I think it’s about time I made a heartfelt confession to you people.
I live in constant fear of being forced to watch martial arts movies.
There, I said it. I really do feel much better.
The Husband is a bit of an obsessive and loves all things Japanese (and most things that are otherwise Asian-flavored). The history, the language, the philosophy. The man builds swords and armor. Real, working ones. And I love that he loves all that stuff. It’s one of the things that makes him interesting. And while I don’t dismiss all martial arts-centric movies out of hand, when I watch them with The Husband they are rarely as awesome as I want them to be. They’re very beautiful and very slow between the fighty bits and very complicated and I tend to sleep through the last hour of them about 95% of the time.
There are a few that I really enjoy, but those aren’t considered “martial arts” movies per se. The Matrix. Ran. Both the Kill Bills. Bunraku. Hell, even the three newer Star Wars are more martial artsy than the original trilogy (wherein the lightsaber fighting was much more in the European style and those bitches didn’t have a Darth Maul). The fact of the matter is that I like movies that contain martial arts but aren’t necessarily about martial arts, dig? (And please, no commentary about how all but one of the movies I just listed are full of English-speaking white people. I am aware. It’s neither intentional nor exclusionary. I’m not a racist. Keep it to yourself.)
What’s the point?
The point is that I watched Equilibrium the other day for the first time in forever and I’m kind of disappointed in myself for having forgotten how much I love this fucking movie. Briefly (sort of): it’s a post-World War Three near future where the newfound peace is kept by citizens voluntarily taking multiple daily doses of an emotion-killing drug. People who buck this system are hunted down and eradicated by a legion of highly trained warrior priests who are also tasked with destroying anything that could cause an emotional response (books, music, art, etc). One of these guys (played by Christian Bale) misses a dose and goes off his meds and starts having all kinds of pesky feels and (cue action movie trailer voice) the hunter becomes the hunted.
Let me put it another way: If Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451 had a baby raised by Nazis and ninjas, it would be Equilibrium.
Dystopian post-apocalyptica has kind of come to the forefront lately here in America (figure that one out – I’m looking at you, politicians). I can’t honestly say that it surprises me. But a lot of these books and movies are just an excuse to make a pretty simple underdog story with a big budget or a lot of flashy distractions piled on top. It’s lazy use of a good trope. And while that’s largely the case here, what Equilibrium does in its amalgamation of a bunch of old ideas is present all of this nightmare world stuff in a way that makes perfect sense. It’s shown from the inside and not the outside, right? From the perspective of those who already accept the logic, and not from that of the people who have yet to be convinced: Let’s not get rid of guns. Let’s use them in an optimized way, to kill as many people as mathematically possible at one time. Let’s not get rid of sociological undesirable people. Let’s make them want to make themselves like the rest of us. Let’s not even try to fix the whole world. Let’s just wall ourselves in here in our nice modern city where everything works and make it a stronghold for a civilization that will spread out along with the inevitable brainwashing. It’s clean and it’s methodical and it would probably work, given the right set of variables. So much dystopian stuff is just…messy. (I enjoy it, though, and feel like I could talk about it for quite a while, but I’d have to make a bunch of comparisons that are irrelevant to this particular conversation. Let’s save it. We’ll do it right another time.)
The movie was filmed in Berlin, which has the whiff of irony about it, but I’ll let it go. So there’s this wonderful juxtaposition of clean, utilitarian architecture and complete ruin. A lot of very straight edges and crumbling grey concrete and glowering cloudy skies. A perfect backdrop, really. And the martial arts bits are amazing. It’s all based on this weird gun kata style that the director came up with for his own use (what does that say about angry Hollywood guys with too much time on their hands?). I’m not a trigger-happy American, y’all. I appreciate being able to use weapons safely and effectively and only when contextually necessary. But what they’ve done with guns in Equilibrium is gorgeous. Terrifying, but gorgeous. It’s like they’re dancing and shooting people and blowing shit up all at the same time. I mean, come on. It’s worth watching just for that. Maybe keep your remote handy, though, because there are a lot of parts when it’s just quiet dialogue followed by twenty minutes of steady gunfire, and you’ll have to turn the volume up and down quite a bit.
It is far from a perfect movie. There are plot holes. There are gaffes. Taye Diggs (who plays Bale’s partner) seems to approach acting as simply saying every line like he’s doing a college coffee shop poetry reading. If you asked a physicist, I’m sure the math is all bullshit. And it’s largely derivative. So my explanation of why I love it might seem trite (has that ever stopped me from telling you to watch something awesome? No. And it won’t now.) It’s a movie with a point bigger than “the bad guys lose,” which is more than I can say for a lot of action movies. And I’m something of an emotional aesthete, being book and writing obsessed, so that whole destroying art thing is anathema to me. It’s rarely done well. When it is, it’s hypnotic, somehow. My worst nightmares all come true. Plus, bonus, you get to see Christian Bale cry a lot and shoot like fifty guys in the face. You can’t beat that with the spiky butt of a .45.