Film/TV » Film Features

Feel the Future

Equilibrium may not be great, but it tries.



Welcome to Libria: your friendly, utopian megalopolis. The flag is a red background with a white circle at the center and a German cross in the middle. (Sound familiar? If that cross were just bent a bit it might look just like a swastika.) The spiritual leader is an omnipresent television face called the Father (you know, like Der Fuhrer? Hitler?). Emotion is outlawed and enforced by the daily self-administration of the stabilizer Prozium. (Sound familiar? Can you think of another contemporary drug that begins with "proz"? Get it?) You see, after World War III, surviving governments decided that emotion, not money, was the root of all evil and that the only way to preserve the human race is to be rid of all feelings -- and to be rid of all feelers.

Metaphors and parallels run a bit rampant. This is not your father's 1984. Equilibrium stakes an immediate claim as a cross between The Matrix (with its fancy, scattered camerawork, blending of martial arts and savage gunplay, and dark, sleek, severe wardrobe) and Gattaca (with some of its retro interior design and aspirations toward "importance" in its futuristic cautioning). Its antihero, played by sometimes coolish actor Christian Bale, is John Preston -- a high-ranking "clerick" (read: supercop) whose job it is to seek out renegade "sense-offenders."

After an impressive killing spree, Preston and company come across a hidden stash, including a book of poetry by Yeats and a certain da Vinci portrait of a lady with a mysterious smile. Books and artwork are forbidden since art, music, and literature can inspire emotional responses. A scanner is aimed at the painting, which verifies its authenticity, and then Preston orders it burned immediately. This verification is unnecessary, since, real or not, it must be destroyed as contraband. This occurs only because everyone in the audience knows this painting and Preston's showdown with Mona Lisa is the lowest-common-denominator way of showing just how dedicated his cause is toward the eradication of feelings. So dedicated is he that when he discovers that his wavering partner has lifted the Yeats book, not for evidence but for light reading, he has no problem with blowing him away too.

But not everything is utopian in Utopia. Preston misses one of his daily Prozium doses and starts -- well, you know. Suddenly he starts noticing things, smelling the roses, as it were. He is moved by a sunrise, by the way a handrail feels on his fingers as he ascends a staircase, and, in one of the film's best scenes, by the sound of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony played over a phonograph he has discovered in another raid. He stands, overwhelmed, by sights of what is essentially kitsch -- memorabilia, an Eiffel Tower snowglobe paperweight, girlie calendars, even a ceramic-rooster butter plate -- as Beethoven swells in a crescendo. Preston cries. There is a profound banality to this, since this assortment of knickknacks is stuff we non-Librians take for granted. In Libria, there are freedom fighters willing to die for their preservation. It's really kind of beautiful but is immediately followed by a maudlin execution of puppies, and so the beauty fades quickly.

Preston's new partner, opportunist Clerick Brandt (Taye Diggs), suspects but says nothing until Preston's attempt to understand his new feelings leads him to the leader of the Resistance -- possibly ending all hope of freeing the world from emotional dictatorship and depersonalizing uniformity. Thus begins the obligatory Race Against Time.

There is a great deal of naive charm to Equilibrium, though its message is somewhat muddy in our current climate. War is actually okay? It's cool to kill people, so long as you have feeling behind it? There is a celebration of individuality suggested, but Preston's transformation is only into a more invested killing machine. And why does Taye Diggs smile all the time if nobody's supposed to be feeling anything? It's odd. But Equilibrium at least is trying to say something. Not as cool as The Matrix or as smart as the actually relevant Gattaca, Equilibrium reduces its preposterous (or are they? boo-hahaha!) issues to black-and-white, yes, but at least does so with some intelligence and style.

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