Equilibrium: Now THIS is sci-fi!

 (Andrew Lidwell)

(Andrew Lidwell)

Despite this movie’s debut in late 2002, I hadn’t actually seen it until recently. I hadn’t actually heard anything about it, which is in retrospect surprising. Once I watched it, I was surprised that the movie, despite being slightly dated, still blew me away.

Equilibrium can be best described not by a summary, but by looking at it as a fusion of many stories. If Brave New World and 1984 had a love child, and that love child had a fleeting affair with The Matrix, the resulting story would be Equilibrium.

Christian Bale (yes, Batman) starts as John Preston, who is something called a “Tetragrammaton Cleric” – basically, a super soldier charged with upholding the law. The law, in this case, mostly pertains to the regulation and elimination of everything that can make a human being feel any sort of emotion.

The plus side? Without emotion, humans have absolutely no motivation for war or any sort of violence, and the citizens who live under the law live in their own little Utopia.

This emotionless state is achieved by use of the “miracle drug” Prozium, which the law-abiding citizens dose themselves with regularly to suppress all feeling.

Of course, there are always those that don’t abide the law. Those who don’t take their Prozium are outcasts and criminals, who hoard forbidden art and music outside the protected cities.

This is where the Clerics like John Preston come in. It is their job to hunt down and eliminate these individuals, and destroy whatever forbidden materials they’ve squirreled away.

It’s not long, however, before Preston starts questioning his own methods, and that’s where the movie takes a step towards the fantastic. What follows is Preston’s voyage into a world of emotion, discovering for the first time feelings like sympathy, hate, and even love.

After you take into consideration that he’s supposed to be playing an emotional mute for the first chunk of the movie, you have to admire Christian Bale’s performance in this movie. He does an amazing job of conveying someone discovering emotion – a man moved to tears hearing Beethoven for the first time, and struggling to hide his feelings from the society around him.

Taye Diggs, who plays Preston’s partner Brandt, does an excellent job of creating suspense. He keeps dropping hints as if he knows Preston is feeling, but never seems to do anything about it.

What really makes this movie, however, is the writing. I’ve always believed that the very best science fiction is the science fiction that is plausible enough to happen, and not in some high-tech, far-off world. The thing that makes stories like Equilibrium, Brave New World and 1984 is that they could happen, and that makes the issues presented in them all the more real.

When you address the issues, Equilibrium becomes much more than just a movie with flashy action scenes and a good story. You present the issues – what must we sacrifice to stop war? Will it be worth it? Is the end of all violence really worth losing our very humanity?

The answer to the question may never be perfectly clear, but it’s the question itself, and the stunning way it’s presented, that makes me consider Equilibrium up there with the greatest science fiction stories of all time.