It seems that everything is made of glass, steel, and plastic in the futuristic society of Equals. The color scheme is also inherently limited- white, grey, black and blue reign dominant and, for whatever reason, blond people are few and far apart. The result is a world that seems rather dull and muted.
Correspondingly, personal activities are limited to eating, working, and sleeping. It is noted that cancer has been cured. It appears that this society values utmost productivity. There is a hint of propaganda; one can make a career in writing “speculative non-fiction”. Nonetheless, there are no cameras or bugs anywhere. It seems that, for the most part, people are comforted in their lives and that rebellion does not hold a place in anyone’s imagination.
As part of the muted existence suggested in Equals, exhibiting emotion is classified as a “disease” called SOS (switched-on syndrome). At the film’s start there is no cure for the disease and if it progresses then one is sent to a containment den to be put to death. Alternatively, one can attempt to escape to the Peninsula, where “defects” who have the capacity for emotion reside (if we recall Orwell’s 1984 however, we have no compelling reason to believe the Peninsula even exists).
I believe that the utilitarian society leaders in Equals genuinely want to maximize the well being of their people. There are definite benefits to a society whose persons rarely exhibit anxiety, paranoia, or depression. But exclusivity is not possible in the context of Equals; positive emotions must be eliminated in addition to negative emotions. A cure for SOS becomes available midway through Equals; however, it is disheartening to see a person who had emotions become an empty vessel. So much is lost. Interpersonal relationships decline in a way reminiscent to that of the onset of Alzheimer’s.
Despite apparent similarities, Equals is separate from Orwell’s 1984 and Rand’s Anthem in that Equals focuses on the expression of individual love rather than the ethics of their respective societies. Characters in Equals do not wonder about the past, believe they have been lied to, or attempt to resist their government. Equals is primarily a drama, not a dystopian film.
Silas (Nicholas Hoult) discovers that he has SOS and believes that Nia (Kristen Stewart) possesses the disease as well. In order to confirm this, Silas begins to look at Nia for signs that she exhibits emotion. His looking at Nia grows into affection as he determines that she experiences emotions. She is a “hider”, one who possesses SOS but attempts to resist expressing emotions. Silas discovers that she is a hider by the emotion expressed in her eyes. Stewart’s acting in Equals is remarkably subtle and Stewart demonstrates that she can express a spectrum of restraint and empathy through her character.
Depicting the act of falling in love in Equals is deeply romantic since Silas and Nia discover how to love on their own. They have not observed couples falling in love in their lives and their romantic acts are truly novel in their circumstance. The strange act of touching another person becomes dense with implication and meaning, and when the two kiss for the first time Silas has difficulty finding Nia’s lips.
The cinematography of Equals flourishes as Silas and Nia’s relationship progresses. Once Silas regards Nia with affection, her face is no longer presented as a ghastly grey; she exhibits color and warmth in her complexion. When the two leave the workroom before their first lustful encounter, there is a red tint of color that was previously non-existent. Even in terms of sound, synth and drone music becomes more prevalent to remark upon the couple’s strain in hiding their longing and care for each other.
Drake Doremus’s Equals is a deeply felt statement on the human condition. He notes that emotion is not a disease- it cannot be eradicated from a person the way that illnesses such as cancer can. Equals fills audience with awe when showing that one can fight the cure for SOS and exhibit emotion. For Doremus, the simple act of touching a person’s arm becomes the immense declaration that human emotion can- and always will- exist within a person.