Sunday, May 09, 2004

Equilibrium (2004)

Vacuum Energy rating: no stars
Background information about "Equilibrium" is available at "The Internet Movie Database

The future of humanity is decimation in a nuclear holocaust, followed by the inevitable post-nuclear radical restructuring of society. In this case, humanity concludes that human emotion itself was responsible, and the that for humanity to survive extinction the human capacity to feel must be eliminated. Thus, everyone takes a daily dose of Prozium, a new chemical that renders all human feelings completely inert. But just in case rebelious "sense offenders" decided to buck the system, a new class of super law enforcers, the "Grammiton Clerics" have been created to search them out and destroy them.

If the background information sounds familiar, it's because we essentially have a contemporary re-imagining of the origin of the Vulcan culture from "Star Trek". Of course, the idea that a human society that incorporates a less-than-perfectly-rational culture is destined for destruction has been around in science-fiction for a long time. And it is an idea that has a lot of potential in filmmaking, as demonstrated by films such as "2001: a Space Odyssey" or "Alphaville". The major flaw of "Equilibrium" is that it expects its audience to respect this theme without incorporating it into the film in a serious way.

The society of "Equilibrium" is an oppressive police state of a type that should be immediately familiar to an American audience. All of the genre conventions necessary for conveying "brutal dictatorship" are present: the dictator is a big talking head mouthing propaganda from omnipresent video screens, the dictatorship is a rigid patriarchy since the male dictator is named "Father" while the women are invariably sense offenders to be executed, the architecture is the typical ridiculously outsized grandiose style, people attend mass rallys to be exposed to the same propoganda they see twenty-four hours a day, and there is even a scene with a young child in a Nazi-style uniform ordering stormtroopers to drag some poor loser off the street in broad daylight. With the possible exception of the Grammiton Clerics, the notion that logic and democracy might be compatible, or in other words that perfectly logical intelligent humans might have value as autonomous agents, seems to have been completely forgotten. In addition, the film seems to have had no realization that a perfectly logical society would be largely immune to propaganda and would have no need for awe-inspiring mass rallys.

Thus we are left with the Holloywood conclusion that conformity is bad, which in the film's terms translates into the dictatorship having a much more precarious hold on its subjects than we are initially led to believe. And as the movie progresses, we learn that the rebels are right on the verge of toppling the dictatorship if only they could find someone brave enough to assassinate the big talking head for them. Convieniently enough, one of the Grammaton Clerics, who are given the necessary super-human fighting skills to defeat giant armies of opponents, misses a dose of prozium and comes to realize that he must defeat a giant army of opponents in order to assassinate the big talking head. The ending is not going to surprise you one iota, but the film is billed as being better than "The Matrix", which gives you an idea about what the combat scenes are like.

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