Over the holidays at my brother’s house I came across a DVD that screamed: “FORGET ‘THE MATRIX’! This Movie Will Blow You Away!”
Then I see a picture of Christian Bale in a Matrixesque pose: dark background, black leather, sunglasses. He’s got a gun in each hand. He’s the center shot of the DVD, while his weapons are aimed in opposite directions. He’s the physical balance between the opposing guns. Thus is the set up for Equilibrium, a 2002 movie I didn’t even know existed.
World War III has devastated civilization sometime in the early 21st Century. The world cannot handle a “fourth” war. A totalitarian dystopia arises in which the ability to “feel” is suppressed. A drug is injected into the neck which eradicates all emotional highs or lows, keeping everyone in an unfeeling state of equilibrium.
The movie takes this emotionless existence and clones the totalitarian feel of 1984. Instead of Big Brother on every video screen, there is “Father” whose face is broadcast everywhere, even on floating blimps. Instead of Oceania, there is Libria. Instead of thought crimes, there are sense offenses. Instead of the Party, there is the Tetragrammaton Council. And instead of the thought police to enforce the will of Big Brother, there are the Grammaton Clerics to enforce conformity.
Even the burning of books in Fahrenheit 451 is mimicked. The clerics burn anything that elicits feelings. Music, poems, paintings. The movie begins with “sense offenders” hiding artwork. The clerics come and kill these resistors.
I did think this plot had some potential, especially when cleric Errol Partridge (Sean Bean) reads Yeats to his partner, John Preston (Christian Bale). Errol is then shot by John for sense offense. It is Errol, after all, who doesn’t use his gun against the sense offenders. He stands by as John orders the Mona Lisa “authenticated” and then burned.
It is an interesting mix of science fiction classics, but the rest of the movie is a complete disappointment. I sense -- I feel -- that this movie turns into a cheap knock off blend of The Matrix (the action sequences are not as visually stunning), 1984 (the characters are not developed), and Fahrenheit 451 (John wants to save a puppy rather than books like his partner). Yet Equilibrium’s greatest failing is not addressing the substance of its own plot.
From the beginning I wanted this movie to confront sex, but it’s too busy burning and shooting to inform the viewer of this topic. One is left to wonder: isn’t sex a sense offense since it’s the ultimate act of feeling? Wouldn’t a drug that suppresses emotions serve to also shut down the sex instinct?
In George Orwell’s 1984, Winston Smith is a thought criminal for his love affair with Julia. Big Brother, rather than the individual, controls the procreation of a Party member. In Libria I assume it’s a sense offense to fall in love since that’s a feeling. So how does a cleric like John Preston have a family with a wife, son, and daughter? Is it an assigned marriage? Who knows. The only background given about his wife is that she undergoes “combustion” for her sense crimes. John Preston is an emotionless single father. Really???
Even Star Trek’s Vulcan culture has an explanation for the continuance of its species. Spock suppresses his emotions with logic, but he experiences Pon Farr every seven years. His need to mate is so extreme that if he fails, he’ll die. But in Equilibrium we are expected to accept the ultimate absurdity - that an unfeeling cleric can procreate.
Sex and the emotions it induces is the product of our evolution. A story about suppressing all emotions and yet assuming sex is still possible is the product of a bad Equilibrium.
By Mark Schelske