Eqilibrium

Interesting sci-fi ideas with no place to go
★
☆☆☆
Released: 
2003
Director: 
Kurt Wimmer
Starring: 
Christian Bale, Emily Watson, Taye Diggs
The Setup: 
Put a history of sci-fi films in the blender, hit 'Puree'
Discussion: 

Equilibrium is the result of putting 1984, Brave New World, The Matrix, Logan’s Run, THX-1138 and Blade Runner in the cinematic blender and hitting “puree.” Bale plays a Cleric, kind of a policeman/killing machine who exists in a world where emotion has been outlawed. Instead, everyone takes “Prozium” [sounds like…?], a drug that suppresses mood. When Bale finds himself experiencing emotion, I mean true, genuine human emotion for God’s sake, he just can’t get enough.

Bale gives more than this film deserves, and does a nice job with a tricky part… he has to act as though he is experiencing emotion for the first time, which means doing things like staring at a sunrise with awe, not to mention sniffing flowers as though transported by their sweet simple aroma, which is hard to pull of convincingly. He also has to express the anxiety of trying to pass in an emotionless society constantly on the lookout for “sense offenders;” those who feel.

Which leads to one of the aspects of the movie I liked; that it takes time to include little set pieces that delineate the future society or Bale’s experiences. One of the most effective shows Bale, who hasn’t taken his prozium dose for a day, walking in a crowd and looking at the other people with a newfound curiosity. During this sequence the sound goes down to only include the sound of the crowd’s synchronized feet marching. There is a graceful moment as Bale feels a railing where a woman he was watching had just touched. There were also moments of well-handled exposition describing the future society, and I always like movies that stop everything to include a little set sequence.

The problem is that there’s too many ideas to fit into one little 107-minuite movie, especially when you need to cram a final battle and a triumphant destruction of the repressive society into there. This is one movie I thought they could have successfully used as the beginning of a trilogy, by just slowing it down and taking the time to explore a lot of the intriguing and convincing paranoia of the story, as well as the impact learning to feel has on Bale, and what he’s going to do about that. As it is, this is a film that proves the “First 2/3rds” rule, though in this case it’s really only the first third that’s interesting, as that’s where all the ideas and exposition about the future is. The second third is rather empty drawing-out of the drama, and the last third is the overblown/underrealized climax.

That second third becomes a problem, as you begin to feel like scenes are just being extended pointlessly, and not only that, but that you’ve seen the same scene before—in this movie. How many more times can we watch Bale marvel at the true emotion that he’s feeling, then have to conceal it and pretend that he’s still supporting the Party? How many times can we think that he’s finally been caught THIS time, only to have him wriggle out? And by the way, HOW FUCKING BLIND does the ruling party have to be not to see that Bale is a bonafide sense-offending whackathon? And how realistically brazen can Bale be, knowing what he knows about how sense offenders are treated? I was making deft use of my fast-forward button a lot during the middle. This film has the odd distinction of having too many ideas to deal with properly and yet using large portions of the film to senselessly repeat the same scenes again and again.

One thing you have to admire about this film is that it makes an honest attempt to create a new style of fighting, which is that the Clerics have been trained to anticipate the most common bullet trajectories and avoid them [though how standing in one place and not moving helps, I’m unclear on], and also where their adversaries most commonly are. This works as long as you don’t think about it too much, but even that begins to show strain when the government knows that Bale is a baddie, and is a trained killing machine, yet don’t bring out any equally-trained Clerics to fight him, just more bullet fodder.

Then, at the end, it turns out that Big Brother, er, I mean Father, is an ass-kicking future ninja in his own right. Can you imagine if you made it into the White House only to find that Bush and Rumsfeld have mad Kung Fu chops? Bale and Father engage in a unique brand of fighting with blazing guns in hand, which, the longer it lasts, begins to look like some new kind of aggressive combo vogueing.

Events grow more ridiculous toward the end, until all viewer interest is gone and you’re just waiting for it to end. But please note the shot of the cute puppy licking the girl’s hand at the end. I was wondering where they were going to insert the shot reassuring the audience that the adorable puppy we saw earlier was in fact NOT shot. You can kill all the people you want, but kill a puppy, that’s crossing the line. You’ve got to have some moral values.

In retrospect, I think the movie would have been stronger had it left Bale at the halfway point and started to follow the puppy, turning into “Beethoven’s Dystopian Adventure!”

Should you watch it: 

You could do worse, and this film has a lot of Internet fans, but I found it more tedious than amusing.