“Knowledge is the new Scripture.”
Equals takes place in the future where scientific and technological advancement have become the new gods of the age. Through advancements in genetic modification, humanity has been forbidden from experiencing emotions, physical touch and — gasp! — sex in order to increase productivity. People like Silas (Nicholas Hoult) and Nia (Kristen Stewart) live quiet, drone-like lives until, one day, rumours begin to surface that a disease has erupted, causing humanity to ‘feel’. If discovered by the powers that be, carriers are quickly taken away, never to be seen or heard of again. When Silas and Nia begin to experience an unspeakable attraction to one another, the two must decide whether to suppress their feelings or attempt to run so that they can be together.
Visually, the film is stunning. Director Drake Doremus (Still Crazy) creates a world that reveals the emotional tension through the balance of cool, clean lines and lush gardens and landscapes. (Interestingly, one of the key jobs in the future seems to be gardening, a clear reminder that nature needs to be contained and repressed.) Further, while colours remain muted at the early onset of the film, they slowly begin to dominate the frame as Silas and Nia gradually give in to their impulses.
Unfortunately, however, the film takes far too much time to get off the ground. In an effort to reveal the emotional oppression of his characters, Doremus also makes it more difficult to connect with them. As a result, it’s not until the characters are allowed to express some forms of emotion that we can begin to appreciate the performances that are taking place. As they begin to express themselves to one another, the story moves along more quickly and becomes far more interesting. (Personally, I would also argue that I’ve seen far better work from both Hoult and Stewart in the past as well.)
Thematically, Doremus clearly believes that love is an essential part of the human experience. In a world where technology has created distance between one another, he argues that this film is a timely one. “Personally, I feel that it’s very current,” he begins. “It could have taken place in the past, present or the future. It’s really about a people who are set in a world rather than a world with people in it.” Consequently, the film carries an understanding of human nature and our role as created beings that breaks through the narrative. (Incidentally, it’s also interesting to see the number of Biblical names that appear, ranging from Silas and Barnabas to Nia changing her name to Eva, potentially revealing herself as the ‘first woman’ of a new world.) Despite humanity’s best efforts, they simply cannot stop their natural impulses from revealing themselves.
In the end, Equals is an interesting entry into the science fiction genre though it also doesn’t really blaze new territory either.
Starring Kristen Stewart, Nicholas Hoult
d. Drake Doremus
*** (out of 5)