** This review may contain spoilers **
Equilibrium is one of many films (dating all the way back to Fritz Lang's Metropolis through GATTACA) that place themselves in the not so distant future. This future is nearly always totalitarian and the movie exists to encourage the praise of our current freedoms. That's the subtle and not so subtle message of this film.
The movie starts after World War III and the survivors have recreated enormous, dark, angular, gotham-like cities to live in and be ruled by media. Somewhere between Dark City and A Clockwork Orange, there is nothing new in this government. It rules the city of Libria by medication, similar to Aldous Huxley's SOMA. This drug (the exact name escapes me, but it sounded very much like Prozac) keeps people from feeling. It's the ruling parties belief that feeling leads to things like passion and love, which have evil sisters of revenge and hatred. To remove feeling, one can eliminate war. And so the Tetra-Gattron (?) turns to a mystical group called the Clerics to enforce the law.
Margaret Atwood's The Handmaids Tale also uses a similar religious icon theme for her futuristic state. In Equilibrium, the Clerics come from a devout monastery where they are indoctrinated in the beliefs of sameness and equality. They also learn from centuries of statistics and martial arts to become gunslingers of remarkable skill. It is there job to seek out the resistance and eliminate them. The resistance does not get a lot of screen time here. We don't know much about their goals or feelings, other than they must be antithetical to the ruling government. As such, they smuggle art, music, and relics of pop culture to keep feeling alive.
The stage is set. At this point the movie could have begun, but it takes the first two acts to get this message across. In doing so, the movie takes several detours through explicit battles in which our Cleric antihero displays his vast knowledge of combat in killing nearly 50 people. The comparisons to the Matrix are easy. There's a mixture of cinematic styles and fast edits.
The set and costume are what you should expect. The government's symbol is four "T"s with the bottoms pointing at each other in a circle. Remarkably similar to the iron cross of history. The windows and doors are "T"s as well. The building motifs are acutally one of the better parts of the film. The costumes are black, of course. The 'stormtroopers' of Equilibrium wear black trench coats and black motorcycle helments. The Clerics wear long vestments that are somewhere between Joseph Stalin, the Roman Catholic Church, and Napoleon.
Eventually, our Cleric stops medicating and begins to feel. It's his wrestling with feeling that dictates the rest of the movie. Christian Bale is the Cleric and his stone like face (and ability to act) are actually assets in this movie. Throw in a few more combat scenes and you arrive at the final conflict - does the Cleric adopt the will of the revolution? I'll let you guess.
The movie ends with a fairly original hand to hand gun battle scene that treats the handgun as an extension of the body in a martial arts dance. This was very well done.
Had the movie not had so many predictable elements - bad guys wear black, the future is always overcast, governments with too much power are bad, etc - I think I would have enjoyed it more. It wasn't quite a special-effects-mind-candy-treat like the Matrix.
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