I remember when I first watched Equilibrium. It was 2004 and Christian Bale had just been announced as the new Batman, and I was interested in seeing some of his previous work. As I was walking around a Blockbuster I found a movie with Christian Bale on the front, and on the cover it said, “Forget the Matrix.” Really? The Matrix? The first one? No way. But after that first viewing, I was sold. I went out that night and bought it.
Side note: for younger readers, Blockbuster Video was an actual store where you would walk in and browse through shelves of movies, carefully select the one you would like to see, and rent it. Usually you would return the movie late and incur a fee, causing you to go across the street to the other video store for a while so you wouldn’t have to pay the fine.
Equilibrium is set in the city-state of Libria. After World War III left humanity on the brink of extinction, an authoritarian government, called the Tetragrammaton Council, led by “Father,” determined that the only possible way to avoid a fourth World War was to eliminate the true source of conflict – human emotion.
Everyone living in Libria must take daily injections of a drug called Prozium, which inhibits human emotion. Meanwhile, the Nazi-esque type government attempts to seek out and destroy all content that can illicit emotion, to include: books, art, music, gaudy mirror frames, and awful wallpaper apparently. Those who refuse to take Prozium, or attempt to hide illegal content, are labeled “sense-offenders,” and are subject to “processing,” which is a more official sounding way of saying murdered.
Christian Bale plays John Preston, one of the highest ranking Grammaton Clerics. As a Cleric, his job is to find and eradicate all emotional contraband, and is also responsible for eliminating any and all “sense-offenders” he locates. In the film he employs a martial art known as “gun-kata,” which is a highly stylistic fighting style which is supposed to allow the Cleric to fire on enemy positions using his dual automatic pistols, while moving out of their attacker’s most likely return fire trajectory.
The first portion of the film establishes how completely emotionless Bale’s Preston is. He fails to protect his wife from processing when she is found to be a sense-offender, and executes his partner when it is discovered he is also a sense-offender. Now, if the movie just followed Preston as he ruthlessly (and stylishly) killing people who prefer emotions it wouldn’t be very good, but Preston (predictably and accidentally) skips a dose of Prozium.
After missing the dose, and subsequently not being able to have it refilled, Preston slowly begins to feel emotions for the first time. Bale does a good job showing the confusion and fascination Preston experiences as he experiences things he has never felt before.
There is a beautiful scene where Preston, who must hide the fact that he is a sense-offender as he carries out his duties as a Cleric, discovers a room filled with items from decades past. He discovers an old phonograph and begins to listen to a recording of a Beethoven 9th Symphony, and he is completely astounded by what he hears. From this point forward Preston determines that he must help the rebellion overthrow Father and the Tetragrammaton Council, and damn does he look good doing it.
Like the Matrix, there are several highly stylized fight sequences; some are hand-to-hand, some are gun battles, and one scene include katanas. They are well done, and there are definitely some jaw dropping moments scattered throughout.
Overall, the acting is solid. Christian Bale delivers a great performance, Sean Bean does what Sean Bean does best, and the other cast members are able to hold their own.
This movie is not top-of-the-line cinema. It didn’t win any Oscars, and it wasn’t supposed to. Equilibrium is dystopian science-fiction film, with hints of Fahrenheit 451 and 1984, a dash of John Woo’s Gun Fu, a sprinkle of Matrix fashion, and an all-around fun ride. I highly recommend it to any fan of Christian Bale, sci-fi, dystopia’s, authoritarian dictatorships, or awesome action sequences.