Oh, boy! Who doesn’t love overstated dystopian paranoia? Nobody doesn’t love overstated dystopian paranoia!
In the wake of the Third World War, the surviving government of the future (and the pointedly very near future, at that) outlaw “the true source of man’s inhumanity to man: his ability to feel.” That’s a direct quote from Equilibrium’s opening moments, which gives the proceedings a faint whiff of the middle-school English class.
In an effort to eradicate emotion, the surviving populace is tightly controlled and dosed regularly with mood-suppressing drugs. Special tactical teams circulate solely to round up and destroy artifacts and practitioners of emotional content. In other words, they burn all the artwork they can find, starting with the Mona Lisa, and execute “Sense Offenders.” Judging by the largest trove we see, “art” includes not only Leonardo and Beethoven and Yeats, but anything kitschy or old-tyme-y, but evidently not the super-sleek Modernist regalia and equipage of the regime itself.
Our hero is the blank-faced stormtrooper John Preston (Christian Bale, doing blank-faced rigor as no one else can), who accidentally commits the capital crime of, y’know, feeling emotions. Equilibrium feels almost like a very dry satire of the tidy-future post-apocalyptic genre (for example, Gattaca and 1984 and, uh, Gattaca again) mixed with a somewhat sloppy send-up of The Matrix.
But it’s not all poorly executed lightning-fast fights! The director wants you to know he’s all philosophical, too, so he serves up a mish-mash of societal indictments. By my count, Equilibrium takes a stand against: war, totalitarian governments, personal betrayal, anti-depressants and mood stabilizers, organized religion, and puppy-killing. (This is not a joke.)
What is Equilibrium in favor of? Uh… freedom! And art! And, like, emotions, which manifest themselves largely through Beethoven and puppies and blowing stuff up with lots and lots of bullets. AWESOME.