Movie Review : Equilibrium (2002)
Fifteen years ago, the movie business was quite different. Take Equilibrium for example, a dystopian film that was released in the long-forgotten era where dystopian films weren't cool. Believe it or not, the fall of society once wasn't a romantic metaphor for the passage to adulthood and if your ideas weren't revolutionary the way George Orwell's were, people just hung up on you as soon as you said "dystopian" if you weren't Terry Gilliam. Therefore, the humbly budgeted Equilibrium has largely been ignored and dismissed as one of Christian Bale's forgettable early efforts. Is it, though? Is Equilibrium a forgettable movie or was it just released at the wrong time? I've seen it for the first time this weekend an I believe I can answer that.
So, Equilibrium is the story of Cleric John Preston (Christian Bale), a government worker in charge of policing, judging and executing "sense offenders." People who "feel things" and encourage othes to do so, if you will. See, in the dystopian future where Equilibrium takes place, feelings have been outlawed because they were singled out at the cause of wars. Everyone is required to shoot themselves with inhibitors daily in order to keep their feelings under control. Art has subsequently been outlawed and a black market was created, which Preston is in charge of dismantling.But Preston has a loaded history with the government. His wife once was executed for "sense offense" and it has been hanging over his head ever since. And the day he accidentally breaks his vial of inhibitor drug, John Preston's rigorous and monochrome life starts spinning out of control.
This isn't a very original movie, but it's one that knows what it is and what it wants to do: market old ideas to new audiences. It's weird in hindsight to see a movie try and achieve that now that it's been done in a different way. Equilibrium sticks close to dystopian classics almost to a fault. Nothing against film quotations, but it borderlines on pastiche here. You'll find various concepts lifted from the likes of 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Brazil, Metropolis, Orson Welles' adaptation of The Trial and more. Equilibrium doesn't even try to conceal what it does because its only ambition is to give the ideas vehicled by these already existing movies a contemporary polish. The way writer and director Kurt Wimmer goes about marketing these ideas with sexy-looking clerics and genuinely enjoyable gun fu is adorably schlocky, but it could be interpreted by some as vapid and shallow. Equilibrium's depth is mostly borrowed and it will rub some people the wrong way.
If you push through Equilibrium's shameless pastiche of dystopian classics, there are more interesting and profound aspects to it. The Tetragrammaton, the tyrannical political party responsible for eradicating emotion, is a surprisingly convincing and realistic portrait of dictatorship. They're not just the bad guys who are oppressing everybody. There's actually a logic to what they do. They prioritize reason over emotion like it's socially encouraged to do so today, they've eliminated war through a coercive rule and they use language in a fascinating way in order to control people. In the society rules by the Tetragrammaton, government, religion, science and family have become the same things. Clerics are government employees, the president is referred to as "father" and they give speeches about emotion being a disease that needs eradication. They coopted every aspect of rationality and created a one size fits all answer with it. And THAT was cool. And somewhat realistic. It's definitely a variable that's unique to Equilibrium.
Equilibrium is somewhat of a style over substance movie, but I've quite enjoyed it nonetheless. It's a humbly-made, pleasant throwback to 1990s action/science-fiction films. It borrows a LOT of ideas from dystopian classics, but I believe writer and director Kurt Wimmer's intentions were pure. He wanted to bring these ideas into the cultural discourse again and used his movie as a vehicle. I do believe that Equilibrium deserved a better fate than it did. Sure, it doesn't have much to say for itself, but it throws a couple things out there and delivers a solid dystopian noir narrative which is always fun. It should be remembered at the last artifact of how dystopian movies were made in the pre-Hunger Games era. I wouldn't say it's a nuanced movie, but it's a nuanced portrait of the freedom vs tyranny trope that this genre of movie usually vehicles and it was kind of refreshing to watch.