Equals full movie review - Fairly compelling futuristic take on forbidden love in Utopia-dystopia
While somewhat recalling models as diverse as "Romeo and Juliet", "Brave New World" and even "Logan's Run" or the Star Trek Next Generation episode "The Outcast", "Equals" ult
imately succeeds in being its own film, and is a worthwhile enough effort from American Director Drake Doremus and British writer Nathan Parker.
The piece creates a future (post-nuclear war) world of "The Collective" whose evolution and raison d'etre are both left a bit too sketchy for purist sci-fi lovers to be entirely happy with. It seems this society devotes a lot of energy to space research and exploration (and presumably also exploitation, given the degraded state of Planet Earth?) But what we do know is that where other parts of the world still exist at all, they are chaotic, risky and descended into primitivism; whereas within its limits "the Collective" is well-organised and effective, but also a bit more than that. People's freedom is curtailed, certainly, but their creativity is encouraged, they are well-fed and pretty well cared-for. And the happiness and emotional stability engineered into them genetically is neither as extreme nor as dictatorial as that of Huxley's imagination. This new world is therefore less "brave" and, for those like ourselves looking in from outside, far more seductive as a result. The plants grow well enough there, the birds still sing, and the bees (NOT bumblebees as the lead female claims) still buzz...
This world's main flaw - if flaw it be (given that what one's never had one may never miss?) - is that it treats excessive emotion, and most notably love, as an incurable and indeed terminal disease, with case management tending to end in assisted suicide. Others tend to eschew the assistance and do it themselves, as it were.
Why this should all be so is a question to be asked by audience-members, but one the makers rather tend not to answer. Nevertheless, to this extent, the society of "The Collective" is cruel and repressive, though in people's dullish though quite aesthetically-pleasing day-to-day lives this is not overly visible. While there is plenty of surveillance, we are still far away from "1984" here.
As regards the making of the film, this brings us to a plus-point - a visual side boasting immaculate interiors and architectural exteriors which mix locations chosen with considerable care with interesting (if rather lowest common denominator) interior design solutions. It's well done and cohesive-looking, and hence pretty impactful.
The fact that the "disease" of love still keeps cropping up in a minority of inhabitants gives the makers plenty of scope for on-screen analogies with earlier-era hangups regarding homosexuality, AIDS and so on. These points are not forced upon us, but they are in their clearly enough.
Ironically, though (and fittingly) it is heterosexual interaction that is this time the sweet-tasting forbidden fruit - and so much so that the close approach of a male and a female hand or wondering at the shape of an ear or eyebrow of a member of the opposite sex here becomes erotically charged above and beyond the "normal", given that this kind of thing has now become "so wrong".
The middle section of the film is thus redolent with the our-world reality of "first love", but here it is writ large, and this is indeed a beautiful, telling and powerful circumstance. Our heroes Silas and Nia are played (well-played, I would say) by the more-than-passably-good-looking Nicholas Hoult and Kristen Stewart, but objective criteria of beauty are beyond the point here, as the thing would work with less visually-pleasing actors too. Notwithstanding the generic clothes leaving much to the imagination, the boyish hair, the straitened emotional circumstances and so on, he starts to fancy her (at first in curiosity and then with ecstatic wonder and growing need). And - very fortuitously (but also presumably not by chance, given that both turn out to be "infected") - she is more than ready to reciprocate. The fact that they hardly know where to start when they finally get some alone time is as sweet and touching as it is quite forcibly erotic. Later they get the hang of it well enough to achieve pregnancy (!), but here, at the outset at least, a finger against someone's chin or cheek can be a thrilling and ecstatic experience all by itself. This might be as true in our world as in theirs...
A reasonably-persuasive, if quite familiar "underground resistance movement" plot line then steps into the film, as we wonder what can be done to help our happy but hapless lovers; but the film is a little past its peak achievement by this stage. However, there is a bit of a twist in the tale before we arrive at a possibly optimistic if equivocal ending.
For those who do not ask too many questions about the side issues, "Equals" has a touching and at times erotic experience to offer. And, while "forbidden love" is a far less obvious phenomenon for most people than it once was, it is only right that film-makers should confront their audiences with it, not for the first time in a circumstance in which science fiction settings allow and encourage us to think about the existence - and the value - of what we have.