Cyberpunk Review » Equilibrium

November 14, 2006


Movie Review By: SFAM

Year: 2002

Directed by: Kurt Wimmer

Written by: Kurt Wimmer

IMDB Reference

Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: High

Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: Medium

Key Cast Members:

  • Cleric John Preston: Christian Bale
  • Dupont: Angus Macfadyen
  • Errol Partridge: Sean Bean
  • Brandt: Taye Diggs
  • Jürgen: William Fichtner
  • Mary O’Brien: Emily Watson
  • Rating: 8 out of 10


    Equilibrium Screen Capture


    Overview: Equilibrium is one of those movies that most everyone who knows of it has only seen it on DVD. Essentially thrown away by its studio, Equilibrium, created for a budget just over 20 million was given no dollars for marketing and made less than a million at the box office. But don’t let that sway you into thinking this movie is a piece of trash. Equilibrium has become a cult DVD hit. Made in Eastern Germany portion of Berlin, Equilibrium looks lots more substantial than the 20 million that went into it. Due to some terrific location choices, Equilibrium shines with a polish of a movie made for at least twice that budget. This, plus high quality acting and at least a modicum of interesting thought raise Equilibrium up from the pop-FX action-fest that it otherwise might have become.


    Equilibrium Screen Capture


    The Setting: Set sometime in the 21st century, after a massive nuclear war has wiped out the majority of the human race, a 1984 style society has emerged after a method of full population control was discovered. The entire population is now given a daily dose of a drug called of Prozium. Prozium removes all semblances of emotion, and leaves the populace docile and controlled. Exhibiting emotion is now considered the greatest of all crimes, and is punishable by death. The all-knowing, all-controlling “Father” has constructed a group of supra-police called “clerics” who spend their time seeking out “sense offenders” and burning all remnants of the old way.


    Equilibrium Screen Capture


    The Story: Cleric John Preston (starring Christian Bale) is among the best cleric enforcers. Along with his partner, Errol Partridge (Sean Bean), they spend their days burning heretical artifacts like the Mona Lisa and bringing sense offenders in for processing – a euphemism for baking people in a large oven. Unfortunately, Partridge has begun to have doubts about society, and has apparently stopped taking the drug. After Preston finds out and kills him, Partridge’s final thoughts compel Preston to revisit his own personal history in which he showed no emotions as his wife was burned for sense making. Preston begins to question the intense surveillance society.


    Equilibrium Screen Capture


    In tracking down Partridge’s lover (Emily Watson), Preston’s world finally crumbles. Now he realizes he has presided over the destruction of humanity, and can no longer continue. Unfortunately, Dupont (Angus Macfadyen), the mouthpiece of the Father and leader of the Clerics has asked Preston to infiltrate the remainder of the resistance in order to crush them once and for all. But Preston is actually approached by the resistance leader, Jürgen (William Fichtner) who has noticed his recent spate of emotion. While Preston is still conflicted, Jürgen tries to enlist Preston in destroying the Father. Even worse, Preston’s ambitious new partner, Brandt (Taye Diggs) strongly suspects Preston of becoming a sense offender.


    Equilibrium Screen Capture


    The Acting: The acting in Equilibrium is top notch. For my money, the best performance is turned in by Sean Bean, who, while only on screen for a brief time, really hammers home the essence of the message Equilibrium is conveying. But truly, all the main cast is terrific. Bale does a very good job in going through a conversion in losing his faith, while Fichtner, Macfadyen, Diggs and Watson all really add real believability to a somewhat forced story. Truly, the acting sets Equilibrium above a better than average genre movie to something really worth watching.


    Equilibrium Screen Capture


    The Action - GunKata: Gunkata is Kurt Wimmer’s newly invented martial art – gun combat in close quarters. The idea is that body positioning and fluid movements, along with an intense understanding of one’s opponents’ most likely actions will allow the Gunkata master – Clerics, in Equilibrium – to be close to unstoppable. Many times in Equilibrium, Preston goes into a room LOADED of bad guys and wipes them all out. Does it look in the least realistic? Not at all, but it does look cool. The action sequences are hectic by design, but are always well planned out and executed. Even if you could care less about the message, if you like gun fighting, Equilibrium is for you!


    Equilibrium Screen Capture


    The Visuals: The color of the day for Equilibrium is black, gray and occasionally white. Virtually everything is in black with brief highlights. This makes the instances where other colors are used, such as Preston’s Bruce Lee white outfit near the end of the picture, or the yellow sunset as seeming enormously more significant than they normally would seem. The other dominant theme is squared off architecture. Everything here is comprised of right angles to emphasize the controlled, boxed-in feel of the society. Even worse, the only prominent place that a circle appears is the processing factory, where sense-offenders are burned. Wimmer uses his most excellent set selections to optimal effect. The Cinematography choices always go for high shadows and contrasts, and usually come from interesting angles and contexts. Without trying to resort to high-tech wizardry, the world Wimmer ultimately creates is believable and otherworldly.


    Equilibrium Screen Capture


    Centralized Control and the Surveillance Society: While the message is often obscured by the slick visuals and action sequences, Equilibrium’s basis is right out of the Metropolis, 1984 model. In looking at a situation where humanity has gone awry, the corrective procedure is one which divorces people from that which makes them human – their emotions. In this model, emotion control leads to thought control, which yields a smooth, functioning society. The warning is clear – if we move down a road that involves giving up our personal freedom, the danger is that we lose our technology. If I were to point out quibbles with this, the idea of the single, evil genius behind all of everything bad lessons the impact. The message conveyed is that society slowly made the choice to go this route – it would have been better to see remnants of that choice still guiding the society versus the simple “glorious leader” bad guy.


    Equilibrium Screen Capture


    Is There Any Relevance to Today’s World? While only briefly mentioned by Sean Bean’s character, Partridge discusses the “trade off” that humanity made. In exchange for security and stability, they agreed to trade away their freewill. One gets the sense that this was a slow process at first, but which picked up dramatically once centralized control was present. While it’s a far stretch to imagine an emotion blocker being instituted, if we imagine freewill as a sliding scale, its clear that the debate between our personal freedoms and societal security measures are clashing right now. One can only imagine how much greater support the security side would be if in fact a nuclear conflict did break out. Unfortunately, this too is becoming far more likely – in 20 years, we can certainly envision that the number of groups and governments in possession of nuclear material will be far greater than today. The risk isn’t just that a small group of terrorists will use it. Unfortunately, pre-emption of conflict by larger countries could also lead to such a response. In short, as the concern for security and stability are greater, the pressure to impact personal freedoms will grow. If this isn’t a key ingredient for the creation of a cyberpunked world, I don’t know what would be.


    Equilibrium Screen Capture


    Is Equilibrium Cyberpunk? This is an open question at some level, but I’ve come down on the “yes” side (obviously, as its reviewed here) for three reasons. First, in Equilibrium, centralized control dominates all “above ground” communication, while the horizontal control is the domain of the rebels. We don’t really see any instances of an internet, but we know it exists in some form, based on the rebel leader Jürgen’s comments. The only true downer from a cyberpunk control standpoint is the book used to record contraband – gimme a break, Wimmer! The second reason is the drug, Prozium. The bio-engineered drugs serve as a dominating form of technology that serves to dehumanize society. Until we separate out “Biopunk” movies from Cyberpunk, Equilibrium belongs here. Thirdly, the visuals TRULY fit into a post-Matrix cyberpunk visual style. Without hearing a lick of dialogue, if you only saw the visuals, you might consider sticking Equilibrium into the cyberpunk bucket.


    Equilibrium Screen Capture


    The Bottom Line: Equilibrium makes the most of its 20 million dollar budget. Truly, after watching it, most people are shocked to find out how little was spent on making Equilibrium. From an execution standpoint, everything fits like a sleeck black glove. From the well integrated and motivating score, to the high quality acting, to the even pacing, Equilibrium works to create a very believable mood. On top of this, Equilibrium’s action is hot shit! Wimmer’s creation of GunKata - a new martial arts for close-combat gunfighting is interesting and innovative. However, the story itself is still a stretch, as is the believability of the Gunkata. In the end though, this is really a minor quibble, as the end product is intelligent enough to cause you to ponder while engaging enough to keep you entertained.


    ~See movies similar to this one~

    This post has been filed under Security-Surveillance State, 8 Star Movies, Good low-budget movies, Cyberpunk movies from 2000 - 2009 by SFAM.


    November 14, 2006

    Illusive Mind said:

    Wow, 20 Million, that is a surprise.
    Personally I was disappointed by Equilibrium, such a terrific cast of actors with as you say, top notch acting and great production the story and the dialogue fall short.

    There were no surprises in this film, which perhaps stems (in part) from the fact that the premise is unoriginal. Had there been more character development this could have been a great movie, but instead it just seems to go through the motions of getting from plot point a to plot point b.

    The Gun-Kata really puts me off because it comes across as a second rate Matrix clone.

    S said:

    should be noted that it’s sold as “Cubic” for much of the european market

    SFAM said:

    Hi Illusive Mind, I think one of the reasons they went with GunKata is just because of the budget - there was no way they could afford FX anywhere near on par with the Matrix, so they tried a unique approach. This is really the only innovative part of the movie because, as you say, the plot isn’t. Really, the reason this thing merits 8 stars in my mind though is the wonderful execution. For instance, they had terrific choices in location, which cut out most of the cost. Most all of these totally cool large “sets” were nothing more than buildings already being made in East-Berlin. That and the editing and score, I thought, really worked wonderfully. I was OK with the character development, but I fully agree on the plot comments.

    And S, thanks for the European title. “Cubic” definitely fits with the look of the film.

    November 15, 2006

    Kana said:

    Yeah I think I pointed this one in your direction. It was on the Fx Channel the other day, and I’ve seen it on the Sci-Fi channel a couple of times. It is what I consider a B-Movie type of film, the gun-kata is the best part of course.

    SFAM said:

    Hi Kana, actually I’ve known about this one for many years, and have had it on my list of movies in the meatspace since the site inception (and have owned it since well before then). I just hadn’t gotten around to reviewing it yet. Gattica and a number of others are in the same boat.

    ETM said:

    I agree with the comments regarding originality, and yes - the story is by far the weakest part of the film. The Gun Kata, for some reason, is ridiculed by many, while I was thoroughly impressed with its originality and the quality of its implementation in the film. But I love it for the visuals - the cinematography is great, and, as SFAM said, the moments when colour is actually used in the film are beautiful. Also, it’s a textbook example of proper use of available locations for the creation of a futuristic society.

    December 12, 2006

    UBERWENCH said:

    I thought it was a really poor movie, personally. There was not a single original element to the story, and when at the end of the film there was that shot of an eye reflecting an explosion which almost could have been lifted directly out of Blade Runner, my disgust was complete. The more science fiction I read, the more I realize that this is probably the least original sci fi film ever made, with elements right out of 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and Brave New World. The visual is too Matrix-influenced to be cool in its own right, and in my opinion, the acting sucked (but we can excuse that because they were all supposed to be drugged up, right? Convenient, that.) I’d probably give this about five out of ten, for at least being entertaining while it was going on and being literate enough to steal its plot elements from good sources.

    January 22, 2007

    SIMS said:

    the effects where awesome. but i really liked the whole human part of the movie. how they are then and what took them to that point in there lives. how the main character becomes “human” in the end.

    January 26, 2007

    l1zrdking said:

    Overall I really liked this movie. It was entertaining, (this was before I saw 1984) I was shocked at the fact I had never heard of it at all. Then one weekend they played Fahrenheit 451, and I watched 1984 then suddenly, I wasnt as impressed. Still a good solid flick, but not quite as ground breaking as I once thought.

    September 17, 2007

    me said:

    would have been so much better without shooting matrix style stuff in

    September 18, 2007

    .anima.mechanica. said:

    This movie was brought up in my philosophy class today, and when it was, there was a mass outcry of disgust from several of the students. When I talked to them afterwards, they all had the same objections– wooden acting, lack of originality in concepts and style, etc, etc. One guy said he’d read somewhere that the film was originally conceived around the action concept of gun kata, with the dystopian elements tacked on as an afterthought. I was so disappointed in this film.

    December 4, 2007

    Death Jester said:

    Well, I would just like to point something out about the Gunkata. I know that many see it as a completely ludicrous idea and could never be implemented. It looked cool…and thats about it.

    Upon seeing this movie, several master martial artists have gotten together to see if it is infact a possibility. At the moment, the results have been promising, but, the jury is still out on whether it could be worked into a fully functioning martial art as seen in the film.

    April 22, 2008

    SF2K1 said:


    The thing I found most ridiculous in this movie was the encounter where the gun switch was revealed, and the other detective who WAS on the emotion control got very angry at having been tricked. I don’t know how they overlooked such an error.

    Overall I thought the movie was meh at best, most of the comments above reflect my feelings.

    Carpe Mortis said:

    Um Taye Diggs wasn’t nessaraly on prozeum… Or at least the “inner circle” wasn’t on prozeum, and he was revealed to be at least on good terms with them in the finale. So it’s not beyond reason that he wasn’t on it either, possibly as a reward for helping crush the rebellion.

    slaytera said:

    Taye Diggs and Mcfayden are angry because they are hypocrites. They don’t take prozium

    October 12, 2008

    Anonymous said:

    Personally i detest the fluid fighting style of matrix 2,3 ultraviolet and countless anime . Violence should be used as a relationship . It should be a way a man communicates a heart the way a woman does with his mouth . It should be a relationship:
    Would you be more shocked if you saw a man gunned down in a deserted street
    Youre on American idol , youve finished your song , and paula abdul pulls out a gun on you
    And the violence should only last as long as you have emotions , story to burn
    It should NOT BE TRANSFORMER LIKE . No violence for violence sake then its a ballet recital .
    Full Metal Jacket does it best .
    You may say im a hypocrite for saying equilibrium does this kinds of things but compare it to ultraviolet equilibrium is far grittier , not because of Kurt Wimmer but because of the fight choreographer Jim Vickers .

    November 6, 2008

    Dennis said:

    I love this movie! 1 of the best movies ever made. I watched it about 20 times and EVERY TIME I find out something new about the carakters. U just wont notice the small hints the first time u watch it.

    10 out of 10.

    December 8, 2008

    Aphex said:

    This is actually one of my favourite films of all time, starring one of my favourite actors (the always watchable Christian Bale). My gay little brother who watches mainly musicals also likes it (but that’s only cos he likes Taye Diggs… :P ).

    I thought the action sequences, considering the budget, were just amazing. The initial gunfight in the dark, and the corridor sequence in particular. Someone above made a comment that GunKata existed for the sole reason that they didn’t have a Matrix budget. I disagree - the GunKata was not only visually effective, but made the Grammaton Clerics seem like some elite quasi-mystical order. The subtle repetition of the Tetragrammaton icon (watch the muzzle flares whenever Preston fires his pistols ;) ) enhanced that too.

    There are some nice touches, mainly supplied by Bale’s performance - the look on his face when he claws away at the matte plastic on his window, the delicacy of his touch when he runs his hand along the handrail… etc. etc. that make Preston a believable character.

    I liked the simplicity of the plot. Whilst I’m a big fan of complex, thought-provoking films, I also like a film that can take a simple premise (”What happens when someone who’s never felt any emotion, suddenly starts feeling them in a society where emotion is a crime?”) and execute it brilliantly. Something Equilibrium certainly accomplishes in my eyes.

    What I liked about it is that it didn’t cop-out in the end; not going to spoil it, but the final third is very cyberpunk!

    Fun Fact : John Preston holds the record for highest bodycount by a single character in one film (unless it’s been broken more recently). When you compare that to characters like The Bride in Kill Bill, that’s quite a statistic. :D

    Gerhardt said:

    It might be worth noting that many appear to agree with this movies inclusion as Cyberpunk. I know it’s a crap reference, but still worthy of note:
    Shadowrun (4th Edition) - Arsenal rulebook includes Gunkata as a “Martial Art Specialization” under the name “Gunfight”. Don’t believe me? It’s on page 157 :P

    August 19, 2009

    Marc McKenzie said:

    I didn’t see the film on DVD–I actually saw it in the theater. I loved it–no it isn’t perfect, but it sure as hell wasn’t a MATRIX knock-off, and looked damned good for only 20 million bucks (10 mill less than DISTRICT 9). The cast was great, the action was top-notch, and the story…well, one can see FAHRENHEIT 451, BRAVE NEW WORLD, and 1984 in this film, but hey, it still worked for me.

    And I agree–it touches on several major cyberpunk themes.

    August 21, 2009

    Truth_Seeker said:

    Just an awesome movie. One of my favourites.

    September 7, 2009

    sleepy_head said:

    Okay, I don’t see this movie as cyberpunk. Okay it involves some futuristic technology (although nothing particularly imaginative) but that’s to be expected as its set in the future. The central idea is the supression of emotion. Surely for it to be ‘cyberpunk’, it has be about our relationship with technology. If you class this as cyberpunk then I recommend THX1138 (George Lucas’s first film) which this movie basically plagiarises. It’s again centred around a dystopian future where emotions are inhibited through medicine and where it is illegal to feel.

    Also, I have to agree with SF2K1 on the point about whether their emotions seemed to be inhibited all of the time. The second cleric seemed pretty emotional a lot of the time. Aside from in obvious parts, surely ambition, which seemed to drive him, has to be linked to various emotions. Nobody is ambitious for the sake of being ambitious. Or nobody is jealous or is vengeful for the sake of it. The whole plot just seemed like a way of displaying gun kata. Its fun to watch, but then again, I quite enjoy Seth Rogen films.

    May 7, 2010

    BIG N' NASTY said:

    This movie was a complete rip-off of just about every other cyberpunk film before it (not to mention it’s horribly overrated, and ironically praised within an oxy-moronic manor by blood-lusting/war-loving conformists).

    July 14, 2010

    We'reOnlyHuman said:

    Yea it aint original…but damn, Orwellian surveillance story meets kung fu flick? How is that not a winner?

    October 17, 2010

    Xondar said:


    To the author: You say that society is controlled by on3e master villain in Father and this is unbelievable.

    Maybe you should re-watch the movie as you seem to have missed some stuff? Father (you call him “the Father” throughout your write up, but in the movie they NEVER call him that. He is simply “Father,”) is a binding force, informing and educating the populace with the ever pervasive TV screens. He is a figurehead, and it turns out that HE DOES NOT ACTUALLY EXIST! Dupontl, part of an administrative body, he holds the rank of “Vice-Counsel,” he is part of something called the “Third Councilliary” (sounds like an administrative body to me.) Dupont probably rose through the ranks and was probably once a Grammaton Cleric himself judging on his expertise in Gun-kata. Now, it turns out that it is Dupont who is playing the part of Father. It could be that the administration of the Grammaton chose Dupont to play Father’s part, and they may even trade off occasionally with other “Vice-Counsels.” In other words, they is an elaborate administrative section, government councils, and government ranks.

    The city-state of Libria is indeed not led by a “simple ‘glorious leader’ bad guy.” This is what the government wants the populace to think, and the author seems to have fallen for their ruse as well.

    February 28, 2011

    ergos said:

    Apparently, he got ungry because they wanted to trick him (preston) and make him believe that he managed to set him up. On the other hand, being a right hand of the so called “father” he was not taking the drug, just like the father. That is why the office is coloured and with paintings… The movie shows that the controllers are liars since in order to enjoy their power they made everyone else with no will. But they wouldn’t enjoy power if they were under the drug. .. it is kinda poor, but reflects to RL I think.. Politics do have the power and the money whilst they try to make the people more poor…

    ergos said:

    It is a sci fi movie. They don’t normally make full sense. They normally don’t have a great scenario just like this one and the acting is not even for gummy-bear award. Yet, it is sci fi movie which covers all that. You know what you are seeing. On my opinion, this one, like matrix - which btw it is a copy of Ghost in the Shell- , has somehow mixed religion with sci-fi whatsoever. Preston, like a new Saul, transformed into a good guy, like Saul to apostole Paul, and stop hunting the christians and become one of the top apostoles of christianity. More over, the director, satires the politicians as he shows that they want everyone to stop having feelings and free will, whereas they keep paintings for their satisfaction and live in luxary appartments etc…. it is a mess up… but I love it. I give the movie 9/10. Great fight scenes, clever invention the Gun-Kata although ruther impossible but I am not an expert, average acting which matches with this kind of film, … yep I love it. Oh… and a poor mistake I noticed. When Preston walks with his hand on the wall he takes off his gloves and throws them on the floor. When he founds the hiden crypt and goes down the steps… he takes off his gloves, again!! :)) … poooor!

    January 8, 2012

    Gesualdo said:

    Most of the negative comments here seem to totally overlook the bad movie fun this gem can give. Nothing beats the scene where Christian Bale kills 10 (?) men for his puppy.

    I’ve always had a little thing for cyberpunk & steampunk etc, way before I learned of the encompassing term for the subgenre. Having no expectations of this movie, except only that it be as visually cool & as intellectually stimulating as The Matrix (as was still fresh in the mind), for me this flick passed that test with flying colours (or lack thereof).

    It’s unoriginal you say? Yes maybe, but as the saying goes: “mediocrity borrows while genius steals”. For those blessed with having seen most cyberpunk movies or read the books, I get how you could have been disappointed. For me, being fairly new to the circle of appreciators, I put this film very very close to the top of my list, & always will. The believability, thanks to sterling acting & the other above mentioned features, elevated the film to a quality that many sci-fi’s lack. Sean bean is so good it is actually scary, and I’m so glad that us fans were granted such a cast for what could so easily have been a very cheesy production with your usual stock of cheesy sci fi actors like Matt Frewer (no offense buddy, actually quite a fan).

    SFAM, thanks for keeping such a great site. So far your writing style & content rings true with my opinions & tastes, and is very thoughtful. I like how you give some of the underdogs a chance and your reviews are humble & ego free. I’m directly using your rating system & opinion to prioritise my ‘to watch’ list. Thank you.

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