Equals (2016)

83

There have been so many films made about the future, and what society will look like, and they start to become very homogeneous and interchangeable. Humanity has a fixation with speculating about our future, and somehow, all films set in the future are at one of two extremes – either they show a completely destroyed, post-apocalyptic society, or they show a seemingly perfect utopia with flaws. There is hardly ever a middle-ground, and considering that we are currently living through the exact period that many early films portrayed as “the future”, it is doubtful an apocalypse or a utopia is anywhere near us. Having said this, Equals is yet another work of speculative science fiction that tries to show the future of the human race, and while I will be the first to admit that Equals is not much different from similar films, it is still a very special film.

Equals tells the story of a society in the near-future, where emotions have been apparently completely eradicated, with each individual being an eternal cog in a much more sinister, but seemingly helpful, machine. Without emotion, each individual works together as part of “The Collective”, and those that display some form of emotion are labelled as having “Switched-on Syndrome” and are eliminated, as not to affect the rest of The Collective. The film centers on Silas (Nicholas Hoult), an illustrator who finds himself diagnosed with the disease, and faced with certain death after the disease progresses too far, he finds a likely partner in Nia (Kristen Stewart), a writer who also has the disease, but hides it from the world, so that she is not eliminated. The pair begin a romance, where they try and find the beauty in feeling emotion – however, complications arise that make them question their own position as a part of The Collective, and consider the benefits and ramifications of being in love with someone in a society that doesn’t permit it. Equals is very obvious in its influences – I could see so many science fiction elements throughout the film, ranging from Kubrick to George Orwell’s 1984 – nearly every major science fiction film or piece of literature is represented here, even if only slightly.

The message in Equals is surely very heavy – there is so much to unpack in this film, and the themes are very complex – on all issues, both personal and social, Equals seems to make some form of commentary on our society, reflecting many contemporary issues in a way that it didn’t directly address them, but rather imply that small problems with today’s society will likely turn into major issues with the society of the future. To unpack all these themes and messages is a daunting task – there is clearly something at play here, and director Drake Doremus clearly has a direct vision for what he wants to say here, and while it may be overwhelming to look at everything he is trying to say here, it is not as contrived or convoluted as one would think, and he is clearly trying to show two grander themes – that of social problems and personal issues.

On a social note, Equals shows the mundanity of living, and how we are slowly turning into corporate drones, who only exist to wake up and go to work, with very little drive or motivation to do so, other than the idea that if someone doesn’t work a meaningless job, they are not functional. The characters are seen, all dressed in the same white outfits, walking in singular formation to and from their boring jobs in generic buildings, and living very sad but tolerable lives. As much as we would like to believe that we are individuals, the world is encouraging conformity and obedience to the unwritten rules of life. The characters in Equals are shown to be content with their lives – they are just oblivious to the mundanity of it because their emotions are censored, and thus they do not realize the problem with conforming to the same set of rules, where someone else, a much more powerful and omnipotent figure, makes all the important decisions for you.

On a personal note, Equals shows how we are getting far too detached from our emotions, and are failing to look beyond our narrow world-view, as we are surrounded by advice on how to live, we are forgetting what it means to be alive. The biggest message comes in the way that Doremus shows a society where emotion is completely eradicated – but he is clearly implying that as a society, we are individually losing track of our natural emotions and urges, and are rather letting the decisions of others affect on how we act. Of course, we are far from being the mindless, emotionless drones shown in this film, but we are starting to become a society where we are governed by a way of thinking and acting, and individualism is starting to become more and more punished, maybe not on a political level, but certainly on a social level, where freedom of speech and expression is starting to become a major issue of discussion. In a way, Equals is showing us where our society is headed if we don’t start expressing ourselves and being who we truly are – and if that isn’t a terrifying concept, that we will eventually turn into emotionless zombies, then I am not sure what is.

The film is anchored by two superb performances, from two of the finest young actors working today. Nicholas Hoult continues his rise from child actor to mature leading man with his memorable and subtle work as Silas. I think Hoult will knock it out of the park any day now, and give a performance that is completely undeniable. His performance in Equals is far from being as memorable and worthy of his talents, but he is quietly constructing a solid filmography, and a film as subtle and meaningful as Equals will definitely prove that Hoult has the power to be a true leading star. Hoult has had a really long career already, but he becomes better and better with each and every one of them, and his true breakthrough will come very soon – and he certainly has a career to make his contemporaries, who are stuck in bad action films and mediocre romantic nonsense, absolutely jealous, and have their careers pale in comparison to Hoult’s already fascinating career trajectory.

The other actor is Kristen Stewart, who has already proven herself as a great leading lady, and unfortunately, very controversially so. Kristen Stewart is needlessly reviled, and it honestly upsets me, because her performance in the Twilight Saga was far from being even partially good – but every actor makes mistakes, and since then, Stewart has gone on to make some extraordinary films, and has proven herself to be a great talent – but the fixation on her performance in Twilight overshadows nearly everything else she does, and that is unfortunate, because while the Twilight films were dreadful, every one of Stewart’s contemporaries have done equally bad films, it is just that Stewart is just reviled for Twilight because it is a populist opinion. In Equals, Stewart once again gives another great performance, and many people will claim that she was born to play this role of an emotionless drone – but that is quickly dismantled when it is clear that Stewart gives a nuanced and delicate performance that is equal parts heartbreaking as it is fascinating. Stewart is a very talented actress, and her star continues to rise, and her most vehement critics will continue to be proven wrong as she actually shows that she is one of the most talented young performers working today.

Equals is a great film – it may be slow, and void of any significant development, but it is also free of film cliches, and you never know where it is leading you next. It may not be a high point in the careers of anyone involved, but it is certainly something different for all of them. It is a great science fiction film, and I highly recommend it – it is something to think about, and it is most certainly intelligent cinema in its finest form.

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