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Equilibrium (2002)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

After World War III in the 21st century a new “enemy” has been identified as the source of man’s inhumanity to man: human feeling. Grammaton clerics enforce the new prohibition on emotion, in part using martial arts techniques known as gun kata. The clerics lead SWAT-style teams on search and destroy missions against “sense offenders” and members of the resistance. For the people of Libria emotions are kept in check by taking regular injections of the drug Prozium. Libria is the domain ruled by “Father” – whose professed goal is to eliminate hate, anger and war. That has a somewhat appealing aura, until one discovers that the method used to achieve those goals is the elimination of all feeling. This is the premise of Equilibrium.

The opening scenes follow John Preston (Christian Bale) and Errol Partridge (Sean Bean) who are Grammaton cleric partners leading a team which is about to attack a group of sense offenders, who are also members of the resistance. After the defeat of the rebels, their stash of contraband is discovered which includes the Mona Lisa. It is promptly incinerated by fire suited men bearing flame throwers.

Upon return from “the Nethers” – areas inhabited by the resistance – Partridge has a book which he says he is going to personally turn in as evidence. Preston is interviewed by DuPont (Angus MacFadyen), the “voice of Father,” about his exceptional ability to identify sense offenders. During the interview it is mentioned that his wife was a sense offender, but he had failed to identify her. DuPont urges Preston to not repeat this error. Preston leaves the interview and uses his “intuitive” talent to uncover that Partridge is a sense offender. After the resolution of that situation he meets his new partner Brandt (Taye Diggs). Not only clerics, but all people are involved in monitoring each other. Children monitor each other and also their parents and vice versa.

Equilibrium blends elements that can also be found in The Matrix, Nineteen Eighty Four, Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, but it is also more. When Preston meets sense offender Mary O’Brien (Emily Watson) she rightly questions him about why he is alive: what purpose his life serves. He has no satisfactory answer. Equilibrium attempts to supply an answer to that fundamental question and other similar posers. Watching Equilibrium is a rare event, for it – like the contraband in the film – evokes feelings and challenges the mind. It accomplishes those feats by embracing both ideas and emotion, freedom and responsibility, allusion and innovation.

Equilibrium is one of those uncommon movies which explicitly advocate individuality and resistance to conformism. As our world becomes more like the world portrayed in Equilibrium, we have our challenge: to prevent the completion of that picture. I saw Equilibrium in the theater. In that, I believe I was in a very small minority. I acquired the DVD as soon as it was available. The DVD seems to be a good seller. Now it has come to cable/DBS. The more people who see this movie and think about the ideas explored in it, the less likely it will be to come true. Watch it and spread the word about it.

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