Film Review – Equals
Thanks to The Hunger Games and the genre of young adult novels with dystopia themes, we have a plethora of films that have run the gambit of what a future world may look like if some destruction happens to the Earth or some fantastical, mythical world similar to ours. However, not all of these films are geared towards young adults, but do focus on “young” love and what happens in a world where there is so much more going on in life than who you might meet and love.
Enter Drake Doremus’ Equals, a science fiction-esque story of a community of people forged after something terrible happened to the world. This film takes place after the powers-that-be figured out how to achieve a harmonious world; There are no emotions and all are equal. There is no discrepancy in status, living conditions, or how people live their lives. Some importance placed on what kind of job a person does, but that’s about it. Unfortunately, emotions start to creep back into the population, a kind of genetic break down of what these people are bred to not have. It is called S.O.S., Switched On Syndrome, and it is treated like a plague, relegating those infected to three stages and eventual seclusion in a “den” before you kill yourself by suggested methods. Silas (Nicholas Hoult) is just living his life as an equal when he suddenly becomes afflicted with something new, an emotion. Being a model equal, he goes to the doctor immediately and discovers he is Stage One of S.O.S.. Thus begins Silas’ awakening to his world. He notices that his coworker Nia (Kristen Stewart) is quite fidgety and does not react the same as his equal peers. She is an S.O.S. hider. Through the discovery of their emotions and connection to each other, a love is formed, one that is not permitted.
Equals is stunningly simple and beautiful in its setting. Filmed in Japan and Singapore, the buildings and landscape all have the futuristic, modern feel. The use of little visible technology outside of screens and computers gives it a simple structure. There is nothing flashy to take your attention off the story at hand. It keeps the focus on the people living in this world, most of whom where crisp white clothes. The setting is not unique to this film, but I found it more streamlined and less showy.
Other than the story and the setting, the score by Dustin O’Halloran and Sascha Ring is chaotic and jarring and becomes a tool of conveying the emotions brimming from within Nia and Silas. It may not be a beautiful score, but it is one that viewers will notice and is essential to the story being told. Without it, the film would lose its urgency and panic, two things that this film leans on as the last third of film unfolds.
Both Nicholas Hoult and Kristen Stewart are interesting choices to portray Silas and Nia. Stewart is awkward and fidgety in real life so that lends to Nia’s struggle to maintain life as an equal. Stewart is not someone I could see as conforming and blending into the masses. She is not supposed to stand out, but she does. She does not fit into the cookie-cutter equals that we see on the screen. She does excel at the struggle to maintain the illusion of normalcy and to let go with Silas. Her nervousness is always there, even when Silas and Nia have given into each other. Hoult is almost too attractive to play Silas. However, he fits the role of playing a “sheep” well, content to live his life as instructed with not much curiosity until S.O.S. infects him. It is then that Hoult brings Silas to live with wide-eyed curiosity and newly found self-awareness.
It is impossible to see Equals and not try to rattle off in your brain the other films and novels that it is similar to in terms of setting or story. Personally, Gattaca and The Giver both have similarities to Equals. We have been so inundated with dystopia films in the last ten years that it is almost impossible to make one that will be truly unique. Equals can also be called a futuristic Romeo and Juliet, combining the future with classic tales of love destined to fail. Other than the setting and the score, the ultimate saving grace of Equals is the unpredictable turn that Silas and Nia’s love story takes. So while you might have it all figured out based on those other films, somehow Equals manages to escape predictability. And a surprise Guy Pearce as a supporting character doesn’t hurt either.