Equilibrium is set in the joyless state of Libria. It is a society built on peace at all costs. In a bid to make the outbreak of war impossible in this post-nuclear apocalypse, early Twenty First Century, all human emotions are outlawed. Any material, such as books or artworks, that might cause people to feel sensations is destroyed, as are those who engage in their production, dissemination or appreciation. Human instincts are kept in check through the regular taking of the drug Prozium. Prozium enables people to give up their own spouses and parents for execution by the state for engaging in “sense crimes”, without guilt or sorrow.
The protectors of this violent peace are the “clerics”. They are highly trained to detect anyone failing to take their Prozium doses and destroy members of the underground who allow themselves to partake in feeling. John Preston (Christian Bale) is a leading cleric, ruthless in tracking down and eradicating sense criminals. He feels nothing about destroying those closest to him. However, after a potent meeting with underground member, Mary (Emily Watson), and a missed dose of Prozium, Preston too begins to allow himself to have feelings.
So, the once emotionless, calculating cleric sets about his task of bringing down the system from the inside. In a world based upon suspicion and a near psychic perception of those who illegally retain their sensations and sensitivities this is fraught with danger. On a number of occasions Preston is almost caught out by his own newly found, emotion-driven folly and the sharpness of his new partner, Brandt (Taye Diggs). Fortunately, Preston is saved by writer/director Kurt Wimmer’s unwillingness to let logic or consistency get in the way of his story.
Equilibrium draws heavily from George Orwell’s classic, 1984. Wimmer substitutes “Big Brother” for “Father” whose voice and features are projected across Libria on enormous television screens, constantly reminding people of the dangers of the natural human state and the devastation it had led to in earlier, less sophisticated societies. Where Orwell has “thought police”, Wimmer has “sense police”. States in Orwell’s world subdue their populations by the need to maintain their war efforts, while Libria’s justifies the abuse of its people through the notion of sustaining peace.
There are a number of interesting issues that Equilibrium sets up to address. In discussions with children these could easily be drawn out, but the film itself descends into a predictable and formulaic shoot-em-up sci-fi action movie. The ninja-based gun fighting style used by the clerics verges on the balletic, but for any admirer of this film genre, they will have witnessed almost identical scenes in The Matrix.
Ultimately, Preston, emotion and beauty win over the dour, controlling Librian state. Rather than straightforward tales of good over evil, the subject of this film means that one is led to question these opposing concepts. Peace is surely good, but then in this case evil derives from an all-consuming quest for peace, which itself breeds violence. Notions of the importance of love, loyalty and joy abound, but glory is also associated with violence and destruction. Equilibrium raises all these issues, and more, for those willing to look into them. Unfortunately, and somewhat ironically, the style of the film encourages one to switch off sense awareness and subtle thinking.
Parents should know that the film is violent. The opening scenes show a sense police raid, involving much shooting and death. The closing scenes are of greater violence, big explosions and more death. In between there is intermittent violence and death. Despite this, Equilibrium is not unusually violent movie for this kind of movie and the deaths are not gory. Some younger children might be upset by the sense police’s arrest and abduction of Preston’s wife in front of her young family.
Families who enjoyed this movie may also like: “Minority Report,” “Matrix,” and “Clockwork Orange.” They might also want to read some classic dystopian literature, like Huxley’s Brave New World or 1984.