the future, employee fraternization will be strictly forbidden. The entire
world will be a “safe place” because all emotions will be “switched-off” at
birth. Unfortunately, Silas has contracted “Switched-On Syndrome,” or “the
Bug.” As a result, he has it bad for his co-worker, whom he also suspects is
similarly afflicted. All love is forbidden and hurts like the dickens in Drake
Doremus’s Equals (trailer here), which screens during this
year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
Big Brother, the drones of this Collective are constantly inundated with PSAs
designed to maintain public order. Silas has what still ought to be a cool job
working as an illustrator, but he constantly asks Nia unnecessary questions
about her stories. That makes her uncomfortable, perhaps too uncomfortable. It
turns out Nia is indeed a “hider,” who secretly tries to control her SOS
symptoms to avoid being ostracized like Silas, who admitted Maoist-style to his
and Nia soon commence a reckless, highly illegal love affair. He also gets some
understanding and practical advice from an underground support group led by
Jonas and Bess. The latter will be especially handy to know, since she is a
hider working at the Collective’s dreaded Health and Safety Department.
Inevitably, Silas and Nia are discovered, at which point Equals becomes a dystopian riff on Romeo & Juliet.
we have seen this severe future before, but maybe we need to see it again,
because we keep forgetting how much freedom we sacrifice when we demand
absolute safety from the government. The Switched-Off science of Equals might be speculative, but its
implications are already with us. Doremus and his location scouts also help
freshen things up with some strikingly neo-futuristic backdrops, including the
I.M. Pei designed Miho Museum in Japan and Singapore’s Marina Barrage and
Henderson Wave Bridge. If Kristen Stewart fans start making Equals pilgrimages, they might actually
learn a little something about modernist architecture and Asian art.
course, probably Doremus’ most inspired strategic decision was casting Stewart
and Nicholas Hoult as a couple trying to hide their emotions. Presumably, his
direction amounted to “be yourselves.” They look perfect together, as if you could
stick them on a dystopian wedding cake in World
on a Wire or Gattica.
Fortunately, Guy Pearce and Jacki Weaver are reliably engaging as Jonas and
Bess. Evidently, when an all-powerful collective starts bleaching the human
spirit you can still trust Australians. Unfortunately, Claudia Kim is
ridiculously under-employed as the PSA voice of the Collective.
In retrospect, the
relative reserve of Doremus’s conclusion is rather fitting, even if the
optimism is forced. Regardless, it is a stylish and arguably somewhat timely
return to the tightly regimented future 1984
and Metropolis warned of decades
ago. Recommended for fans of anti-utopian and relationship-driven science
fiction, Equals screens again this
afternoon (4/21), as a Viewpoints selection of the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.
Labels: Dystopian Cinema, Guy Pearce, Jacki Weaver, Kristen Stewart, Tribeca '16