Recently I have been picking up and watching a lot of older movies that I have missed over the years. Equilibrium is one of these films. I missed it when it originally came out but I have seen it regularly popping up in various online discussions. Mostly in a very positive way mind you. So when I picked it up, my expectations were high.
After watching it, I must say that while the movie is not bad, it is not nearly as good as I expected it to be. I’m just not feeling it. It does however have at least one good idea in it: Gun Kata. You see, Equilibrium does what few action movies do these days: it justifies why the main character is capable of taking on hordes upon hordes of mooks who all seem to be suffering from the Stormtrooper Effect by inventing a new and awesome martial art.
Let me show you a video of the Gun Kata training scene that might help you understand just how awesome it is:
Yes, it is a martial arts discipline 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 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 way of enemy bullets. Pure brilliance!
I love this sort of low-key, semi-believable superpowers. The fact that this martial art is science based – born out of statistical analysis and research really strokes my geek nerve the right way. I am in love with the idea!
Not to mention it does wonders for my suspense of disbelief. When a gruff New York cop takes out 40 rifle carrying assailants with his trusty six shot revolver without reloading once and while somersaulting over their heads like he was from the Matrix I wince. When Christian Bale does the same thin in Equilibrium, I didn’t even bat an eyelash. After all, he is the fucking Tetragrammaton Cleric skilled in Gun Kata.
What about the rest of the movie though? Well, it is decent. The basic plot reminds me a bit of The Giver, only it is much darker, and much more violent. I hate to say it though, but I think The Giver did this theme better.
World War III destroys the civilization as we know it. The remaining survivors are so shaken by the war, that they vow never to allow anything like that happen again. They decide to destroy the human capacity for conflict and war at the very source and they decide that the best way to do that is by suppressing emotion. They figure that without rage, jealousy and hate there will be no more conflict. So all emotion is chemically suppressed, and a police state to make sure people follow through. Those who quick taking suppressive drugs are deemed “sense offenders” and are summarily executed. The most potent weapon of the establishment are the Tetragrammaton Clerics: highly trained elite task force whose main purpose is to investigate, track and elliminate sense offenders – especially those who escape the city to live in the war ravaged wasteland outside of its’ walls.
Christian Bale plays one of the Clerics, who accidentally misses a dose of the sense suppressing drugs and starts to feel emotion for the first time in his life. The experience changes his perspective, and he decides to join the resistance movement and help them overthrow the police state.
There is nothing in particular that I can complain about here. The acting is good, the fight scenes are amazing, the story is fairly well put together. I guess I just don’t particularly like the setting. Which is weird because I love totalitarian dystopias. Well, not enough to live in one but I love to hate them and explore them in fiction. The settng of Equilibrium leaves me a bit cold though. It just seems so far fetched. You see, even though The Giver was using similar emotional suppression idea, it worked better because at least at the surface the society there was happy. The world in Equilibrium is just so bland and oppressive that it is hard to believe that anyone would ever think it was a good idea. It works fairly enough once you have it in place, but how did people get to that point?
Acutally I think that what irks me the most about the setting is how few offenders were there. I think the unwritten rule of dystopian settings is that almost everyone who inhabits them is a secret nonconformist. It is almost impossible not to be one. Everyone breaks the rules, but the only people punished for it are those who are blatant and outward about it, and who refuse to repent and bow down to the oppressive authority. In Equilibrium however offenders are rare, and even a small transgression such as smiling or holding on to some sentimental bauble can get you shot and executed.
I guess it’s hard to put a finger on what exactly was wrong with the setting, but I just felt it was a bit contrived. I didn’t totally buy into it which sort of diminished my enjoyment of the movie. Normally when I watch a dystopian movie, I totally want to grab some rule set (like GURPS or FUDGE) and make a RPG setting for it. Not here though. The Equilibrium setting would be a bit to one dimensional and boring to play in. Still, it is worth watching. I mean, it has he Gun Kata in it. I still can’t get over how awesome of an idea this is.