In this version of the future, your feelings are genetically “turned off” in the womb. People are no longer subject to their moods, their intuitions, their base emotions. Everything is pleasantly flat. Nothing bothers them. But some are subject to a disorder in which those feelings are somehow switched back on. This disease is fatal – if you aren’t driven to suicide, you’ll be euthanatized, because being the only sensitive person in a void of flat affect is simply too much to bear.
Silas (Nicholas Hoult) contracts the disease. He’s given medication to try to suppress his feelings and is told to hope for a cure, but he knows that by stage 4, he’ll be given a painless death and that’s it. This world without emotion feels rather cold and lonely to us, the viewers, but the people living it don’t seem to notice until they come down with the disease, which sets them even further apart from their peers. But the one good thing is that Silas can see that his work mate Nia (Kristen Stewart) must also be infected. She hides her disease from others but cannot escape his awakened intuition. The two inevitably fall in love, though “coupling” is distinctly prohibited. The only way they can be together is to leave society and head for the outside world, where primitive humans still exist.
The film is well-realized and quite stylish. The best part is the acting. I hate to admit it, but this is Kristen Stewart’s least lip-biting role yet. She and Hoult have tangible chemistry, and for a couple of kids who are experiencing sexual urges for the first time, the film is surprisingly sexy. Guy Pearce and Jacki Weaver lend a lot of credibility in their supporting roles, their performances add urgency and intensity to the proceedings.
The problem, however, is with the story. The truth is, it just feels recycled. It feels like you’ve seen this before. It’s like every second Margaret Atwood novel and does little to distinguish itself from other movies in the genre. What it doesn’t borrow from Atwood it steals from Shakespeare and it never really does its own thing. Equals is a highly-polished piece from a second-hand store. It’s not trash but it could never compete with the real thing. If you’re the kind of person who’s comfortable buying a couch off Kijiji, then maybe this one’s for you.