by Maria Rosemary
Utopian themes have always been a part of the sci-fi genre, but in recent decades the dystopian world is quickly taking its place. From the brutal matches of The Hunger Games to the classically sinister tones of 12 Monkeys, dystopian world views have quickly become the norm for filmmakers. Case in point, the unique and sometimes disturbing elements found in the 2015 film Equals. This fascinating yet flawed case study, produced by A24 Films and DirecTV, highlights everything that’s right and wrong about this thriving genre.
Set in a future world that has evolved into a utopia, Equals chronicles the consequences of removing emotions such as love from the human condition. As perfect as the situation seems, a growing undercurrent appears through the idea of ‘switched on syndrome.’ The term refers to people whose suppressed emotions begin to reappear. Caught in the chaos is the choice example of Silas. Actor Nicholas Hoult brings a quiet resolve to this role of the young man coming to terms with his possible infection.
The standout role of Equals does not go to Hoult, instead it rests on Kristen Stewart as Nia. She navigates the lack of emotional cues while keeping Hoult on the same page in terms of performances. In the end, Stewart carries the most powerful pull towards the question of whether Nia will choose to embrace or pull back from her new found changes. Her delivery and disposition after the couple has sex emphasizes Nia’s lack of words to truly describe how her body and mind are adapting to the moment.
When it comes to new themes, Equals is merely treading water. Suppression of any part of humanity has long been a part of many utopian and dystopian films, including THX 1138 and Gattaca. Director Drake Doremus tries to interject a semblance of new ideas, but it quickly reverts back to cliches. Some of the blame may come from his 2011 entry Like Crazy. The drama deals with traditional young love and the angst of being kept apart. Doremus wrote the screenplay for Like Crazy and came up with the story for Equals. Maybe his work would benefit from some dalliances away from these similar themes.
The minimalist aesthetic that is so present in the sci-fi genre is pointedly on display in Equals as well. Cinematographer John Guleserian brings out the shadows and muted tones that have become industry standard for utopian entries. The closed spaces and cool color palette brings a postmodern spin to the usual elements such as the minimalism found throughout the spaces of Silas’ life.
Equals may not be a film that redefines the genre, but it is an interesting look at how younger actors are adapting to the norms established by their predecessors. The film is a stand alone option that does not cater to the sci-fi audience. Fans of the excellent lead actors will enjoy seeing them in action and the Drake Doremus shows promise if he expands his work past his previous films’ storylines.