My wife was away visiting the sick yesterday and I had the evening on my own. The demands of milking and feeding the animals mean that it is well nigh impossible for both of us to go away at the same time. It took negotiations, and the coordination of two groups of neighbours, to let us away overnight last year for our annual holiday (to a hotel over 10 miles away). As the sick relatives were closer by blood and marriage to my wife, it was felt best if she was to go to visit.
This left me on the sofa last night, searching for a film to watch. On these occasions I try and find a film that my spouse would not want to watch; it seems wrong to watch a film on my own that she might enjoy too. If I did, I’d probably not want to watch it again so she may never see it, and I’ll miss out on discussing the film, which is a large part of the pleasure of film viewing. She tends to be less keen on Science Fiction than I am so this is often a safe choice. A further factor at play in my choice, is that I tend not to want to buy a film, spending money is usually a joint activity, so I need to choose from the free-to-air channels or Amazon Prime. All of these factors combined lead me to settle down with a bag of popcorn and watch “Equilibrium”
The premise of the film is quite simple : after the devastation of a third world war it is agreed that the world and humanity can not take the risk of a fourth, it is recognised that emotions fuel the violence that drives wars and therefore society is constructed to ensure people do not experience emotions and feelings. To curb their emotions and help them avoid feelings (and thus committing “sense crimes“) the people take Prozium regularly, a name obviously chosen to allude to the current antidepressant (Fluoxetine, or Prozac). To police this, and to apprehend sense offenders, the state of Libria (This is the same reason chlordiazepoxide got the brand name Librium) have an organization of grammaton clerics who are trained in the art of Gun Kata. One of these clerics stops taking his Prozium and, after a convoluted set of twists and turns, ends up leading the resistance towards a finale of the individual overturning the authoritarian state.
The premise in interesting and the camera work, visual effects and story progression are all quiet satisfactory. There is a tendency to be heavy handed on the puns , the underground resistance literally live underground, in the “Nethers”, but the story line is engaging. The cast are able and there are some big names in here, (Christian Bale, Sean Bean, Emily Watson) and they, and the rest, perform well. But, unfortunately the film tends to fail as a whole.
The film doesn’t really get to grips with the importance of emotion and feeling to the individual. When it does try to deal with emotion in characters it tends to end up being mawkish or kitsch (One cleric is lead off the straight and narrow by looking into the big eyes of a puppy). While it is visually well made it pays homage to many better films. The clerics and firemen are from Fahrenheit 451, clothing and fighting styles are from The Matrix, the architecture and landscapes are from Metropolis. Even the major plot devices are echoes of better films : the imperfect human fighting the state was handled better in Gattaca and 1984 was much more effective in discussing the state’s control of the individual even though it only had a ‘Big Brother’ rather than a ‘Father’ figure.
As you watch ‘Equilibrium’ these visual and plot devices remind you of much better films and lead to a growing feeling of dissatisfaction. All the elements are there but they do not coalesce into a good film. Indeed sometimes the handling of elements is quite jarring. This is a film whose target demographic is young men, I’d imagine, and thus the stylised and choreographed fighting plays a central role. This and the copying of fascistic imagery in the outfits and architecture lead it to the edge of glorifying violence and the strong man. There can be a fine line between parody and glorification (see Leibach) and this film sometimes crosses this line.
So overall, a lot of able cinematographic work has been has been hammered together in a rather heavy handed fashion rather than thoughtfully crafted. The end result is passable rather than good. The same ingredients, in a cook’s kitchen, can produce a great meal which in the fast food store merely make something to ‘fill a hole’. This film filled a hole but, either it or the popcorn, left me with indigestion. However, I can feel confident my wife would have enjoyed it even less.