Less Equal Than Others
It's time for yet another trip into a dystopian future that was intended to be Utopian, but we know immediately that it is anything but. If that sounds familiar, it's probably because you've been exposed to the same premise more times than you can count. This puts an enormous burden on the director, who must somehow make their attempt at this common trope feel unique. Drake Doremus' effort, "Equals", which debuted earlier this year at the Tribeca Film Festival, falls short of that goal. By a wide margin.
In some nebulous post-apocalyptic future, sociaty has figured out how to genetically erase the need for human emotion. The theory is that emotion is the root cause behind all that is disruptive in life: violence, crime, and war. We are left with robotic humanoids who work, but experience no feelings, good or bad. In "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" our re-programming was orchestrated by aliens, but the effect was the same. "The Twilight Zone" had at least one episode dealing with a similar plot. Where it goes next is exactly as you might expect: Someone is going to see the error of society's ways and rebel against the system.
There are individuals in this society who suffer from a very serious disease. It's called Switched On Syndrome (SOS). When someone falls victim, they begin to feel emotions, which in turn makes them feel distraught as they have no basis for what they're feeling. Scientists have developed a method of slowing the progress of the disease, but it will inevitably reach the dreaded Stage 3. Then the sick people will be hustled off to the DEN. Oh no, not the DEN!
Silas (Nicholas Hoult) has become aware that he is showing the early warning signs of SOS. He is developing a crush on Nia (Kristen Stewart, perhaps the poster child of emotion-free acting) and he believes that she too is beginning to feel and express emotional responses. His suspicions prove correct and the two begin a concealed affair.
The biggest problem with "Equals" - and there are many - is that we, the audience, don't particularly care that the protagonists are fighting a battle they cannot win. We don't care what fate may befall our hapless lovers. We don't even care that all humans are leading lives free from joy or meaning. When the viewer doesn't care about anyone on screen, what we have left is equal to nothing.