The UnPopular Opinion: Equilibrium
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
**** SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
Back in the old days, I was going to be a high school English teacher. I spent a couple of years doing student teaching in both public and private schools in the Chicago area. One of those years, I was teaching sophomore American Literature and we came to Ray Bradbury's classic FAHRENHEIT 451. Now, having a very media heavy perspective, I tried to integrate film into my classes as much as possible. But, when it came time to present a film my only option was the 1966 Francois Truffaut version. While I respect Truffaut immensely (SMALL CHANGE is one of my all time favorite movies), I did not think it would click with sixteen year olds. But, there was a similar story buried within an action movie I had watched a couple years before: Kurt Wimmer's EQUILIBRIUM.
Upon it's initial release, EQUILIBRIUM was panned by critics. It was barely seen in less than 500 theaters and then quickly released to DVD, which is where I found it. Working at Blockbuster, I was privy to free rentals each week including before street date. I came across the cover art and thought an action movie with the dude from AMERICAN PSYCHO couldn't be terrible. In fact it was not even close to terrible, it was f*cking awesome.
EQUILIBRIUM takes place in an indeterminate, dystopian future. Focusing on a country known as Libria, the world has fallen under a totalitarian regime that has banned emotional content (art, music, literature, etc). Citizens of Libria are controlled by Father, a face upon a screen instructing the masses to obey. The people are forced to take a drug that supresses their emotions. Anyone who disobeys are called sense offenders and are summarily prosecuted by the law enforcement known as Grammaton Clerics. Our protagonist is Cleric John Preston (Christian Bale).
The clerics are black clad warrior priests who look very reminiscent of characters from THE MATRIX. But, while Neo could dodge bullets inside a computer program, Grammaton Clerics can predict the path of bullets to avoid them as well as shoot without aiming. Clerics are trained in the martial art of Gun Kata. That's right, motherf*ckers! This movie has a martial art designed from scratch that involves gunfire. How badass is that?
I don't want to give away the entire story because you really should just watch the movie, but basically Preston misses a dose of his emotion supressing drug and begins to have an emotional reaction. From there, he must decide if the government regime is in the wrong or if the rebels are the side he should be fighting for. All this occurs while Preston's partner, Brandt (Taye Diggs) and superior officer Vice-Counsel DuPont (Angus Macfadyen), are becoming suspicious of Preston. William Fichtner also appears as the leader of the rebels and Emily Watson plays the woman who triggers Preston's introduction to the wold of emotion.
This movie really has everything you want from a thinking man's science fiction: good actors, a dense mythology, great fight choreography, and questions to ponder long after the credits roll. Made for a sparse $20 million, EQUILIBRIUM rivals many top budget Hollywood movies. In terms of story, it is an obvious rehash of movies like METROPOLIS and 1984 wrapped in an action movie. Much like PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES served as a vehicle to get people to read the Jane Austen classic by incorporating zombies, EQUILIBRIUM is a perfect introduction to classic literature like Aldous Huxley's A BRAVE NEW WORLD. I guarantee that if you show this movie to someone it will give them incentive to check out the works of Orwell, Bradbury, and others.
Yes, the plot does have some holes in it, some big enough to drive a truck through, but I can forgive those script errors in favor of the originality the movie possesses. Visually, RQUILIBRIUM looks like a copy of THE MATRIX. But, in the early 2000s, everything was a copy of THE MATRIX. But, if I had to choose between Bullet Time and Gun Kata, I would take Gun Kata.
Wimmer, who has only directed one film since EQUILIBRIUM, made up Gun Kata in his backyard. While Wimmer is not the inventor of Gun Kata, he is the most recognizable user of it in Western cinema. There is a full article on it over on Wikipedia. It is described like this: Based upon the premise that, given the positions of the participants in a gun battle, the trajectories of fire are statistically predictable. By pure memorization of the positions, one can fire at the most likely location of an enemy without aiming at him in the traditional sense of pointing a gun at a specific target. By the same token, the trajectories of incoming fire are also statistically predictable, so by assuming the appropriate stance, one can keep one's body clear of the most likely path of enemy bullets. That is cool, I don't care what you say.
EQUILIBRIUM is never going to crack a respected critic's list, but Roger Ebert and I have one thing in common: we both really liked this movie. Any time someone asks for a recommendation for a fun action movie, I always recommend this one. It is one of those surprising movies that you cannot believe you didn't know about. It still shocks me how many Christian Bale fans have never seen it. I would stack EQUILIBRIUM up against any science fiction movie you have to offer from the last decade and I would likely rank this movie towards to top of that list. It is the rare action movie that actually has something to say while still shooting the shit out of everything it possibly can.
I toyed with whether this movie deserved an UnPopular Opinion at all, but it seems that most critics hated it and I absolutely disagree. A movie does not necessarily have to be 100% original to be a unique movie. Yes, it borrows heavily from other sources, sometimes a bit too liberally, but EQUILIBRIUM presents the message of freedom of expression in a cleverly packaged way. Those students in my American Lit class still contact me to this day telling me that the movie gave them a better appreciation for FAHRENHEIT 451. I call that a win for EQUILIBRIUM.
|Extra Tidbit:||Wimmer's response to the critical backlash of EQUILIBRIUM: 'Why would I make a movie for someone I wouldn't want to hang out with? Have you ever met a critic who you wanted to party with? I haven't."|