Inside Time

by Jason Young, Director
National Film Board of Canada, Montreal, Canada, 2007
Video-DVD, 35 mins., col.
Sale/DVD: $ N/A
Distributor’s website: http://onf-nfb.gc.ca/.

Reviewed by Nameera Ahmed


’Inside Time’, a video essay treated in a minimalist style, takes us inside the mind of Stephen Reid, an ex-bank robber and notorious bandit with the ‘Stopwatch Gang’ now in jail with an 18 year sentence, while he contemplates the abstract notion of time. An extraordinary man, Reid has the strength and insight to contemplate and share with others consciously his own life while verbalizing it in front of the camera. It is humbling to think that a man who once was a lawbreaker could educate us about life. While watching the film ‘Inside Time,’ one is forced to listen to each and every word that is uttered by Reid, as if it were a little gem of wisdom: We are an enrapt audience. He speaks of our ancestors, the life of humans as primeval creatures thousands of years ago, and our connection with the primordial even today with a kind of timelessness in him that we almost envy.

“When we recollect our lives we recollect moments of our lives. Our reference points for our entire lives will be a moment” he contemplates. Even though he says he’s led a very exciting life, for some reason, those are not the memories that are strong with him. But the memories that so stay and keep recurring are the ones that are involuntary because of the kind of life he has lead. He gains more of our sympathy when we learn that he was sexually abused by an adult when he was a child. He says that particular man “stole something from me…he introduced me to drugs, he introduced me to things I should never know, he stole something from me and I was malformed.”

Throughout the film there are recurring images of a spider in a web, its silver thread shining against a black background, sometimes focussing in on a fly caught in it. These are woven in with images of children sitting in theme park rides, sometimes shown in close up, sometimes in slow motion. The use of close ups, symbolize scrutiny, and the analysis of Reid’s past life, which he offers us. The use of childhood imagery enforces his lost childhood and innocence when he ran away from home to live on streets and became a drug addict. The ferris wheel and children’s rides juxtaposed with the spider weaving its web imply a loss of the beauty of childhood and innocence that Reid has lost. “All understanding in life comes from retrospection — we seldom understand something as we’re passing through it,” he says. Even though one can feel how difficult it is for him to talk about it, he faces the camera bravely, speaking of his career as an addict, of life as “four-hour cycles” and the humans’ main interest to seek comfort and safety in everything that they do.

The ’Stopwatch Gang’ wove time so closely with what they did, that they could capture each second calculatedly. Reid says he never used a real stopwatch during his robberies even though they ended up with that name because he never needed one and had a much better one, given to him, he says, when he was born. Time was so close to him that, he says it “was something that you could bite, it was there…it was a part of me”. The connection between time and danger became strong for him, for he had to inhabit it, as he could feel its presence; it was so real. He talks of time, “This most precious commodity that we own…the one thing that we could actually control, and it’s the one thing that we don’t sit in, or stay aware of, or use properly.” While he was in prison, he felt the ‘freedom’ to do important things. He felt time and retrospection was something no one could take away from him.

“The key to life is, not so much cycles, but spirals.” “It’s an ironic thing that being sent to prison, having that choice made for you, …actually puts you in a place of contemplation and you break free of the time”. “All understanding of life comes”, he says, “from retrospection–we seldom understand something as we’re passing through it.” Ultimately Reid wrote a book while in prison, and moving away from what had happened in the past, “by engaging my mind just with this paper in front of me…I was actually able to sit fully in my own present, in my own ‘now.’”

The music in the film complements the concept of time literally by emulating the ticking of a watch. Sometimes the ticking sounds are irregular, like a watch taken apart, and other sounds are added and infused to make a slow, percussion-based soundscape blended with xylophone sounds to emulate the passing of time.

“Desire is the cause of all suffering … because desire takes you out of your time, and puts you into the moment of what it is you desire”, Reid says, as he imparts knowledge from his experience like the great Buddha himself, while we absorb and learn.

Last Updated 1 August, 2009

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