Thursday, July 28, 2016

Equals is a Touching, Artfully Directed Love Story

In cool blues and greys, Drake Doremus's new film encourages you to, "Find Your Equal."

The tagline for Director Drake Doremus's new movie Equals challenges viewers to, "Find Your Equal." The script, written by Doremus and Nathan Parker (Moon) tells the tale of a future 'utopia' where physical contact and intimacy are forbidden. It stars Nicholas Hoult as Silas and Kristen Stewart as Nia, graphic designers affected by Switched On Syndrome (S.O.S.).

Nathan Parker knows a thing or two about writing stories set in cold, futuristic environments where the protagonists struggle with alienation and isolation. He co-wrote the script for 2009's Moon with Dunan Jones; another futuristic movie about a lonely miner extracting natural resources from the lunar surface.

Equals colour palette is all cool blues and greys. Meant to reflect the emotional distance and isolation enforced by this future world's Collective. From the background given it would seem that humanity nearly destroyed itself some years earlier. Survivors pegged human emotions as one of the prime culprits and sought to genetically eliminate them.

Silas and Nia work in the same office creating graphics and spoken word descriptions, respectively, for television programming. Silas works in the company's Speculative Non-Fiction department. In this world Silas, Nia and their co-workers wake up alone, take the subway to work alone - eyes focused on giant monitors - and spend most of their work days essentially alone tapping on enormous touchscreens.

Sustained eye contact is avoided and physical contact forbidden. As we learn in a public service announcement less than 10 minutes into the movie, some members of the Collective suffer from S.O.S. which is divided into 4 stages. Essentially their emotions are taking hold.

Equals is pointed social commentary that sticks it to corporate mandated conformity and a smartphone obsessed world.

After several lingering glances and much mutual pouty-lipped staring, Silas and Nia fall in love with each other. Silas has been diagnosed with Stage 1 S.O.S. and is soon ostracized by co-workers who give him his own mug and seat themselves far away at lunch. Just in case S.O.S. is contagious.

Nia is a Hider, someone who knows she has the condition and does not want to be diagnosed and labelled.

When Silas and Nia share the screen, the movie's colour palette warms up so they appear as actual flesh and blood humans to us. The contrast between people who can love and those who are loveless is obvious.

In one memorable scene Silas and his boss Leonard (David Selby) exchange words late at night after everyone else has gone home. Leonard is worried that Silas is developing a crush on Nia. As they talk Leonard's half of the screen remains icy blue and grey while Silas's outline is illuminated with colours that remind me of sunrise.

I love Equals because it affirms the power of touch, and of intimacy as being key to growing and fulfilling our potential. There are comparisons to be made between Equals and Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

First proposed in 1943, Maslow's Hierarchy is often represented graphically by a pyramid. According to the theory, human beings must have their deficiency or 'd needs' met before they can progress further. The most basic needs Maslow listed are: Physiological, Safety, and Love/Belonging.

Love and Belonging are about an individual's ability to be accepted as part of a group. If we don't fulfill our needs at this level, we risk being felled by depression and anxiety. Interestingly, in Equals there is overlap in the symptoms of anxiety & depression and the Collective's so-called Switched On Syndrome.

Our smart, attractive protagonists soon realize the Collective is trying (and failing) to suppress basic human needs.

At one point in the film, members of the Collective gather in a large atrium to view a spaceship launch on yet another giant screen. As children Collective members are told the answers to humanity's problems lie in the stars.

They might.

Or they may be just a kiss away to quote the Rolling Stones Gimme' Shelter.

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