Saturday, July 7, 2007

EQUILIBRIUM (2002) Movie Review


In the 21st Century, in the aftermath of World War III, the leaders of world make the conclusion that mankind would not survive a fourth, and take the extreme measure of removing from man's life that might which provoke war - feelings, thought and emotion. A drug, Prozium, is invented to keep the masses at bay, and a new arm of the law, the Tetra Grammatron Clerics, is created to police sense crimes and destroy anything that might invoke said senses.

John Preston (Christian Bale) is a Senior Cleric, who follows his orders to the letter, kills those that are guilty of sense crimes without hesitation, and commands the destruction of anything illegal. That is, until one day when he accidentally breaks his daily dose of Prozium. That one missed dose is all it takes, and the sensory and emotional world he has fought so hard to destroy creeps into his mind. He begins a double life, continuing to be a Cleric by day, while seeking out the resistance that fights to bring down the controlling government at night. When he finally discovers the resistance leaders, they ask him to kill Father, the all-knowing, all-decision making head of the government, which will set off a chain reaction that will allow the resistance to take over. But with another Cleric already suspicious of Preston's activities, he may be arrested of sense crimes before he can start the coup d'etat.

The film's basic premise pulls from the themes and imagery from the great dystopian novels of the twentieth century, gladly borrowing from A Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, and 1984, as well as the Nazi Germany's power of persuasion to bring the twenty-first century a new tale of science speculation and dystopia. Director and writer Kurt Wimmer has certainly done his homework, and spins a tale that, much like its inspirations, is just real enough and close enough, that it could happen if society lets it. Some of the more impressive nods Wimmer applies is the drug Prozium, a reference to A Brave New World's Soma, the burning of books and art a la 451,and the huge "big brother" video screens and the drab grayish uniforms of the common folk of 1984. Anyone familiar with these novels or their film adaptations are bound to see more similarities.

Societal constrictions are not the only element that is given a sinister overhaul. Organized religion and devout faith are also given a good muckraking. From the head-figure dubbed Father (a synonym for God) to the Clerics who enforce the social religion with pain and death against those who do not conform, to the unwavering faith that everything is being done in best interest of mankind. To paraphrase from the movie "whether we agree on what the Father says is not the issue, but our willingness to obey and to have faith in him is".

Christian Bale, who is in almost every scene of the movie and easily carries the film, is exceptional as John Preston. Bale plays the duality of the role perfectly, and uses his face to express everything the character is about. At the beginning, he is rigid and emotionless. His face is a blank slate. Once free of the Prozium though, he switches gears and even as he continues to show that rigidness, his slight changes shows the pain of having to willingly suppress his new found freedom of emotion. Bale also performs most of the demanding action sequences himself. It would be hard to dismiss that this movie was one of the main contributors to Bale donning the cloak and cowl in BATMAN BEGINS.

In the film, the Clerics use a martial art called Gun Kata, a form created entirely by Kurt Wimmer that incorporates guns, both as a projectile and physical weapon, into hand-to-hand combat. This weaponplay is brought into the movie several times throughout and adds from some exciting action set pieces that gives the viewer a breather from the oppressive government overtones. And here is where the main fault, if it can be called that, of the movie lies. The movie is marketed very much as a super-action film, and those expecting just that could be easily turned off by the heavy messages that take up a bulk of the film. Likewise, those who may be lulled in by the dystopian tale could find the action sequences a little too brutal.

Dystopian futures are one of my favorite genres, and for some same reason that I like westerns, though the build up is quite different. In each, all it takes is for one individual to take a stand against that which they see as wrong, and not only having the courage and determination to make things right in the eyes of that character, but the ability to be able to see those changes through. It may not be the best way, and many innocent lives are usually lost during that struggle, but it is a price I would gladly pay.


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