starring Nicholas Hoult, Kristen Stewart, Jacki Weaver, Guy Pearce
screenplay by Nathan Parker
directed by Drake Doremus
by Walter Chaw Drake Doremus's Equals is Gattaca and Equilibrium and THX 1138 and Code 46 and Michael Radford's great 1984, all mashed up into an easy to conceptualize and even easier to swallow twenty-something romance that posits simply that love conquers all. It's inoffensive at all times, is only "science-fiction" because there's a blue filter on the lens, and offers so little that is its own that it's easy to miss an exceptional cast doing exceptional work. Equals is another prize example of one of those movies that people will struggle to remember (like Mark Romanek's Never Let Me Go--just like, in fact) or come upon some time later on down the line only to remark how such-and-such is a big star now and how you never knew so-and-so was in this and, hey, how is it they got so many amazing folks in such a blah picture; did it even get a release?
Key players here include Nicholas Hoult as a guy who works at a space place and Kristen Stewart who also works there and Guy Pearce and Jacki Weaver. In the tomorrow-time, see, after wars have done what they do in pictures like this, the remaining humans in this sterile community are discouraged from showing emotions. Emotions are bad. When people show emotions in this crazy future-city, they're diagnosed with a disorder called "SOS," which stands for "Switched-On Syndrome" but is also a cry for help. Get it? Because they don't. In this future world, there is no history or Morse Code, but it is otherwise very advanced. Well, lo, Silas (Hoult) starts having feelings for Nia (Stewart), and Nia, you know, starts having those same feelings back. They are lovers in a dangerous time. For a while it looks like Equals will earn credibility by being sort of a "Romeo & Juliet" tragedy where a lot of misunderstandings lead to a terrible symbolic irony, but alas, no dice.
Pearce and Weaver play leaders of some kind of emotional resistance, doing their level best to stick it to the Man by facilitating this forbidden love affair. And they are wonderful. When Pearce tells Silas not worry about Nia, that he's got it handled, it's played with real delicacy and nuance. He's on a suicide mission, we know, not because the film is completely predictable in every single way (it is), but because Pearce plays out that ambiguity and sadness beautifully. So magisterial in Animal Kingdom, Weaver, too, humanizes a stock figure constructed mainly as an exposition Pez dispenser. Best, though, is Stewart, who demonstrates a genuinely compelling burn. She reminds me a little of Anna Karina in Vivre sa vie. She's a blank canvas, Kuleshov's dream avatar, and the way she emerges has everything to do with a hollow of her eye and a twitch at the side of her mouth. I like the moment where she tells someone she's completed an extra assignment and the reserve that it takes to exhibit both happiness and control. She's great, and I haven't always been a fan.
For the rest of it, Equals is a movie with no ideas to speak of. It's a zombified, lockstep romantic imbroglio that ploughs no new ground in a sometimes-pretty environment. It's not about identity, or time, or space--Ballard's three pillars of science-fiction--but rather whether or not these two very appealing and attractive co-workers will fall for each other and live happily ever after. Love is good. People in love will do things for their partners and endeavour to stay together whatever forces conspire to keep them apart. The picture says these things in clicky whispers that make entire scenes sound like they're played out in Khoisan click language, and it paces long dialogues out at one-quarter time, the better to convey the extreme gravity of Silas and Nia's predicament, which is indicated as well by folky songs that are a bit on the nose. Equals is a bad movie, and boring, though it's not offensive and therefore it's easy to ignore and forget. See also Doremus's Like Crazy for this story, but with Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones.