Christian Bale Is A Fucking Badass: “Equilibrium”

To sum this movie up in one sentence:
Christian Bale is a badass.

It’s really as simple as that. Yes, of course, there is plot and action and all that other stuff a movie normally has, but it all really seems to be supplementary material to show just how badass Christian Bale is.

Or, should I say, how badass Christian Bale is as John Preston, his character in Kurt Wimmer’s 2003 film, Equilibrium.

Equilibrium is basically The Matrix meets Fahrenheit 451, with a sprinkling of 1984. Libria, as the society is called, is comprised of unfeeling people. Literally. As the name implies, Libria’s inhabitants are “liberated” of the deleterious burden of emotion. After World War III, humans realized that they could not afford another such tragedy; and, having singled out emotion as the primary cause for destruction, developed a drug that entirely suppresses the human emotional response. This drug is called Prozium.

(And I am fighting very hard not to equate it to Prozac. Bear with me.)

But humanity has not stopped there. The government, known as the Tetragrammaton, run by a man called Father (read: Big Brother), has ruled illegal anything that could potentially incite feeling, and continuously updates the list of banned items that could lead to what is known as “sense offense.” Sense offense—not “sex offense,” as I mistakenly heard it the first time, and had to rewind the scene a bit—is exactly what it sounds like: If you feel any emotion at all—anger, love, sadness, anything—you are guilty of sense offense. In fact, the government has posted special child guards around Libria to pick out sense offenders. And the government means business: If a (rather creepy-looking) child in black points down at you from his guard-flanked pedestal, you probably won’t make it through the night.

The government’s crowning achievement against the crime of sense offense, though, is an elite guard known as the Grammaton Clerics. The Clerics are trained in the deadly art of Gun Kata, also known in the movie world as Gun Fu , as well as in various other martial arts. It is their job to hunt down and arrest sense offenders, thus keeping order and uniformity—keeping equilibrium. And it is to this guard that Bale’s John Preston belongs.

Preston is an almost legendary Cleric, whose own wife was a sense offender, which is possibly the reason he’s so dedicated to his profession. We first see Preston in the middle of a bust: Several armed sense offenders are holed up in a building, hording a cache of priceless paintings and other assorted banned materials. But, armed though they are, the “insurgents” are no match for Preston. He literally runs down the door, sliding into the room on it. And then—silence.

But not for long: Preston starts shooting. The rebels don’t stand a chance; within seconds, they’re all dead.

Having quickly and efficiently dispatched the rebels, Preston proceeds to search the building for sense contraband, which he finds underneath the floorboards. Among the items found is Leonardo da Vinci’s The Mona Lisa, and a book of William Butler Yeats’ poems. The former is destroyed in a fiery blast, a la Fahrenheit 451, while Preston’s partner, Partridge, played by Sean Bean, confiscates the latter.

Or so it seems. Preston notices that his colleague is behaving rather oddly, and realizes Partridge has not only kept the book for his own use, but has been skipping his Prozium intervals. Partridge has been—*dramatic pause*—feeling.

Duh-duh-duuuun!

Of course, this can only end in death. And it does. Preston plants one between Partridge’s eyes after Partridge quotes a (completely unrelated) line from Yeats’ The Cloths of Heaven at him.

(Okay, mini rant time: Seriously, guys. The Cloths of Heaven is a love poem written for Maud Gonne. If you’re going to use poetry, use it correctly. Rant over.)

Partridge’s replacement is the ambitious Brandt, played by the sexy, suave Taye Diggs, who swears he’s going to “make his career” with Preston.

If that isn’t foreshadowing, then I don’t know what is. Because I’m sure you can guess what happens next. Preston misses a dose of Prozium—the vial falls from the bathroom counter—and starts to feel. And once he starts to feel, he doesn’t want to stop.

These strange things called “feelings” open up an entirely new world for Preston. He is unable to live his life objectively; everything he touches, hears, sees, affects him. As you might imagine, this causes a wee bit of trouble in the workplace. Preston can no longer carry out his duties as a Cleric (read: heartless murder and destruction) as effectively as he did before—and the sly Brandt takes notice.

To make matters worse, Preston finds himself falling in love with Emily Watson’s Mary O’Brien, a sense offender he arrests the first day he’s “off his meds”. Because the film likes to be blatantly obvious at times, Mary’s physical appearance exemplifies the height of Romantic feeling: tumbling, chestnut locks; large, blue eyes; soft, fair skin; and full, rosy lips.

In other words, she’s pretty much a breathing J.W. Waterhouse painting .

Preston’s love for Mary and his desire to save her life give him the gumption and the courage to fight the Tetragrammaton. He joins forces with the Resistance, and attempts to infiltrate the Tetragrammaton in order to kill Father. Of course, many things go awry, but if I told you what they were, then there would be no point in watching the movie, now would there?

(I will, however, tell you not to expect unicorns and rainbows at the end of the flick.)

Despite the fact that the cast is pretty spiffy, the acting is only so-so. Bale’s transition from an unfeeling killer to a sentimental killer is fairly well-done, but I still felt that he didn’t approach the transition itself in the right way. If you think about it, suddenly having the capacity to feel would be quite the shock to someone who had never experienced feeling before. But Bale seems to take it in stride, and doesn’t quite give it the uumph such a change would be expected to evoke.

Diggs plays the role of heartless bastard very well. Unfortunately, this doesn’t exactly strain Diggs’ acting talent, as the role mainly consists of empty smiles and blunt, pointed lines, with a side of honed martial arts skills. Watson, as Diggs’ character’s polar opposite, plays the part of the pretty motivation decently, but remains rather two-dimensional. Part of her problem isn’t entirely her fault: She doesn’t get many lines. But with the limited screen time she’s given, she mainly just sits there and trembles, like a Romantic leaf, thus rendering her flatter than she was probably meant to be.

The other baddies are just that: Other baddies. Aside from Father, played by Sean Pertwee, and Dupont, the man behind father, played by Angus MacFayden, no one actually stands out. And, in fact, it is not the pair’s acting that make them memorable. They stand out primarily because of the characters’ roles in the plot: Father, because he is essentially Big Brother, and Dupont, because Preston reports to him frequently throughout the movie. So, aside from Brandt—who barely manages to fill the role of interesting villain—the bad guys are kind of…boring.

Still, boring villains or no, the action sequences are phenomenal. Of course, as I mentioned earlier, they mainly serve to show how many cool things Bale can do in a limited amount of time, but it doesn’t really matter. This film is an action-packed Sci-Fi, and it treats itself as such. Sure, the movie skims the waters of philosophy—should humans really feel?—but its main function is to entertain, and it knows it. Even though the movie itself isn’t amazing or unique in any way, it doesn’t put on airs, and pretend to be something it’s not. So if you don’t go into this film expecting to have a Socratic discussion about the nature of human feeling afterwards, you should thoroughly enjoy this movie.

Unless, of course, you have an aversion to awesome.

Love,

Film Bitch

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