Exepose Columnist Jack Reid goes all sci-fi for this week’s edition of Netflix Gems, taking a look at 2002 dystopian thriller, Equilibrium.
Netflix has become a perfect tool for many a procrastinating student. Who hasn’t binged on The Office UK when they should have been opening up a Word document? Unfortunately, relatively few take the deep dive into the furthest reaches of the catalogue. From documentaries about sushi, to golden age Audrey Hepburn, Netflix seems to have a bit of everything. At this point, I may sound like I work for Netflix, but I don’t (promise). Instead, I’d just like to help you get the most out of your internet age TV license: the streaming subscription.
‘Librians, you have won. Against all odds, and your own natures.’ Such is the state of affairs according to Father, the ethereal totalitarian ruler in Equilibrium. Starring Christian Bale, Sean Bean, and Sean Pertwee, this film occupies a world where human society has tired of the fiery passions that have caused so much war and suffering, and uses a drug, Prozium, to eradicate all emotion. The clerics are responsible for enforcing this state of emotionlessness in society, destroying the last shreds of art that inspire emotion and detecting any people not taking their drugs and thus feeling emotions.
For a film made in 2002, Equilibrium looks strikingly dated. However, that’s not a cringing, ‘Oh God it looks so old’ kind of dated. Instead, the effect seems quite deliberately executed. Heavy film grain, claustrophobic editing, melodramatic lighting, all hallmarks of a particularly early 90s aesthetic, or perhaps just a low-budget production. Perhaps the dated style has something to do with clear and omnipresent cues from 1984 and its ilk (looking at you, Brave New World). Kurt Wimmer’s visions of the future certainly aren’t those of the early 00s. Instead, the grey, uniform, and monolithic society pretty potently evokes aesthetic fascism.
Father states that this society has foregone individuality in pursuit of unity, and the annihilation of divergent aesthetics, Renaissance paintings, kitschy 50s posters, everything, is seen as an essential purifying process. It’s all very evocative of the Nazi book burnings and art hoarding behaviour. Even the symbol of the Tetragrammaton is distinctly evocative of the swastika. Yet, the regime explicitly criticises the Nazis for their irrational and emotion-driven slaughter. It’s an interesting exploration of how the search for unity and perfection can so easily lead to totalitarian fascism.
Sure, the execution of the concept can be flawed at times. The fight scenes can be a little hokey, the score can be a little melodramatic. The things that draw out emotions in the clerics can be heavy-handed: a puppy for goodness sake? Despite all of this, this film is still well worth your time if you’re willing to put in a little legwork to enjoy it. There’s a lot to be unpacked in the themes of this film, and given the right attitude going into it, it can hold an enlightening mirror up to ideologies that strive to construct a perfect social order. It reminds you to be intensely skeptical of any regime that purports to have it all figured out.
Online Screen Columnist Jack Reid