As anybody who has ever spoken to me will know, I hold the writing of authors Aldous Huxley and George Orwell in very high regard. Equilibrium, while it didn’t perform well in the Box Office, was thoroughly enjoyable and did a fantastic job of mixing together elements from two of the greatest dystopian novels ever written: Brave New World, and 1984. Additionally, a friend pointed out it also has firemen from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, another great dystopian novel.
The film touched me personally, as it is heavily centered around the themes of repressing one’s own humanity, and sacrificing the turmoil and chaos of a full life for one of safety, conformity and regularity.
At the end of the review, I will draw parallels to our modern world.
Spoiler alert. I will be discussing the themes of this film in-depth and sparing no plot details past this point.
The State of Libra
The protagonist of the film is John Preston, who works as a Cleric for the city-state of Libra. Clerics are elite operators responsible for enforcing the rules and regulations of the regime, utilizing the martial art Gunkata… Think the matrix.
John Preston’s society was formed from the ashes of the third world war, a nuclear holocaust. The new society, designed to prevent another global conflict, is built upon the chemical repression of emotions through the drug Prozium. It is thought that, by sacrificing the chaos of emotion, war, murder and violence will cease to exist. For a sizable portion of the world, this becomes reality; citizens of Libra take timed doses of Prozium throughout the working week. As far as I could tell, the handheld syringes were used twice a day. For these people, life is simply a formality; they live and work in total harmony with everybody around them, perfect citizens, all working in a similar way as to not invoke jealousy. For the rest of the population, this is not the case.
Most art, literature, entertainment and is banned, as they can invoke emotions, turning a user into a thought-crimin…, er, sense-offender. Sense-offenders are considered as, at best, enemies of the state, and at worst, terrorists.
It is John Preston’s duty to find and punish these sense offenders.
Brief Summary of Plot
The film follows Grammaton Cleric Frist Class John Preston as he slowly wakes up to the inhumanity of his society, and begins to feel for himself, a crime he is trained to detect and punish.
While on a mission persuing terrorists, he notices his partner take a book of poetry. Slowly, he realizes that his own partner is a sense offender, and ends up killing him. Shortly thereafter, John accidentally breaks one of his doses of Prozium, and begins to experience emotions.
Over the course of the film, John ceases to take Prozium entirely, while attempting to maintain a cold and indifferent facade for his children and work partner. He begins to, rather than performing his usual operations, act on his newfound morality. This causes him many problems; refusing to kill people (and puppies,) draws suspicion from his new partner. The Council have suspicions that a Cleric is feeling.
Eventually this leads John to become a member of an underground resistance who is plotting to kill Father, a Big-Brother-like figure who gives orders and propaganda to society. An assasination plot is formed, but John Preston is caught hours before as he begins weeping over the incineration of a woman whose life he saved.
He turns his interrigation around, stating the crying was a ruse to reveal his partner as a thought criminal (who wasn’t.) He proceeds with the assasination plans, but is caught at the last moment as Father (revealed to be a council member, as the real Father had died,) explains to Preston that his fall into feeling and infiltration into the resistance was planned, to crush the resistance and bring order to the fringes of society.
John basically goes full matrix at this point and, using concealed pistols, rampages through the council chambers, killing everybody, engaging in several exciting sword/gunkata battles, and destroying the propaganda machines powering all the displays in the city.
At the same moment, the underground destroys the Prozium distribution facilities, and a riot begins. The Librian government has fallen.
Why Equilibrium Resonated With Me
For a time, boiling alive in a chaotic sea of confused anguish, I thought the best way forward was simply to shut off everything human. If I could turn off all of my human desires and emotions, I thought, I could become a perfect and rational being, unaffected by the pull of internal chemicals and hormones, nonplussed by my personal situation and failures.
Looking back now, these thoughts were desperate and delusional. I’ve since moved past these ideas, arriving at a better place, recognizing that what ties us to this world and those around us is exactly the set of feelings I wanted to repress.
Equilibrium demonstrates, through similar observations and character transformations, the meaninglessness of a life without feeling.
A Warning from Science Fiction
In Canada today, we continue to slide catastrophically towards a low-trust society. Policies that outright discourage assimilation have led to the formation of many ethnic enclaves in Canada, each with their own culture, values, and tribal interests.
No one can serve two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.1
Equilibrium solves the problem of global differences by sedating the entire population and repressing human emotions, ensuring everyone feels that they belong to the same monoculture. In effect, this obliterates everything unique about each person’s culture, reducing each member of the society to an atom, ensuring they have no commonality with any other man, for any reason apart from belonging to a group controlled by the state.
In effect, Libra ensures it has control by chemically enforcing an unnatural monoculture, tribalizing the society down to an atomic level. Parallels can be seen in the new religion of Intersectionality: the fewer people who identify with one another, the easier they are to subvert and control. Divided, we fall.
Divided, we fall…
Then again, it is equally easy to control a group of people who identify strongly with one another.
Hm… We’ll have to think more about this.
…Isn’t Facebook’s new cryptocurrency called Libra?
Atmosphere and Cinematography
While low-budget, the atmosphere of Libra is immersive, clean, and utterly real. The set, costumes, color grading, all convey a sort of perfect emptiness. The citizens go about their lives like trains on tracks, like a cat trapped in a box on antibiotics, unthinking, just moving forward.
Nothing that I saw broke my immersion.
- You should probably watch this film.
- You should definitely watch this film if you’re into dystopian science fiction.
- Is it better to face the chaos of human emotion, or cease to live altogether?
Matthew 6:24 ↩︎