In a future dystopian world, government forcibly drugs the population to keep it passive–until one of its own agents turns renegade and sets in motion a rebellion. [Dir: Kurt Wimmer/ Christian Bale, Emily Watson, Taye Diggs/ 107min/ Action-SciFi/ Government Enforced Morality]
Equilibrium is very much in the tradition of anti-authoritarian cinema. Indeed, you may have seen elements of this film before. As in George Lucas’s THX-1138, the population here is drugged to induce passivity, and when the hero stops taking his drugs he becomes an enemy of the ruling regime; as in Fahrenheit 451, the state has banned artistic work because art excites the passions of people, and it’s one of the enforcers who turns against the ban; likewise, there are touches of 1984 and Metropolis in the grey totalitarian setting here. OK, so this may not be the most original film ever made, but at least what it repeats is worth repeating.
At the center of this story is a “cleric” named John Preston; clerics are super-cops who wage a war on art and music, very much like the current War on Drugs. The clerics also enforce the mandatory consumption of “Prozium,” an emotion dampening tranquilizer. It seems that years before, WWIII nearly wiped out civilization, so it was decided that the extreme emotions that drive conflict, and artistic stimulants to such emotion, must be eliminated–even at the price of making “sense offence” a capital crime. Unfortunately, offenders are sometimes found very close to home.
In Preston’s case, his wife was earlier executed for skipping her daily Prozium dose. In his own Prozium induced condition, he didn’t feel much about it at the time. But when Preston accidentally misses his daily dose, his feelings start to come home. That’s the turning point that sparks the action. Once in touch with his emotions, he can no longer be the unfeeling killing machine that clerics must be and begins to question everything about his life and the world around him; indeed, when asked why he exists, his collectivist answer “to preserve society” seems unsatisfying even to him. It’s only a matter of time before he turns against the state, just in time to aid a budding rebellion.
Whatever Equilibrium lacks in originality, my guess is that most libertarians, especially libertarian sci-fi fans, would enjoy it. The chiseled Christian Bale (as Preston) projects his mainly emotionless character admirably, and the Matrix-like martial arts episodes, though not up to Matrix quality, are still impressive. And particularly for those who like to see their libertarian message delivered with a hail of bullets and a high flying kick to the side of the head–this is certainly the film for you.
External Reviews of Equilibrium
“Equilibrium is that rarest of cinematic entities, a film which succeeds both as intelligent science fiction and as action drama.”
–Eye for Film
“Equilibrium is a definite crowd pleaser.”
–SciFi Movie Page
“One is tempted to look benevolently upon Equilibrium and assume thought control can’t happen here, but of course it can, which is why it is useful to have an action picture in which the Sense Offenders are the good guys.”