Equilibrium (2002): ***½
Directed by Kurt Wimmer
We all know what "Orwellian" means, right?
It's referring to a certain dystopian genre of future speculation.
Orwellian futures usually have several things in common:
- The populace is oppressed, usually without knowing what they're
missing. This oppression can be caused by brainwashing, chemicals,
or just plain keepin' em in ignorance.
- There is a single leader, never seen in person, who is portrayed
as being all-knowing and all-seeing and benevolent.
- The death penalty is given out for practically any crime.
- There is some sort of shadowy, ruthless police force.
- There is often some sort of apocalypse that occurred in the
past that justifies the oppression of the people.
In the case of Equilibrium, it goes like this:
- Oppression is through a chemical called "Prozium"
that keeps you from experiencing extremes (on either end of the
scale of positive to negative) of emotion.
- The leader is called "Father" and speaks to the populace
over loudspeakers and video screens.
- If you feel an emotion too strongly they have a tendancy to
burn you to death.
- They're called Grammaton Clerics.
- There was a limited nuclear war. People are put on Prozium
so they can't get all worked up enough to go to war again.
In Equilibrium Christian Bale plays John Preston, one
of the Clerics who goes out into the area outside of the Father-run
city of Libria into the Nether regions to hunt down Sense Offenders—people
who aren't taking Prozium, and are therefore feeling emotion. But
since this is a movie, we know that sooner or later Preston is going
to go off the Prozium himself and begin to feel emotions (it happens
accidentally when he breaks a vial of the Prozium, and the Prozium
distribution center is shut down when he goes to get some more).
All of the Orwellian stuff in this movie is pretty much by-the-numbers.
The dull gray city; the fatherly voice and face of Father talking
about how bad emotions are; people walking around blank-faced; everyone's
desktops arranged perfectly and all the same.
There are some plot twists as Preston falls in league with the
rebels and tries to hide his emotions from his new partner (Preston
kills his old partner for Sense Crimes), Brandt (played by Taye
Diggs). Eventually there are revelations about the nature of "Father"
that are neither surprising nor shocking in the context of this
What sets this movie apart are the performances by Bale and by
Taye Diggs as his new, suspicious partner. This film makes me believe
that Bale could really pull off a tormented Bruce Wayne in the upcoming
Batman film (hopefully the rest of the movie will be as good). And
Taye Diggs has an almost-amused smirk on his face. He seems almost
to be on the verge of Sense Crimes himself in that he seems to enjoy
his work just a little too much. And god damn is he a handsome
Where this movie really stands out is in the action. Not so much
in the choreography or cinematography or direction of the action
sequences (which is all top-knotch, don't get me wrong), but in
the philosophy behind the action.
Equilibrium introduces us to the idea of the Gun Kata.
The Clerics seem absolutely invincible in shootouts; nobody can
seem to hit them, and they never seem to miss, even (as in the opening
action sequence) in complete and total darkness. The reason is that
they have developed a martial art based entirely around the gun.
Not only that, but extensive research has been done into countless
gunfights of the past and present, and the Clerics have come up
with certain statistical likelihoods of where bullets and assailants
will be at any given time, and are therefore able to use the appropriate
katas to place themselves into positions where the bullets won't
hit them and where they'll be able to shoot their opponents without
In other words, the gunfights aren't based on what's actually
happening around the Clerics. They're based on the percent
chances of what is probably happening around the Clerics.
It's an absolutely fascinating philosophy of how to fight, by minimizing
to almost zero the chances that you will be shot while simultaneously
maximizing to almost 100% the chances of shooting your opponent(s).
It gives the action scenes a certain je ne sais quoi. Particularly
memorable is the final action sequence in which Preston faces off
at point-blank range against someone else who is just as versed
in the Gun Katas as he is. The way they use their guns in this scene
is just as stunning and beautiful as the way Jet Li and company
use their swords and whatnot in Hero.
It's almost a shame that the movie is so short, and that it really
leaves no room for a sequel (and the facts of a limited release
and poor performance practically nip any sequel ideas in the bud),
so we'll never get to see any Gun Kata battles other than the handful
that are in this film. It's a shame, really. I would love to see
another movie take place in Equilibrium's world.