Movie Night once again and another Christian Bale film. Am I warming up to him? I’ve already said that I appreciate him as an actor but if I had to sit down and get to know him as a person… I’m pretty sure I’d be handed a restraining order. Anyway. Equilibrium. I didn’t know a lot about this film and whilst it’s not one of Bale’s finer performances, I don’t think it’s all his fault.
On the outside, it looks like an interesting concept for a film. It’s about a dystopian future where there was a third world war and after society has rebuilt, they think that emotions are the cause of all the suffering in the world so anything that causes emotions is illegal. Christian Bale’s character, John Preston, is an enforcer (or ‘Cleric’) who goes around and confiscates anything that causes people to feel emotions such as paintings, music and books. Prescott has two children and his wife was incinerated for being a ‘sense offender’ which is so close to ‘sex offender’ that it requires a double take which is what happened when I was watching.
Anyway, citizens of the massive city of Libria have to take a drug called ‘Prozium’ which stops them from feeling emotions. To not do so is a criminal offence. One day, Preston stops taking his Prozium and begins to experience feelings and emotions. Soon, he’s being hunted by his own colleagues and so joins up with an underground resistance movement to overthrow the government and allow the residents of Libria to feel and express emotions.
The big question starting out and something that the film has trouble with is the definition of ‘emotion’ and how far that definition has to go before it’s considered ‘illegal’.
To show that the enforcers who are played in the first few scenes by Christian Bale and Sean Bean don’t feel emotions, they have them play I very ‘wooden’. I could make many jokes but I don’t think these guys are ‘wooden’ actors. Having said that though, when Prescott starts to feel emotions, I’m not seeing a lot of that.
This film’s definition of emotion seems to be ‘sadness’ with a lot of crying… not anger. There’s a lot of that. There’s a point where Taye Diggs’s character smiles. Is that not displaying emotion? One would assume that if every one lacked emotion then they would all be carbon copies of each other. With no music, paintings, movies or literature, no one has any hobbies or interests. Except fighting which is more often than not emotionally driven.
I suppose I should mention the ‘action’ part of this action film and I can’t help but feel that Equilibrium is wearing its ‘Matrix’ influence on its sleeve. First, Preston looks like Neo minus the glasses, he wears a long black coat and duel wields two massive 50. Caliber guns.
I’m also getting a strong ‘Nazi’ vibe from the Clerics. They lead squads of armed officers through ruined streets, invade people’s homes and arrest them for possessing material that they disagree with. For fucks sake, people are burned alive in an oven. If that’s not ‘Nazi-esque’, I don’t know what is.
But then again, that’s the point. When Preston begins to feel emotions, he realises that he’s a part of an oppressive regime that’s full of murdering dicks.
The bit with the dogs was hard to watch. When the Dick-Squad come across a kennel full of dogs, they think it’s a great idea to kill all the dogs. One of the dogs escapes and Preston catches it. Upon being told to hand over the puppy so it can be killed, Preston gets out of the situation by claiming the dog needs to be quarantined. Later on, Preston tries to let the dog go but is caught by a Dick-Squad and so kills them all when they realise that he can feel emotions.
And here is where the whole ‘concept’ thing starts to break down. It’s perfectly fine to build a narrative around people not feeling emotions. I’m all on board with that. BUT. When you have a protagonist who has presumably never felt emotions before start murdering his own colleagues by the dozens with no effort, hesitation or remorse, that’s when I have to throw up a big fat question mark.
What effect does the lack of emotions have on the conscience? Do these people even have consciences? If they’re futuristic Nazis, then probably not. My point is, he’s getting all teary eyed about these guys killing dogs but doesn’t seem to have a problem with killing humans in droves. But not the people who he’s raiding. He doesn’t kill those. There’s a moment where Preston is assisting a raid to keep up the appearance that he’s still emotionless and he comes across a bunch of ‘sense-offenders’. Since he can’t kill them because of his emotions, he leads them away but he’s caught by a Dick-Squad and so kills all of the Dick-Squad so the other guys can escape. Does that make sense?
Also, I have a pretty big issue with the ‘emotions cause war’ thing. The only emotion that causes war is anger and there’s still a lot of anger hanging around. The ultimate goal is no more world wars so presumably, they want peace. And they want to achieve that is extreme violence with a weird type of gun-wielding martial arts that all the Clerics are trained in so they can achieve maximum murder potential. I suppose once you’ve killed everyone you disagree with and the only people left are the ones that agree with you, then I suppose there would be peace… in a really fucked up way.
His kids are weird as well. Especially his son, Robbie (Matthew Harbour). Robbie is on his way to becoming like his father and is a stickler for the rules, just like his daddy. But towards the end, Preston’s residence is about to be raided and he’s been stocking up all the vials of ‘Prozium’ behind his bathroom mirror like a fool. Why he couldn’t dispose of them, I don’t know. When he goes to dispose of the vials, he sees that this son has found them and at that moment, I thought the little shit would dob him in. However, he tells his father that he and his sister have not been taking their Prozium for a long time. Huh? How did Preston not notice? Given that his wife and their mother was executed for being a ‘sense-offender’ and not taking her Prozium, wouldn’t he want to make sure that didn’t happen to his children? Or would that mean feeling an emotion?
Why is there a love interest?
The character, Mary, is played by Emily Watson, the lady from ‘Chernobyl’ and she’s a citizen of Libria who stopped taking her Prozium. She’s also a collector of ‘emotional content’ and so she’s arrested then interrogated by Preston. It doesn’t end up being a romantic relationship but the two have ‘moments’ and watching her execution makes him cry like a bitch and leads to his own arrest at the hands of his new partner, Brandt (Taye Diggs).
What can I say about the ending?
There’s a bit of a Shyamalan twist as it looks like Preston framed Brandt for his crimes of emotion but then it turns out to not be the case but it was all a plot to assist the Resistance group to come in and destroy the factories that produce Prozium so there won’t be any for the Librian citizens and they will start to feel emotions. And also, there was something about bringing down the government who we didn’t see. Or barely saw. I don’t remember them.
With a budget of $20 Million, ‘Equilibrium’ was released on December 6th, 2002 and made a pitiful $5.3 Million at the box office. Wow. That’s pretty bad.
I don’t think the idea was properly thought out. The definition of ‘emotion’ has been limited to what the film wants it to mean without realizing the danger of double standards. I’m either way about whether or not a score of 33 on Metacritic is too harsh. I feel like it had a good idea but making it an action movie turned it into a flawed concept.
As for Christian Bale, who knows why he took this role. It doesn’t seem like something that he would do. I wasn’t exactly blown away by his performance but honestly, I think don’t think he was given the best material to work with. He sometimes falls into the habit of taking roles that don’t make the most of his acting abilities.
Batman was one. John Connor was another. We all know how I feel about that.
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