How do they do it? Again and again, Hollywood makes the wrong decision. Sometimes they spend millions on production and advertising for movies so bad that people in the audience actually lose the will to live and the ushers have to carry out the corpses (I've seen it happen). And sometimes (rarely) a really good movie somehow gets made and appears in theatres, but hardly anyone sees it because the studios decide not to advertise it. I mean, what the hell?!
EQUILIBRIUM was written and directed by Kurt Wimmer (SPHERE). It almost made a bad first impression because it opens with some narration AND text (I know how to read! NEVER read to me!) on the screen, but it's over quickly and turns out to be part of a speech being given to the people of Libria by their great leader, a man referred to as Father (Sean Pertwee: EVENT HORIZON, TALE OF THE MUMMY, DOG SOLDIERS). We are some indeterminate time in the future, after a nuclear WWIII. Civilization has barely survived and the survivors have decided that no price is too high to avoid another war. This society is based on the idea that war and all other human vices are a result of our lack of control over our emotions. That's why everyone, every day, takes a Prozac-like drug to keep them from feeling anything. The citizens aren't quite robots but their range of emotions is very narrow.
But no society is perfect. There are these troublemakers who avoid taking their government prescribed meds just so they can feel. Selfish bastards! That's when the SWAT teams show up, lead by the clerics.
The clerics are trained from childhood to be emotionless and ruthless and experts in a unique martial art that centers on the gun, making them badass mo fos like you would not believe. We see just such a raid and watch as armor covered police men shoot it out with "sense criminals". Cleric John Preston (Christian Bale: AMERICAN PSYCHO, REIGN OF FIRE, BATMAN BEGINS) and fellow cleric Earl Partridge (Sean Bean: DON'T SAY A WORD, GOLDENEYE, LORD OF THE RINGS: Fellowship Of The Ring) arrive wearing vaguely priest-like black outfits. Preston alone enters a room full of armed sense criminals and, well, kills them all.
A search of the premises turns up a variety of paintings including the original Mona Lisa. Art, films, music, etc. have all been forbidden because of their ability to evoke feelings (their "emotional content" rating is said to be too high). Preston orders the paintings burned and men with flamethrowers (set at 451 degrees Fahrenheit, I believe) do just that.
The clerics head out of the "nethers" (the outer regions of the city, still in ruins) into the Stalinesque city center where the face of Father (who reminded me of my Big Brother) talks to the masses from the sides of buildings and zeppelins. Preston notices that his partner has taken a book of poetry, which he assures Preston he will destroy personally because sometimes the evidence teams miss things, but we can see where that's going.
Preston's new partner, Brandt (Taye Diggs: HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL , THE WAY OF THE GUN) shares Preston's ability to sense people who are feeling emotions, making them both emotionless empaths and thus very good at finding sense criminals. They drive around in a cool cleric car and I'm pretty sure their license plate reads THX1138.
Preston is a single father, his wife having been incinerated for sense crimes a few years earlier. His young son and daughter are as emotionless as he is. When Preston comes home from the raid his son mentions having seen a schoolmate crying and asks his father if he should report it. "Unquestionably," says Dad. I had something similar happen to me once, back in 1984.
Ah yes, all is well, until an odd set of circumstances makes Preston miss an injection or two and suddenly he finds himself . . . caring about things. And once he starts, he doesn't want to stop, especially after he meets (and by meets, I mean arrests) the very passionate Mary O'Brian (Emily Watson: RED DRAGON).
In a similar fashion, I don't ever want to stop the
UNFAIR RACIAL CLICHÉ ALERT!!!
Warning, there are spoilers at UNFAIR RACIAL CLICHÉ ALERT/Equilibrium.
This is a bleak but believable world. Surviving a nuclear war could leave people so emotionally shattered that they'd be willing to accept anything that would keep it from happening again: and a drugged and obedient populace is every dictator's dream. But we aren't Vulcans and humans simply can't contain their passions for long, drugs or no drugs.
This society may work for a while, but it is inherently unstable. The only reason it has lasted this long is because of the kick ass clerics. The action sequences are very well done and the cool idea of a martial art based on guns absolutely rocks!
And yes, as I hinted above, the story borrows from Ray Bradbury's FARENHEIT 451, George Orwell's 1984 and George Lucas' THX-1138 with maybe a touch of THE MATRIX here and there. But that's not a bad thing. The end result is that rare combination of an intellectually appealing storyline and a very cool action flick. I give EQUILIBRIUM four shriek girls.
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