Equals revisits the dystopian film. There is a good deal of familiarity to its plot. The future where the populace must take drugs to suppress emotion has been done in other films such as THX 1138 (1971) and Equilibrium (2002), while the repression of sexuality and relationships goes all the way back to the work that is the template for dystopian fiction George Orwell Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). Indeed, the lovers against the system plot is a staple of almost any dystopian work see the abovementioned, plus other works like Fahrenheit 451 (1966), Logans Run (1976) and Code 46 (2003). Much of Equals feels strongly influenced by THX 1138, George Lucass first film, with the themes of a narcotised populace and especially with the adoption of the same blinding antiseptic white-on-white visual look.
The more you think about the set up, I cannot say that I am sure a world that forbids emotion would work. What we essentially have is a world of Vulcans. Would some emotions not be necessary to the function of the world? How would this societys much vaunted scientific enquiry and artistic instincts work if the mind was simply cool and logical rather than driven by curiosity and an appreciation of beauty, both of which are drives that come from emotional places? The other interesting thing that occurs to me is that when the characters finally do discover emotion after having suppressed it all their lives, would they not be emotionally undeveloped akin to children as opposed to the calm and collected adults they behave as?
Drake Doremus creates a world that comes in the soothingly banal tones of a hygiene commercial. Doremus has taken the production to film in areas of Singapore and Japan that naturally provide such a look. And there is a very nice sense of design I particularly liked the large-sized drawing board computers and their graphic interfaces. The problem with the film is that every scene comes in this same featurelessly nondescript visual scheme. It should naturally follow that when the two central characters discover attraction and emotion then the film should follow and erupt into colour and chaos to match. There is a little bit of this when it comes to the love scene late in the show but the scenes with Nicholas Hoult and Kristen Stewart together on their secret rendezvous in a toilet cubicle come with the same lack of affect as the rest of the film.
The film also suffers from the casting of Kristen Stewart. Try as she might to establish herself with indie and respectable credentials in the aftermath of the Twilight saga see the likes of Walter Salles On the Road (2012), Olivier Assayass Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) and Personal Shopper (2016), Woody Allens Cafe Society (2016) her performances remain laconic and without any effort placed into them, like the passive aggressiveness of a pouty teenager who resents being told what to do. Here she has been given one simple thing to do playing someone who displays no emotion and even manages to fail at that. She just comes across as unwell every time we see her such that you cannot help but wonder what Nicholas Hoult sees in her. Hoult by contrast is fine in his part and proves himself a better actor with every film he does. Its just with her as the figurative loose wheel, the films emotional centre remains hobbled.