Equals could have been great. That being said, it’s still enjoyable to watch and touches on important questions concerning humanity, even if those questions aren’t fully realized. Harkening back to sci-fi staples and intertwining relevant dystopian themes, the film meanders more than it moralizes but with the excellent cinematography and on-point performance from Kristen Stewart, Equals is worth watching. On many occasions it alludes to an interesting point but often falls short of fully committing to it, leaving the romance between Silas (Nicolas Hoult) and Nia (Kristen Stewart) seem a little two-dimensional. If you’ve seen Doremus’ previous film Like Crazy, you’ll know that he can really eke out dramatic tension between two romantic partners, so Equals feels a bit light in that regard. The film is a character exploration that doesn’t fully explore the characters, but it’s worth checking out based on the way in which it executes its main premise, which is ultimately an interesting endeavor.
Equals centres on a dystopian (or utopian, however you view it) world where peace has been achieved largely through the removal of emotions from the human experience. Those who feel are regarded as having a “sickness” that must be cured. A major faux pas in this dystopian world are any romantic feelings, and those who are diagnosed with “Switched on Syndrome” or S.O.S are eventually taken to “The Den” to be “cured”. Equals follows Silas as he experiences the beginnings of S.O.S including his attraction to Nia, who is also showing symptoms of S.O.S. The two embark on a secret love affair until a cure for their “illness” is found and the pair must decide what to do.
The greatest draw to the film is Kristen Stewart, not only because she can be so captivating on screen, but also because this is one of her stronger performances. Her interactions with secondary characters are excellent but it is in relation to Silas that she shines the most, giving weight to a character that might have otherwise not been there. Stewart’s Nia feels more like the lead character rather than the love interest, despite the fact that the audience is introduced to her through Silas’ point-of-view. Equals is worth seeing for Stewart’s performance alone.
Conceptually, the film clearly has some barriers. For example, in a film that focuses on a society where it’s forbidden to love or hate or feel angry, there sure are a lot of characters who convey feeling. It seems a large part of the film is to not only depict forbidden love, but also to comment on the inevitability of human emotion. While this is an important project for a dramatic film, its inevitability takes away from the drama. When the climax hits, it becomes difficult to understand the actions and reactions of the characters in lieu of the way they are set up in the first act. There is also quite a bit of conflation of physical sensations and emotions, which are two separate things. That being said, the world Doremus creates is inventive and foreboding.
The cinematography in Equals is generally excellent, and lends itself well to the themes of the film. The paleness of each scene paired with extreme close-ups bodes well for the aesthetic of the film, but it goes from beautiful to bleak as the story moves forward. It would have been helpful to vary the shots more instead of being so focused on the two main characters, which made it difficult to find an entry point to their world. While the close-ups do create a sense of intimacy, using them in excess makes the message of the film come off a little heavy-handed and the romance seems less intense that it could have been.