Equilibrium, Dir. Kurt Wimmer, 2002
Not a Matrix knock-off
Despite the obvious marketing pitch, this film shares almost nothing in common with The Matrix. That doesn't make for a deeply original film regarding source material, but it is still original in the way it plays with the dystopian genre and pay homage to many classics in the literary canon.
All totalitarian systems promise to eliminate a serious problem, whether it be the oppression unleashed by the greedy capitalists in Marxism or the elevation of Nation or People in fascism. The lesson of history is that these "solutions" always and everywhere bring their own brutalizing consequences.
The new world order that emerges from the ashes of World War III is Libria. The leader of this Calm New World is named "Father" whose politburo is the Tetragrammaton Council. For Jews and Christians the Tetragrammaton -- YHWH -- is the four letters in Hebrew that denote the divine name, but this unheavenly Father seeks humanity's abasement, not their good.
Society's new configuration is justified by appeal to solving the root causes of war: hate, envy, rage. The method is found in Prozium, a drug which gives everyone a kind of creepy affect of total calm. Neither happy nor sad, merely robotic. Naturally, the elimination of negative emotions lead to the suppression of the good ones such as love and empathy or for an appreciation of beauty.
Emotions thus become identified as the great defect (some would say our Sin) but better living through chemistry takes away all the bad. Also taken away is a rationale for living. This bit of dialogue captures well the Faustian bargain:
Mary (Emily Watson): Let me ask you something. [Grabs his hand] Why are you alive?Mary (Emily Watson) surnamed O'Brien in what can only be a nod to George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-four) may have a rather impoverished view of life's horizon's but compared to the cold logic of Libria's powers-that-be, her desire grasps for the infinite.
John Preston (Christian Bale): [Breaks free] I'm alive... I live... to safeguard the continuity of this great society. To serve Libria.
Mary: It's circular. You exist to continue your existence. What's the point?
John Preston: What's the point of your existence?
Mary: To feel. 'Cause you've never done it, you can never know it. But it's as vital as breath. And without it, without love, without anger, without sorrow, breath is just a clock... ticking.
The Grammaton Cleric John Preston will soon be aiding the "sense-offenders" who deliberately stay off their meds to enjoy things such as literature, poetry and art. He is not the only one of the enforcers of the status quo who begins to question. His partner Partridge (Sean Bean) has been off his meds for some time but raises John's suspicions early on in the film when he snags a collection of Yeats' poems and implies that perhaps their work is not as blameless as it seems.
Being a good (that is, fully-medicated) Cleric enables John Preston to kill his partner without blinking. But accidentally skipping a dose of Prozium gives him the opportunity to feel the sheer awfulness of that act and recall his previous blithe acceptance of his wife's arrest and execution for similar "sense-crimes." His lapse from his meds opens up a new world and he begins questioning the system he serves.
Besides the aforementioned Orwell classic, there is also a bit of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 inasmuch as the preferred method of destruction for books, art and music is a flamethrower. The "Mona Lisa" is consigned to the flames without a flicker of regret.
Aldous Huxley's Brave New World is only slightly present but in an important premise of the film: drugs can form the very foundation of order in society (in BNW Soma serves to flatten the occasional hiccup that the genetically predetermined people experience in their suppressed but still-human consciousness; in Equilibrium drugs are THE solution, not eugenics).
Like good B-movies of old, the good guys win and the evil system is taken down. They may not live happily ever after but they'll face their future in a human way.
Best dialogue: "It is not the message; it is our obedience to it..."
Worth watching and serves as an invitation to deeper and more compelling works by Huxley, Orwell, Bradbury and others.