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Equals: A Utopia in Dystopian Films?

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Beth Sahsa tkes a look at the utopian ideals in Equals and the reality of them...

If there is one thing that sci-fi movie makers and dystopian authors have proved, it's that a perfectly carefree and self-sustaining utopian society is only possible in the imagination. Such is the message of the movie Equals. Though the setting of this movie is as close to a futuristic utopia as possible, there always exists human-centered tendencies that threaten to override the philosophical thread which holds the utopian ideal together.

The most iconic dystopian exegesis is Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. In this novel, humanity is reduced to a class system of workers who are programmed prior to birth to carry out a specific role in life. The entire system is disrupted when the protagonist Bernard begins to understand that even with programming, every person has a mysterious innate desire to evolve. Equals expands on this narrative to include a specific evolutionary theme.

In Equals, a dimly-lit utopian society exists that is predicated upon the philosophy that a culture devoid of emotion is better equipped to survive and carry out necessary workforce roles. In theory, a society could exist like this if no disrupting elements are introduced into the conscious collective. Unfortunately for the creators of this world, a lack of understanding about the human condition arises. The characters Silas (Nicholas Hoult) and Nia (Kristen Stewart) are the fortunate but unfortunate members of their collective to experience desires that threaten to unravel the entire fabric of their society.

What distinguishes a utopia from a dystopia is the reaction of an audience to the elements and environmental conditions of characters in a story. From novels like Brave New World, to new films like Equals, the authors and filmmakers seem preoccupied with focusing on the negative connotations of seemingly innocent lead characters trying to find personal identities in an environment where this is nearly impossible, or even fatal. In Equals, the choice to incubate and act on strong emotions is strongly discouraged, and considered a crime against the new humanity.

For present day audiences, Equals will undoubtedly trigger only mildly passionate responses because of the exposure of dystopian philosophy in previous movies. The July 2016 wide release of Equals by A24 Films and DirecTV will offer a contrast to the regular viewing faire, but might not appear as the intense social commentary its creators had in mind.

Several high-profile commentaries have suggested that Equals is a dystopian Romeo and Juliet remake. This would be an accurate description, but the characters of Silas and Nia are uncertain about their attraction to each other. Romeo and Juliet were the controllers of their situation. Silas and Nia are the beneficiaries of nature and instinct in a situation where natural impulse is dangerous. Romeo and Juliet chose death over separation. Silas and Nia choose emotional connection over fealty to a thinly-veiled societal prescription.

In essence, the utopia within the dystopia of the Equals world, is the opportunity of the lead characters to experience strong feelings in a spontaneous way. The reason the majority of stories like Brave New World and Equals are considered dystopian, is that the existing world and social order never seems to be aligned with the lives of the characters acting within it. A microcosmic, and esoteric utopia is created by Silas and Nia because they are equally yoked in a functional dystopia, but choose to follow similar calls of passion. Like a futuristic Adam and Eve, these two characters unwittingly create a pure and idealistic utopia in a perfect, yet humanely dysfunctional world.

The writers and crew behind Equals manage to pinpoint the essence of utopian and dystopian storytelling very well. Amongst the many cinematic flaws, one message is clear. Unless there is a final and fundamental transformation of the human spirit, there can arise no entirely sustainable, and unequivocally functional, utopian ideal. Inevitably, the desires and characteristics of members within the utopian experiment will lead to contradictions of its supremacy. As demonstrated in Equals, the simple act of loving someone, or any other individual pursuit can disrupt the most strict social order.


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