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Nostalgic Impulse: Equilibrium

‘…The disease is human emotion.’

Walking out of The Giver on the weekend, my partner asked me if I had ever seen Equilibrium, ‘it’s just like The Giver – sort of – but has added kung fu with guns.’ Well, I hadn’t ever seen Equilibrium, though it had been in my father’s DVD collection when I lived at home. Admittedly, having seen the cover I assumed it was a generic scifi action film riding the coattails of The Matrix. That wasn’t an entirely unfair summary judgment.

equilibrium-2002-10-gThere are certainly elements of The Giver in Equilibrium (remember that the novel was published in 1993 and was likely an influence), though the DVD case’s puff quote says it perfectly: ‘The matrix meets 1984.’ Watching Equilibrium for any emotional depth or originality will leave you disappointed, but I have to wonder if that’s really what it was meant to be at all. If you suspend the critical elements of your brain and watch it from the perspective of ‘this is a fun, stupid scifi action film’, you might just get a kick out of it.

The plot

As many of these dystopian future stories go, a third world war happened and threw everything into chaos. In an attempt to eradicate the opportunity for future wars, an authoritarian government stepped in, using the figure of the ‘father’ (yep, there’s the 1984 nod) as a rallying point. Emotions are outlawed and controlled by regular dosing of drugs. All creativity is wiped out and artifacts that suggest a life other than the grey monotony of their time are incinerated.

Equilibrium-1In order to hunt down all ‘sense offenders’, the government uses highly skilled ‘clerics’ – a cross between kung fu master and religious zealot. John Preston (Christian Bale) is top dog of the clerics. After discovering his long-time partner is an offender (Sean Bean – yep, doing his whole dying in the first five minutes and stealing the show thing yet again) and personally completing the kill, Preston is pulled into a world of emotion. An encounter with another offender, Mary O’Brien (Emily Watson), leads Preston to discover his partner’s connections to the rebellious underground. As Preston explores emotions he is feeling for the first time, he must disguise his offending from his new, eager partner (Taye Diggs). Will Preston give in to his emotions or stay loyal to the father?

And this has a 7.6 IMDb rating…

Upfront I’m going to say that this film has some very cool action sequences. Given that it came out after The Matrix they aren’t exactly groundbreaking but they are a hell of a lot of fun. I quite like the idea that success in a gunfight is all down to mathematics and the right training. Unfortunately, there isn’t nearly enough cool action sequences to make up for the rest of it.

Christian-Bale-and-Emily-Watson-in-Miramaxs-Equilibrium-2002-2Christian Bale apparently has only one facial expression. Has anyone else noticed this? I swear, since Little Women I’m not sure if I’ve seen the man smile. And that affected ‘serious’ voice of his. Ugh. If he weren’t bad enough, his bullying boss, played by Angus Macfadyen, isn’t much better. Taye Diggs is acceptable as the suck-up newbie trying to make a name for himself, but beyond that very cartoonish characterization he is given little else to do. Emily Watson is severely wasted, appearing only in a handful of scenes, most of which make no sense, including one that gets a little too rape-y for my liking.

This really is one of those scifi films where nothing makes any sense. How did anyone ever think it would hold up to ANY amount of suspension of disbelief?! For a highly trained man, Preston sure is incredibly stupid once he starts ‘feeling’. He might as well walk around town wearing a giant sign saying ‘I’VE GONE OFF MY MEDS!!!’ Where’s the stealth or the subtle subterfuge? And then something else will happen and he suddenly seems incredibly clever. What?! This makes no sense! And yes, by this point I’ve realised this isn’t a film I should necessarily scrutinize closely, but seriously, what was with the weird red robes they put the female sense offenders in before incinerating them (aka to walk them to the incinerator, take them off again, then get burnt to a crisp)?

equilibrium_stillIt wouldn’t bother me so much if they didn’t play it all so damn straight (not that Christian Bale could play it any other way). If it was a little more tongue-in-cheek or tried to have a bit more fun with the action and the silly concept, I’d be ok with it. Instead, Equilibrium presents itself as a serious, though-provoking science fiction parable about morals and what it means to be human.


Seeing the film’s relatively high rating on IMDb makes me wonder, how many people have rated the film with the rose-coloured glasses of nostalgia?

About Megan Leigh

Writer and editor of Pop Verse. Co-host of Breaking the Glass Slipper. My special interests include publishing, creative writing, and geekery.


  1. To be honest a film doesn’t need to have a deep plot or dialog to be thought provoking. I have seen short films without any dialog or plot, just relying on all the rest of the senses, and they have been as thought-provoking as any other good film.

    To me this films portrayed the figure of the hero who is able to retain his strong feelings in order to accomplish a mission so well that that was enough for me to say it was a great film. And Bale’s expression was also the point of the movie. In the majority of scenes he either has no emotion or has to restrain it. Also, to me, it seemed that the movie also had the message that when you seize emotions and diligence both to the upmost it’s really when you are the most powerful, resonating with the title “equilibrium”. Also the soundtrack is really great

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