Equals January 4, 2017
The romance genre is always octaves more interesting when the stakes surrounding the romance in store are drastically high, and Drake Doremus’s crisp Equals takes that inclination and expatiates it with everything is at stake vigor. It finds its setting in a dystopian utopia wherein the Earth’s population has all been sapped of emotion and of physical connection. Literally — to showcase one’s feelings and/or to demonstrate any sort of affection toward another is punishable by death, as an emotion of any kind is seen as the one flaw to have plagued humankind throughout the centuries. Act outside the norm, which is a cool complexion, a dress code of greys, whites, and bland earth tones, and interminable singlehood (reproduction is limited to artificial insemination) and you’re pronounced to have a terminal illness known as Switched On Syndrome (S.O.S.), which, like cancer, moves in increasingly aggressive stages. (By Stage 4, you’re sent to a quasi-asylum that encourages suicide.) Most of society has adapted to emotionlessness. But suppression can not stop human nature.
When we first meet the protagonist of Equals, the boyish Silas (Nicholas Hoult), he’s as horrifically anonymous as the unnervingly perfect society he considers himself a part of. His only purpose in life, it seems, is to be another brick in the globe’s smoothly porcelain wall, spending hours on end illustrating for a company named Atmos. His life strictly consists of eating, sleeping, and working.
And that’s never much bothered him. But when a colleague publicly kills themselves, he notices the reaction of becoming co-worker Nia (Kristen Stewart) and finds something within him changing. From there does he begin to notice that she consistently, albeit subtly, performs the unheard of display known as feeling, and her microscopic rebellion causes him to lose sight of his own beliefs and unpredictably fall in love with her. Shortly after his emotional palette starts to season his everyday life is he diagnosed with Stage 1 S.O.S. But that doesn’t stop him from pursuing a relationship with Nia, who, unsurprisingly, is quietly “suffering” from S.O.S. herself.
Little is new about Equals (it isn’t the first time we’ve seen star-crossed, attractive young people come to terms with a romance backlit by the presence of a totalitarian government that won’t allow for them to express themselves freely), but it works as fresh enough entertainment because it’s so much more immediate than films of its initially indifferent semblance. It finds a captivating juxtaposition between its dispassionate, metallic locales and the ardent romance that exists between its leading characters and maintains that bracing disbalance for the entirety of its length.
Sometimes we desire for screenwriter Nathan Parker to liven things up with mounting aggravations like interweaving subplots or obstacles more overgrown in looming tragedy, but Doremus’s stylized cum unexpectedly affecting direction, topped off by Hoult and Stewart’s cogent performances (we see them both conclusively as individuals searching for themselves outside of the everyday and as a couple dependent on each other for the tenacity to defy), define Equals’s positioning as indie sci-fi with enough brain and enough moxie to take it beyond the territory of a genre exercise. B