Between The Matrix and V for Vendetta, there was Equilibrium. The 2002 sci-fi movie, directed by Kurt Wimmer and starring a young Christian Bale, is not as smart or as good as either of those movies. In fact, it’s powerfully stupid. On Hulu until the end of the month, it is a modern cult classic with some genuine charm that will make you wistful for the times when fast-paced electronic soundtracks and minimalist clothing were all that was needed for a revolution.
The good news: It's streaming now on Hulu. The bad news: It leaves on August 31. Here's why you need to watch this cult classic while you still can. (Warning: Spoilers ahead.)
Equilibrium takes place in an indeterminate future after the early years of the 21st century have been marred by World War III. Determined to prevent future conflict, society turns to a drug, Prozium II, which is injected into the neck and eliminates any emotion. To cancel out the resistance to this emotionless future, law enforcement known as Grammaton Clerics enforce the law with a special type martial art known as gunkata.
Leading all of these Grammaton Clerics is John Preston, played by a pre-Batman Christian Bale. On the surface, Bale would be perfect for this role — he had mastered the art of the unfeeling monster just a few years earlier as Patrick Bateman in American Pyscho. Yet Wimmer, who also wrote the script, painted his main character into a corner: how do you create a protagonist who doesn’t just not show emotion, but has never experienced one?
Instead, he’s good at noticing emotion in others — including his partner, Partridge (played by Sean Bean, so we'll let you guess how his character turns out).
But this ability opens him up to the suspicion of his boss Dupont (Angus MacFadyen). Dupont begins to question Preston in scenes similar to Blade Runner’s Voight-Kampf test, except not really. While the Voight-Kampf test scenes exude mystery and intrigue, Dupont’s interrogations consist of asking Preston about something terrible and then saying, “How did that make you feel?” Because remember, feeling anything is illegal.
Preston accidentally knocks over a vial of Prozium II (which, if your entire society is based on daily injections of a drug, you’d think it would be easy to attain a replacement) and starts to feel, sort of. He cries listening to Beethoven and doesn’t want a puppy dog to get shot in the face. These are all these moments when he is clearly showing emotion and Taye Diggs, who plays his hard-charging partner Brandt, grows suspicious.
There’s nothing really to be “suspicious” of. The rules of this society, stated over and over again, are to kill any “sense offender” (as people who feel things are called) on sight with no trial or investigation. Yet this almost never happens. Why do people applaud speeches? Why do speeches promoting no emotion end in crescendos? When Brandt betrays Preston, he smiles at his victory. They’re all feeling things, I yelled at the screen. Shouldn’t all of these people be murdered?
But rest assured, murder happens a lot in this movie. Gunkata never really amounts to more than “doing cool stuff with a gun,” but it is genuinely impressive gunplay. Bale finds himself again and again surrounded by enforcers and he shoots them, slices them, and shoots them again. It all looks very cool and unnecessary, and as reviewers noted at the time, is a complete rip off of the martial arts in The Matrix.
The revelations at the end of the film are boring and predictable, so it’s better to focus on Taye Diggs instead. Brandt is not in the movie for long, but he has two scenes that are particularly memorable.
One is where he gets betrayed by Preston and is taken away by guards. Here, he has to yell out and declare his innocence as they are dragging him away. But remember, he can’t show any feeling as this is happening. So all he can yell is “I’m not feeling! He is the one who is feeling!” The other is when a big boss battle is set up between him and Preston, and his face gets sliced clean off.
Equilibrium is not a movie that will teach you anything about feeling or art (the examples in the movie are basically all white, old, and European, ranging from Yeats to Da Vinci). But it will make you laugh. And at the end of the day, isn’t that the greatest sense offense of all?
Equilibrium is streaming on Hulu until August 31.