April 8th, 2004
Script Review: EQUILIBRIUM, written by Kurt WimmerReviewed by Darwin Mayflower
NOTE: The screenplays we review are often in development and may experience many rewrites, some could end up being completely different than what is reviewed here. It is our hope that our reviews generate more interest in the film. Thank you.
Kurt Wimmer is the author of two well-known, unproduced scripts: EXIT ZERO and ECO. Both scripts have the same tech-centered, intelligent, budget-busting glee contained within them. EXIT was about the Internet gaining consciousness. ECO featured trained dolphins who help to rescue people trapped in a spaceship that has crashed to the bottom of the ocean. While EXIT rolls along with its creepy plot and sometimes stunning uses of computers-have-the-power twists and works better of the two, both scripts relied too heavily on onomatopoeia, were exhausting in their verbosity, and ran out of steam for their crash-everything finales (ECO also lacked EXITs sharp characterization). In any event, the scripts made a splash in Hollywood. Kurt got the job to update THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR (which he nailed with considerable aplomb). And hes now been given the opportunity to direct his own words -- EQUILIBRIUM, which is being produced by Jan de Bont, will mark his second outing (after a first Im sure he doesnt want to talk about). Christian Bale, Taye Diggs and Emily Watson star.
EQUILIBRIUM introduces us to Libria. A bleak, colorless world. Where the population is drugged into emotionless, desensitized zombies by its totalitarian government. By shooting its people full of regulating drugs, the powerful rule-making leader, Father, has eradicated war, depression, jealousy -- and also love, joy and guilt. Libria is a frightening world of mind-slaves who give up their right to literally be able to feel and will be killed should they ever challenge that the right should be theirs.
A revolution starts outside of Libria's heavily-protected, massive outer gate. A man specially trained to do away with these revolutionaries, Preston, for the first time in his life is thinking. And feeling. This turnaround is occasioned when he has to kill his partner (who went off the state-sanctioned Librium and is ousted by Preston).
Preston, torn nearly in two by his conflicting loyalties, investigates the world outside of Libria and attempts to wrap his mind around his shocking new sensations.
He meets a woman, Mary, in the revolution and arrests her before he realizes he's in love with her. With his yearning for this woman going unconsummated and building, Preston works for the other side and tries to tear down the whole system.
If this sounds familiar -- it should. This isn't so much inspired by George Orwell's NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR and Ray Bradbury's FAHRENHEIT 451 as based on them. In Orwell's world, which this script cuts close to, Winston Smith knows that the government is lying to its people and brainwashing them into passivity. He falls in love with a woman (who is part of the anti-government revolution) and works the "enemy" side to right the huge wrong. In FAHRENHEIT 451 Guy Montag is a fireman. But in this world that means you burn books. Books are dangerous, you see, because the placid sheep (that is, the people) might actually...learn. Don't stimulate their brains with philosophy or anything thought-provoking, the government says, or otherwise they might rise up. Keep everything steady and frivolous and let everyone's mind turn to jelly. Guy rethinks the burning of the books, starts his own private cache, and is turned in to the authorities by his wife and forced to burn them. His next-door neighbor, an attractive young woman who loves to read and enjoys gleaning knowledge from books, suddenly disappears and this propels Guy into action.
Script Sale Facts - provided by Hollywoodlitsales.com
Kurt Wimmer sold EXIT ZERO for $1 million, he was repped by Tom Strickler of Endeavor.
The problem with EQUILIBRIUM is that its very purpose, it seems, is to be compared to other works. It's so similar to these previous classics (Wimmer has them burn priceless artwork, but never really follows it up) that all you can really say after reading or seeing it is: it's a lot like NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR. And if that's what Wimmer wanted, to make his own version of this masterwork, what's the point? Why bother? The script isn't intelligent enough, or interested, it seems, to really explore its world or the issues it raises. It showcases no untouched land and is written in a way that suggests you'll know what's going on because of your association with the aforementioned books.
The first half of the script is particularly dull. With Preston going through the motions of finding out the freedom of being drug-free, experiencing "feeling" for the first time, and hiding this from his superiors. The script picks up when Preston tracks down the revolutionaries (he does this with a fun-to-read hotheaded zeal) and finds out the extent of their resources, what's at stake, and their ultimate plan.
The script builds to its finale, but this is where Wimmer cheats the most (and the most frustratingly). We know what's going to happen the minute it's set up. The revolutionaries want Preston to kill Father, the all-powerful leader that rules Liberia (though no one has ever seen him).
A godlike leader no one ever sees? Let me think about this: will there really be a leader? Most likely not. ("We're off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz...")
Wimmer sets up a love story between the prisoner Mary and Preston. He never bothers to tell us exactly why Preston is so in love with her. They meet a few times. Mostly Preston interrogating her and Mary mouthing off about what a dumb, zombified jerk he is. Thanks to an ancient lie-detector test (which no one knows how to interpret) Preston learns he's in love with Mary and from then on out makes it his mission in life (even risking his own) to see she does not die in prison (non-Librium-takers are questioned and then incinerated).
The instantaneous explosion of affection Preston has for Mary is like watching an old '40s romance with the middle (courtship period) jaggedly cut out. As if Wimmer is telling us, I don't have the time, so just accept it, au'ight?
(Acknowledging that Prestons grade-school lust was born of his long absence from sexual desire might have been funny, truth be told.)
What I don't get is why Wimmer would write this in the first place. This story, this exact story, has been told a million times -- in the exact same way. The tales march happily behind NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR in a single-file line. Isn't there another way to tell this story? Does the main character have to work for the government -- have to fall in love with a woman -- and have to turn around because of that love?
Wimmer isn't brave enough to try something different (or stick to killing off an important player; instead bringing the person back for the illogical conclusion) and it would take a bigger brain, like, say, Andrew Niccol, to venture out into the grounds he's laid and tell us what's really going on. What would have made a far more interesting read is to see how the world actually got this way. The wars are blamed, but how did Father gain the power over people that he's now able to make them voluntarily inject Librium twice a day? How long did it take? Was there a fight between conformists and nonconformists? Preston is a trained killing machine. Let's see how they created these men from birth. Preston gives up his own wife for thinking and she's killed. How about dealing with that?
Instead Preston and Mary spout embarrassing sentiments and cry about their love (knowing each other only two days, natch) in a windowless room.
Terry Gilliam's BRAZIL, from its nonsense title to its insane aesthetic sense, was a dark-humor admirer's dream come true. It was also a NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR-like tale of an oppressive government trapped in the quicksand of red tape, an office worker who falls in love with his dream woman and, in his pursuit of her, helps to free the stoned denizens of the city. What made BRAZIL work is that it was its own story. It had its own points to make and its own agenda. Orwell was all over it, but it wasn't him they were writing up to. It was also a comedy and took the material to a new place. Which can make all the difference in the world.
EQUILIBRIUM can offer nothing new. And its ending is so predictable and shabby that it really doesn't make sense why this was "fast-tracked" and made at all.
Wimmer "modernizes" the material, adding needless bloodlust and shootouts, but never really makes a clear, cogent point and seems too satisfied with following Orwell's footsteps.
Orwell (a pen name for Eric Arthur Blair) was a true prophet. He introduced us to the term Big Brother and turned his fears of totalitarian governments into a stunning work of a none-too-far-away dystopia.
Wimmer, however, is painting over the corners of an already-completed masterpiece. And that, in its own way, is a lot like injecting your daily dose and handing over your free thoughts and mental capacity to The Man. Self-enslavement at its most expensive, and most absurd.
-- Darwin Mayflower.