Ever since I first bumped into the movie Equilibrium, I deeply liked it. Aesthetically, narratively, and for its dystopian social commentary. The critics didn't; they wrote it off as just one more dark, run-of-the-mill dystopia, saved only by the sleek outfits, the overblown commentary, and, of course, a hefty dose of noveau martial arts with guns.
Once more I don't know what this movie was supposed to tell us. Interpretation of just about any artistic work is bound to be a fickle, unsure and highly subjective process. Given my own eccentric leanings in aesthetics, I'd even say that the whole business is completely subjective -- what the critics say is good rarely coincides with what I deem to be so. But still...
Art stilll has its internal invariances. The internal symmetry that pervades the work, in one form or another. When that symmetry involves societal issues, it still challenges us. In art, you can bring on any symmetry you like, and that symmetry is going to be readable across the board when done right. No matter whether you like it or not.
In this case, I think the relevant symmetry is the tradeoff between emotion and order. The tradeoff between a neatly functioning, deterministic, safe society, and the one where individuality makes things complex, chaotic and, in the rhetoric of the film, "too human and emotional". That tradeoff and dynamic is pressed beyond all recognition, perhaps then making this flick a bit too overbearing for an analyst that goes at it with the usual, neutral starting point.
But if you *really* look at it, the so-called dystopia depicted could in fact be a kind of utopia as well. Indeed, there is no war there. No love triangles, no aggression, nothing personally or impersonally threatening. Sure, there is the control mechanism to keep things as such, and that gives rise to a certain dramatical dystopian imagery like maladroits continually being removed by force from the community, and incinerated. But the real philosophical touchstone is still the basic, personal existence of the majority, and the feelings of the protagonist as a (pivotal) part of it. If you think about it, that sort of existence is alien, but conceivable, and not necessarily all that bad.
This ambivalence is what makes Equilibrium so compelling to me. Also, it does not hurt the work that there is an amount of high-caliber action and martial arts going on: that could equally well be interpreted as an artistic means to get the real point across. Thoughtful people could or should read it as such as well. Then they would laud the work as something that encapsulates deeper philosophical contrapositions into a form which actually captivates the common audience. I aim at a win-win interpretation, and I think I have one here, despite common critical acclaim.
Finally, and simply personally, the visual style and composition in this film simply rocks. It would have been enough if they just invented gun-kata for it. But the cinematography goes *so* far beyond that. The sets are amazingly genre-consistent and particular, the consistent high contrast draws my eye, there is a definite visual reference to the monochromatic era, perspective is being used rather liberally to give a sense of space to the scenes, and the handling of photographic time takes on a quality I've *never* seen before or since (i.e. it hints at the kind of bullet-time Matrix used, but it completely stays away from the special effects used there, instead opting for lighting, perspective and well-placed visual cuts).
That all is the hallmark of an inspired photographer at work. The audio track, it's the genre-specific, which makes it rather muted, choppy, mostly non-dialogue. Just as the visual scenery is: a sequence of impressionistic sketches. Very much true to the cyberpunk form of telling futuristic stories.
As I already said, I really, *really* like the result. Perhaps you now understand why, and also why I think this particular movie is in my estimation under-appreciated.