper hand" on you, draining your time.) The cops are called the Timekeepers, because they prevent people from stealing time.
Will, our main character (played by Timberlake) is a hard-working guy living in the ghetto, who believes in the system and works hard despite all the ways the man screws him over. He lives with his mom, Rachel (Olivia Wilde), who's sixty but also looks about twenty-five years old. When we first meet the two of them, neither of them has more than a day to live, so they have to scramble to add to their wrist clocks — which is the way things always go. And you start to notice that inflation is everywhere. Something that cost two minutes yesterday now costs three. The cost of a bus ride across town has gone from one hour to two, almost overnight. Meanwhile, the bosses at Will's job dock his pay for failing to meet some illusory quota.
You start to realize that the whole system is designed to make people run out of time, so that the population doesn't get too big. As one rich character says a few times, "For a few to be immortal, many must die." The inflation is part of the "profit and loss" system, which is designed to make poor people use up as much time as possible, and that time winds up in the pockets of the mega-rich, who already have more than they need.
At the same time, the poor people like Will, who never know if they're going to live another day, really live their lives. And the rich, who have thousands of years left (unless they are assaulted or robbed) are cautious and don't really live at all. As one poor character in the ghetto says to Sylvia, the rich heiress played by Amanda Seyfried, "Here, there's dancing before dying."
And the good thing about Will is that he's a genuinely engaging protagonist — even with less than a day to live, he's always generous to others — early on, we see him giving some of his precious remaining moments to a homeless guy. Will isn't one of those protagonists who starts out selfish and then learns to care about others — he starts out altruistic, becomes a bit more selfish once he realizes how messed up his world is, and then soon becomes even more altruistic than he was at the beginning. He's someone who cares about others and wants to make a difference — and he's a badass, which also doesn't hurt at all.
And here's where this gets a bit more spoilery — consider yourself warned!
So Will is drinking in his local bar when a rich guy, Henry, shows up, with over a hundred years left on his clock. Henry is already in his 90s, although he doesn't look it of course. And a group of Minutemen are converging on Henry, looking to steal his massively rich bounty of time. Will decides he can't just sit by and watch the Minutemen drain Henry's time away, so he helps Henry get away from the Minutemen and hides the wealthy entrepreneur — who reveals that he actually wants to die, he's tired of living after so long. And Henry explains to Will how things really work:
HENRY: Everybody can't live forever. Where would we put them? (He regards his own body clock.) We all start with equal time, but not all time is equal.... Why do you think taxes and prices go up the same day in the ghetto? The cost of living keeps rising to make sure people keep dying. How else can there be men with a million years while most live day to day? But the truth is, there's more than enough for everyone to have a long life. No one has to die before their time.
Will says that if he had a hundred years to live, he wouldn't waste it — he'd start living and stop watching the clock. But he doesn't want any of Henry's time, because he wants to earn what he gets. But when Will falls asleep, Henry transfers all of his time to Will, except a few minutes. Then Henry wanders off to die.
Unfortunately, the Timekeepers think that Will killed Henry for his time. Meanwhile, Will's mother, Rachel, has only 90 minutes to live — and the cost of a bus ride across time to where Will is has gone up to two hours. So Rachel "times out," dying in Will's arms. And after Will buries his mother, he decides to skip town — to go to Eternalia, where the super-rich live.
Once in Eternalia, Will checks into a fancy hotel room and tries to wash the ghetto off him. He goes to a high-stakes poker game, where he plays against Philippe, a millionaire industrialist. Will bets everything he's got, down to a few seconds, that his hand is better than Philippes — and wins. And even though Will only has a scant two seconds left to live, he still takes his time collecting his earnings, because he's a cool customer. Philippe believes in Darwinism — so much so, that later on we find out the combination to his safe is Darwin's birthday. And in a counterpoint to Henry's speech about the way things are, Philippe explains:
Of course, some think what we have is unfair... but isn't this just the next logical step in our evolution, and hasn't evolution always been unfair? It's always been survival of the fittest. This is merely Darwinian capitalism. Natural selection.
Philippe's daughter is Sylvia (played by Amanda Seyfried), who feels stifled and suffocated by her dad's protectiveness — she's a bird in a gilded cage. So of course she winds up busting out with Will — first unwillingly, as his hostage, and later as his partner in crime. They end up going on a robbing spree, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. And even though, through a series of mishaps, Will and Sylvia often find themselves with less than an hour to live, Sylvia learns to live on the edge and enjoy not knowing if she's going to be alive in an hour.
But does stealing from the rich and giving to the poor really accomplish anything? As soon as the per-capita GDP of the ghetto goes above 24 hours to live, the "profit and loss" index compensates — inflation cranks into high gear, and everything costs twice what it did an hour ago. The system always finds a way to make sure that people don't live too long. So Will and Sylvia are forced to think bigger and come up with an even bigger score — one that brings her closer to home once again. The action gets a lot crazier, and Will and Sylvia both get more and more daring.
I don't want to give away too much of what happens in the second half of the movie — there are a lot of really exciting set pieces, including some parkour, some car chases, some daring robberies, some life-or-death arm-wrestling, and a bit where Will and Sylvia drive an armored truck into a sleazy pawnbroker's. The movie isn't all just people lecturing each other about the inequities of late-stage capitalism, by any means — Will and Sylvia have what seems like it'll be a fun, zingy relationship with lots of hiding out in cheap motels, sex, guitar-playing, and preying on the social class that Sylvia used to belong to. It seems like it'll make for a fun crime thriller, with a lot of splashy action and style.
All in all, reading a huge chunk of the script left me even more excited to see the finished product. It's been way too long since Niccol's last film, Lord of War, and if the characters are as engaging on the screen as they are on the page, this could be a return to Truman Show form for Niccol.