It’s been 60 years since it was written and 24 since it was repurposed in a kick-ass Mac commercial, but 1984 still serves as the future dujour for gloomy Gus prognosticators of the post-apocalyptic persuasion. From George Lucas to Terry Gilliam, filmmakers have forecasted a fate of atrophied individualism and eternal surveillance, and Kurt Wimmer’s Equilibrium is no different, though this mashup also including Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451 proves quickly dated in a post 9/11 world, where political advisers read 1984 as an instruction manual.
But more importantly, Equilibrium introduces then under-utilizes gunkata, a martial art incorporating firearms that in theory allows a master to dodge bullets in a heavy firefight, but generally devolves in practice to twirling while randomly firing, or occasionally slap fighting with pistols. Absurdly, after the art’s belated explanation a half hour in, the gunkata thing only comes up a few more times, as the film’s mindless action potential is ultimately sacrificed for dystopic doomsaying, leaving both concepts underdeveloped and the film’s rare-for-the-genre optimism unconvincing. Poorly conceived gun martial arts can save the future, maybe, but not a fairly directionless film that borrows all its best moves from better works.
A pre-Batman Christian Bale stars as Tetragrammaton Cleric John Preston, a high-ranking law enforcement officer charged with sniffing out and destroying creations likely to coerce human emotion, deemed too volatile after World War III nearly annihilated the planet. Citizens are thus required to abstain from feelings and creativity and dose daily with a soul-numbing antidepressant dubbed, subtly, Prozium. These CliffsNotes metaphorics continue: Preston torches the Mona Lisa and fires a gun through the collected works of Yeats, then changes heart after witnessing a mass puppy execution. And Preston’s title of cleric and propensity for high-collar black suits, not to mention the Man’s pitching Prozium as opiate for the masses, aggressively solicits comparisons to the current incestuous reconciliation of church and state, but the filmmakers seem to have misread the signs portending the modern-day triumph of blind emotion over reason. When the State pushes causeless war on the unfamiliar in a climate of irrational fear and hatred, emotional temperance is damn near a cause célèbre.