I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 13th-24th.
Directed by Drake Doremus
It’s almost impossible to find a cinematic or literary future where everyone lives happily ever after. It may be the pessimistic nature of our society, or it may just be that it makes for better material, but the future, as imagined so many times and in so many different ways by screenwriters, authors, and other visionaries, is always bleak. There exist an infinite number of dystopian possibilities for why everything fell apart and needs to be put back together again. In “Equals,” the cause of society’s downfall is presented as “Switched-On Syndrome,” an unfortunate and untreatable condition in which people actually experience feelings, a part of humanity that has otherwise been extinguished.
Silas (Nicholas Hoult) wakes up each morning in exactly the same way. He pushes buttons in his neat, hospital-like apartment and watches it transform around him to most efficiently go from sleeping space to living space to uninhabited room for the majority of the day. He puts on the same plain white outfit and goes to work as an illustrator, visually interpreting relics of the past. Conversation with other worker bees occurs, which is a more muted and uninteresting version of present-day gossip, but emotions are nowhere to be found. Every once in a while, a person cries out and attempts to shout to the masses that a mask has been pulled over their eyes, but they are quickly removed from the public eye, never to be seen again as they are shipped to a treatment facility where suicide is the simplest option.
As the film’s title suggests and as anyone who has ever seen a movie with two leads might expect, everything changes for Silas when he begins to realize that he is developing feelings for another worker bee, Nia (Kristen Stewart). At first, their romance is basically nonexistent, but as it progresses, the oppressive nature of their society only encourages them to push boundaries in secret even more. Watching their transformations from human robots into actual people is a familiar journey for any story such as this, but it is also an effective and involving one.
Stewart is a bold choice for this role given her tendency for relatively robotic acting, but a recent focus on quality performances in films such as “Clouds of Sils Maria” and “Camp X-Ray” has prepared her well for a more serious and impressive turn. Hoult, who has demonstrated considerable range in “Young Ones” and “Warm Bodies,” is an appropriately muted and effective partner for her. Their story is an interesting and thought-provoking one that doesn’t necessarily break new ground but does follow a compelling trajectory leading to a strong and intense finish.