Equals (2015)

  • Time: 101 min
  • Genre: Drama | Romance | Sci-Fi
  • Director: Drake Doremus
  • Cast: Kristen Stewart, Nicholas Hoult, Guy Pearce


A futuristic love story set in a world where emotions have been eradicated.


  • In Drake Doremus’ Equals, the future is envisioned as a dystopia where feelings are suppressed and emotions are dangerous to both the individual and the collective. Like Gattaca, the populace functions as a carefully monitored group. Like The Island, everyone is garbed in white, all the better to emphasise the sterile homogeny of this particular society. And as with so many films of its ilk, love will threaten the new world order.

    Silas (Nicholas Hoult) is one such drone living in a time where the common cold and cancer have been eradicated and war is a concept to be found in the historical records. He works as an illustrator for a science journal that researches and documents the past world. His days, like so many others, consists of getting up, going to work, and coming back home only to start the cycle all over again. The monotony is soon interrupted by reports of an outbreak of Switched On Syndrome (SOS), an incurable condition in which problem genes awaken, leading to unpredictable sensory experiences and behavioural defects. On the way home from work, he encounters a couple being escorted by guards – later, the news reports that they were subdued for engaging in physical activity (coupling is forbidden) and sent to the DEN (Defective Emotional Neuropathy), a facility for containment and emotional suppression treatment. The news encourages everyone to report anyone that displays even the merest hint of SOS.

    When a jumper falls to his death outside his workplace, he notices one of his colleagues, Nia (Kristen Stewart), bite her lip, dig her nails into her palms, and fight back tears. Soon he himself begins experiencing odd feelings and is concerned when he’s diagnosed with Stage 1 SOS and prescribed with inhibitors so that he can maintain a normal and productive life. Yet something has awakened in him and he finds himself taken with Nia, whom he suspects of hiding her SOS. She initially maintains her distance but the two eventually yield to their longing, conducting surreptitious meetings in the lavatory and hoping they’re not found out for the punishment for their love would surely be death.

    As the lovers, Stewart and Hoult make for a fine pairing. Slowly intoxicated by the sensations of a caress or a kiss, most of their clandestine encounters are sensually shot in that neon-lit bathroom, the scene further pulsed by the choral-infused electronica composed by Dustin O’Halloran and Sascha Ring. Hoult and Stewart truly make the film, his sculptural face flickering alive with emotion, hers deprived of its usual skittish sullenness and suffused with rawness and subtlety.

    Despite their excellent efforts, there’s no overlooking that Equals quickly evolves into a dull and predictable affair. Doremus lets down his leads with dialogue that wouldn’t feel out of place in a dime store novel. The world that Doremus creates is half-formed and the allegory he introduces remains adrift despite the writer-director’s overall lack of subtext. Compare this with the finely detailed portrait painted by Yorgos Lanthimos in the similarly-themed but far more brilliant The Lobster to fully sense the triteness and unoriginality that infects Equals.

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  • “I’d like to start you on a full course of inhibitors immediately.
    There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to live a normal life.
    At least for a while.”

    Kristen Stewart isn’t exactly on my list of favorite actresses. As I wrote in my review of “Snow White and the Huntsman” : “She shows almost no emotion and I’m convinced she dips her face in starch before walking onto the set”. But regarding this film, she was most suited. A postwar society (indeed, again after a devastating war) in which all the survivors their DNA has been manipulated in such a way that all feelings are gone. No impulsive behavior. No depression, pain or overwhelming feelings. No more feelings of lust, love, hate, jealousy and joy. Numb beings, functioning on autopilot. Their only purpose in life is to explore space. However, there are people who suffer from a particular syndrome which returns repressed feelings and causes them to react differently to certain situations and develop primitive feelings again. Such as the craving for eroticism (something that is completely forbidden). This disease is called S.O.S. (Switched-On Syndrome) and there’s no adequate medication for this syndrome. Most patients end up in “the den” (defective, emotional, neuropathy facility). The only cure there is to encourage suicide.

    Sounds pretty depressing. And on the one hand it surely is a bleak and dreary society in a clinical white environment, with every feeling or pleasure nipped in the bud. Everyone lives individualistic in a high-tech Cubist house that responds to the necessary basic needs. And every day, everyone goes to work in a casual and comatic way. A bit like in “Metropolis”. On the other hand it seems to me as a blessing to be rid of annoying human traits such as jealousy, envy and competitivity. It’s in this Utopian ( “Oblivion” -like) society that an impossible and forbidden love emerges. A loaded and (for them) exciting resurgence of an irresistible attraction between Silas (Nicholas Hoult) and Nia (Kristen Stewart). Naturally, all the ingredients of an impossible love are present, as in multiple other films about this topic. Only this is now soaked in a SF sauce. And the universal rule that love overcomes everything, is of course also present.

    Despite the romantic aspect and the fact that “Equals” is a huge slow-burner, this film was extremely fascinating to me. Not because of the subject, but because of the overall visual image. Everything looks, despite its simplicity, overwhelming. The overall picture was spot on. And then there’s this subdued, wait and see attitude of the two protagonists, which is depicted in a restrained but extremely adequate way. You can truly feel how they experienced that first touch. How painful it is to suppress the overwhelming feelings. And how wrenching it is to be separated. Superb acting by Hoult and Stewart. I have a little more respect for Hoult, because Stewart just needed to be herself to achieve this, I reckon.

    It’s been a long time since I enjoyed once again a pure SF without intergalactic battlefields and an abundance of special effects. However, many will say this movie is dull and superficial because of the lack of exciting action and sensational imagery. I, however, loved the simplicity the most. Tucked beneath this simplicity, however, there’s a complex human process that everyone faces once anyway.

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