by Adam M. Wilcox
With Mac And Me sometimes you find a knock off movie, that is so bad it’s good. In some eras however, you can also find a gem that might have been smothered by similar movies within the genre itself. Summer of 1999 saw The Matrix beat out popularity of the first new Star Wars movie in years, and was the talk of water coolers for months after it launched. Online discussions erupted into what The Matrix actually is, if not just a movie. Of course the looks and effects were copied by nearly every action movie that came out for the next ten years. Somewhere between Hong Kong action, and anime. Equilibrium was born into this era in 2002, but if you can get past the piss poor marketing on the box, you quickly realize that there is much more to this, than just another Matrix era rip off. It is what I believe is one of those clever science fiction social commentaries that will find it’s true audience sooner or later. The same thing that happened when people finally realized that Starship Troopers was a political parody, rather than a machismo action flick.
Equilibrium takes place in a near dystopian future where it is believed that total peace and absence of war can exist only if human emotion is removed from the equation through the mandatory use of emotion suppressing drugs, and anything that provoke an emotion is deemed illegal and punishable by death. The Grammaton Clerics are the enforcers of this draconian law, and use a special type of duel gun wielding martial art to increase the maximum efficiency of solving problems. People like John Preston played by a pre-Batman Christian Bale to absolute perfection. Preston’s job is to track down the underground movement, a network of people who are preserving art, color, post cards, records, paintings, photographs, even vanity mirrors. All in large underground stashes, where the Clerics basically come in and burn everything. Anyone who is not shot on site, is basically sentenced to immolation. It sounds downright dark and depressing, and it IS…but the payoff is worth it.
One of the most fascinating things about this movie is the world building. CGI is used at a bare minimum, the action is done without wires or bullet time. The world in which these people “live” is a black and grey Orwellian nightmare, where big brother is broadcast on the street monitors 24/7. Every desk in the office is on the same side, with the lamp on the same side, and the stapler is in the same place, and so on, and so forth. People don’t smile, and everyone takes there drugs at the same time every day. The people that live within this world are constantly testing each other, to see if they can report each other to the authorities for sensory crimes. The weapons used are only slightly modified from actual weapons, this is not a space opera, this is science fiction action thriller. I’ll admit the costumes do all look like they might have been borrowed from Matrix Reloaded, but this is 2002. However, this film does not have THAT kind of a budget, and that shows sometimes, but that is not to the movie’s detriment, in fact it works more in the believability department. After all this is not an elaborate computer program designed for human batteries, this is a real world with flesh and blood. At points when characters begin to feel, the pasty white skin tone changes to a rich fleshy color. Writer/Director Kurt Wimmer goes through painstaking detail to show the stark contrast between color, emotion, and the vapid totalitarian society that these people have created. The story is not hard to follow, but it does have something to say, and it makes you question the cost of sacrificing your feelings for some kind of social ecological efficiency. It’s radical stuff, but it’s not too hard to believe that a draconian society like this one could exist in the zeitgeist where “safe spaces”, and terms like “triggered”, are thrown around as daily vernacular, and Christmas songs, and other forms of pop culture are dissected by grad students to find any hint of racism, or xenophobia. Is it?
This movie had a limited release, and was given little to no marketing by Mirimax, and therefor lost money. While I have to admit, that this movie does in fact borrow heavily from a lot of earlier science fiction movies, it does so in a way, that does it’s story a huge service. I had to watch it again recently to see if I was just watching it through my early 2000’s post Matrix nostalgia goggles, but I have to say this one holds up well, and I recommend that everyone checks it out.
If I had any gripes at all, it would be that the plot kind of conveniently resolves itself nice and neat, a little too soon. The movie has a nice run time, but I kind of wanted to go with it a little longer. This is one of those movies, I could see remade as a long form Netflix original miniseries, but other than that, this one holds up rather fine. I am giving this one a 4 out of 5 cheese curds, and a seal of approval for being a possible future masterpiece. This movie can be found on DVD, and Blu-Ray, and does occasionally pop up on cable stations, and streaming services. It would be alright to watch this one on regular TV, since it’s R rating is darn close to a PG-13 rating to begin with. So please be sure and check it out!