Equilibrium – 2002
Yesterday afternoon I received a text message from my son recommending that I watch the film Equilibrium. Knowing that Benjamin has quite good taste in movies, especially those that can make one think, I knew I had to give this a look. I decided to test out my new internet connection and stream it from Amazon. It is free for streaming there to Prime members.
So, how would it be to live in a world where human emotions have been deemed illegal? People are not allowed to feel and it is the law of the land. Any objects that are not necessary to existence are banned and if you are caught having feelings, you are arrested and summarily sentenced to death by incineration, and your possessions are also destroyed by fire. Director Kurt Wimmer explores this scenario in this dystopian film set in the state of Librium in the not too distant future.
Following World War III, it is determined that future wars and crimes can be eliminated by purging human emotions. A drug called Prozium is invented that inhibits people from feeling. Everyone is required to dose themselves at regular intervals by the Tetragrammaton council headed by a person identified as Father. No one is allowed to meet Father in person, but his presence is everywhere through the use of video screens that constantly run images of him preaching doctrine. There also exists a resistance movement of Sense Offenders, people who choose not to take Prozium and collect banned materials including works of art, books, recorded music, and generally any items that are colorful, or have the possibility of evoking an emotional response in humans. At the highest levels of law enforcement are the Grammaton Clerics who have been trained in the art of Gun Kata (a fictional martial art involving the use of fire arms) as well as how to spot possible sense offenders.
The film follows the exploits of John Preston (Christian Bale), a high ranking Cleric who is widowed because his wife was found to be an offender. He is left to raise two children.
After a raid, Preston notices that his partner picks up a book of poetry and puts it in his pocket instead of letting it be burned with the rest of the banned items found in the raid. Not long after, Preston discovers his partner reading the poems and executes him on the spot. Of course, as he under the influence of Prozium, he has no feeling about this and is soon after assigned a new partner, Andrew Brandt. Brandt is an ambitious Cleric in training who wants to pursue a rapid rise in he ranks.
One morning while getting ready for work, Preston knocks his first dose of Prozium off of his bathroom counter and the vial shatters on the floor. He intends to go and replace this vial and meet his partner for work at a building called Equilibrium. Brandt arrives early before Preston has a chance to get his dose.
Preston begins feeling for the first time in his life and he explores his feelings. On one raid, he discovers a recording of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and has an aesthetic reaction to the opening strains of the music, breaking down into tears. As Brandt observes Preston, he becomes suspicious as Preston has a increasingly difficult time maintaining an emotionless façade. Preston continues to have emotional responses to numerous stimuli. All the while, Brandt sees through Preston’s efforts to maintain his emotionless front, and sees his opportunity to advance.
Finally, Preston finds the leader of the resistance movement and decides that his life of mere existence is not desirable and goes on a quest to meet and kill Father.
I found this film excellent on so many levels and enjoyed it immensely.
First of all, I was impressed by the sets used. Filmed in locations around Germany, much of the film has an extremely desolate feeling about it; all of the building’s exterior and interior shots were roughly finished concrete, grey and intended not to evoke feelings. In the more finished apartments or hmes, there was again, a bland lack of accoutrements with just the essentials of existence in an emotionless landscape. The only place one finds any striking color is in the places where the raids take place where we find numerous objects of art from both high culture and pop culture. Along with the sets was the wardrobe used. While reminiscent of the costumes from Matrix, it is taken to the extreme in this case. Everyone is wearing clothing that looks cool, there are no colorful ties or any garments that make anyone stand out, except for those worn by the Clerics and the riot gear of the police. In this world, it is desirable that everyone be the same, blend in, and not call attention to themselves.
The fight scenes, while quite violent (the sole reason for the R rating) are well choreographed and exciting to watch. The Gun Kata, is based on the statistical probabilities that are instantly calculated by Clerics that imply that the positions of people in the fight allow the shooter to aim their weapons and avoid being hit at the same time. This is explained in the film through the use of a training video featuring the director himself. Clerics are also trained in the use of katana swords, but there aren’t many scenes in the film involving these weapons. Again, reminiscent of the fights in Matrix, this film’s battle scenes stand alone in their uniqueness.
The cast’s performances are well done, for the most part. Bale’s portrayal of John Preston is great. Through most of the film, he is required to put forth an emotionless front as he faces situations that would make any normal person cringe with disgust, or would make one feel the heights of pleasure. While we, the audience can see his struggle, for the most part, those that are observing him have no point of reference and he seems able to pull off his performance for their benefit. On the other hand, one drawback in the performances was that of co-star Taye Diggs as Brandt, but not because of actor’s fault. He was apparently written and directed to display quite a lot of emotion; he displays ambition and satisfaction in many places, and in some instances anger and fear. Also appearing was William Fitchner as the leader of the resistance, but his was only a small part.
The most appealing for me of this film was more a philosophical consideration. Would life without emotion be life, or would it just be existence? This question was brought up in the movie and got me thinking about all of the classes I took in college and while working on my master’s degree. Mostly in those courses we explored the questions of what is art and what kinds of value can be put on art, but we never explored what living would be like without art that intended to evoke an emotional response. Equilibrium explores not only the use of a drug to suppress the human emotional response to experiences, but it also explored the elimination of objects that might evoke emotions. One strong image in the film that was representative was at the beginning of the film when the original Mona Lisa was discovered in one cache of banned materials. After discovering that it was indeed the original painting, it was ordered destroyed by the attending Cleric. Not only does the Mona Lisa have aesthetic value, it also has a great deal of monetary value. I couldn’t imagine something like this happening. Everything we humans do has our emotion attached to it. We take great pride in our creations and try to make them as pleasing to the eye as we possibly can. I think, thankfully, that it would be impossible to do away with emotion, and in attempting to do so, it would cause more war than it would prevent.
At any rate, I enjoyed Equilibrium immensely and give it my highest recommendations for a film that will entertain, provoke thought, and even evoke emotion in the viewer.
Well, there it is…