Scripture tells us that love is patient, love is kind. It tells us that love does not envy, it does not boast. It tells us that love forgives and forgets wrongs. Love, like those who have it for one another, protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres. So if love is gracious and patient, consider time its mortal enemy, its vicious cousin who maintains a genuine refusal to be patient, to be kind, to be willing to withhold your requests for forgiveness. Instead, time forces you to be those things. Without anything in return — sometimes, at least — it forces your hand to be kind and patient, and to accept all pain it levies your way. Of the concept of time, Psalms reads, “Man is like a mere breath; His days are like a passing shadow.”
I mention this not because I’m particularly nor devoutly religious, but because I know that Fox Rich is. I know, having spent 81 minutes with her as her family’s story unfolds in Garrett Bradley‘s Time that she lives and dies by her faith (heavy emphasis on “lives”). Her full name is Sibil Fox Richardson; that’s how she identifies herself to a stranger over the phone, but never to a friend. To those familiar, she’s Fox Rich. She’s as ferocious a woman as I’ve ever seen share their story on film, the kind whose sermon could stir a satanist and whose fury could staff an army. At the same time, she’s perhaps the most tender, too. She’s a lioness, one who accesses her defensive and loving instincts in equal measure.
If you must, you could call her the film’s star, the focal point in a story about love and loss; Time centers in immediately — through a compelling tandem of Bradley’s footage and Fox’s own camcorder archives that stretch back two decades — on Fox’s fight to free her husband, Rob G. Rich, who has been incarcerated for the entirety of those two decades. That’s what led Fox to begin making these video diaries- vlogs before vlogs, if you will. She began filming messages and moments daily so that Rob could one day watch them. So that one day, if or when he was freed, he could watch his children grow up. 18 years, abridged into a collection of staticky moments, waiting for Rob to eventually see on a day that is far from guaranteed.
Everything began in September, 1997. That’s when the high school sweethearts of Fox and Rob ventured to start a business together, a hip-hop apparel shop in Northwest Louisiana. They did so more on a prayer than on a wing, and when a crucial investor pulled out at the 11th hour, they were lost. “Desperate people do desperate things,” Fox says in a voice-over almost too soothing and reassuring for the specific tale it accompanies. She then describes the events that led to the arrest of her and Rob. He and his younger cousin robbed a credit union, while Fox waited in the car to fulfill her duty as the getaway driver. They got out with no money, only one-way tickets to prison. She was pregnant; she gave birth to twins, Freedom and Justus, and then went to jail. Of a 19-year sentence, Fox — a first-time offender — served three. Upon the beginning of Bradley’s film, Rob (also a first-time offender) has spent close to 20 years of a 60-year sentence behind bars.
What ensues is a miraculous piece of memory-blending and present-day filmmaking that results in a revelation, both in terms of cinematic achievement and general narrative storytelling. Even such a distinction — “general,” I type, wincing — is an insult to the tale of Fox Rich and her boys, Rob included. The only thing remotely general about Time is its all-too-familiar portrait of a broken justice system that insists upon punishing the good guy who made a mistake over the predominantly white incels whose mass shooting rampages are met with more of an increase in seminars on troubled youth than swift and strict legal action.
But calling the portrait all-too-familiar shouldn’t be seen as a detriment to the film behind it. Bradley’s gentle direction and Gabriel Rhodes’ editorial sense (work that feels close to monumental at first blush and only grows in its potency with time) expertly juxtapose the law’s decrepitude state of being and Fox’s poise and grace while dealing with their, well, bullshit. “No, we don’t have anything,” a secretary rushes to tell Fox as it relates to her husband’s freedom, one of the too many times that same conversation will be had within an hour and twenty minutes. Fox’s response always remains the same: “Alrighty, thank you so much,” said with a level of patience that most mortals hardly bother to access upon exiting a doctor’s office after a routine check-up. She can’t help but qualify some inquiries with “if it’s not asking too much,” as though her husband’s freedom must be gently broached like someone asking a cashier to please put the ice cream in a different bag than the bagels.
Fox is a saint, evidently, one who breathes and prays more than she shouts and slams. Though at one pivotal moment in the film, when hope seems lost entirely and she does finally break for the lone time, something flips. It’s as if any walls between the subject and viewer have shattered. Suddenly, she’s not just asking the tired, uninterested office workers to care about her husband and, therefore, her life; she’s telling us to see her. To witness what she’s done, what she’s willing to do, and what she’ll continue to do until the war is won.
All the while, as Fox fights day in and day out for Rob’s release, the couple’s twins become men. Fox is a mother of six, though the choice by Bradley to focus just a bit more on Freedom and Justus, 18 during filming, is undoubtedly tactful. “They have absolutely no idea what it means to have a father in the house… what fathers even do,” Fox’s laments to the camera. The camera, I imagine, nods figuratively here, and then returns to lending a watchful eye to the development of these two young men. Both veer in differing directions, but neither is necessarily more or less impressive than the other. The same goes for all of Fox’s children, mirror images of their mother in one way or another. In all likelihood, they have a bit of their father in them, too. Sadly, a few of them don’t know that.
Any film is somewhat bound by its narrative progression, but perhaps never before has a film been so in lockstep with the very idea of narrative progression. In Time, time as a concept is just as prevalent a theme as the very real, physical toll it can take on a person as it passes. Fox is radiant all the way through, but you’ll notice scars in the present-day moments that weren’t there in the VCR-footage. Some of that comes with age, the most comprehensible way in which we measure time passing. Some of it, meanwhile, comes when you think a bit too much about what all of that time means. What the hugs someone didn’t get to give or receive will represent a decade from now; what the tears shed that were missed meant when they were cried and what they still mean. Time is often complicated, and other times almost too straightforward. If there’s one thing we know, it’s that time is a cruel beast. But as Bradley’s film eventually comes to prove, not all that is once lost must remain lost.