13 August 2007

Movies and Theology - Equilibrium

I had no intention of posting this today, especially since I just did those book reviews, and I don’t like to do so many movies and books so close together, but I started writing notes on the movie I saw last night in order to remember points and found myself with a full-blown post (and an even longer sentence). So here it is. No spoilers. I talk about the movie itself and then some thoughts it led me to.

Premise: after a third world war, the powers that be realize that man could not survive a fourth, so they seek to eradicate the cause: emotions. If emotions cause rage and jealousy, and rage and jealousy cause war, then it is better to do away with them, sacrificing love and joy and the like for the sake of so-called peace. People take their injections of Prozium, which I’m sure you’ll recognize as Prozac, to deaden their feelings. No grief, no sadness, the government says. Sense offenders, which are anything from those who harbor works of art such as the Mona Lisa or a book by Keats to those who collect odds and ends like perfume bottles and record players and old Mother Goose books (sounds like my husband’s grandfather) to those who dare to love. The scene that got me: women and children were found rescuing and caring for dogs. They killed the dogs. I can’t handle animals getting hurt. I closed my eyes and tried to plug my ears to block out the yelps. The top cleric (the specially trained agents who seek and kill sense offenders in order to keep order—I’ll get to the whole cleric thing in a minute) sees something that awakens a corner of feeling in him. He plays with it. Stops taking his Prozium (itself against the law), allows himself to linger over the harbored objects of beauty to be destroyed, and aligns himself with the rebellion. The friend that loaned us the movie likened it to The Matrix. I think it’s more like V for Vendetta, personally.

One complaint: the movie did a great job of developing the main character’s character (ha!), growing his feelings and emotions and appreciation for beauty. And it had great fight scenes. However, in the climax, I felt jilted. Things went along too easily. (I tried to comment so much to my husband, but he shushed me so that he could fully enjoy the fighting.) There were two scenes in particular: one the Ordeal, one the Road Back with that death scene climax, that could have been developed and heightened, in my opinion.

Oh, two complaints, really: I had a hard time with the premise, that anyone would accept the wiping out of all emotion as the solution. Without gentleness and empathy, one easily kills (as you see in the movie). And, there seem to be some accepted emotions: pride or anger when it’s on the “right” side, so that seemed to be out of sync.

Props: the ending had a couple of surprises I was not expecting (hence the surprise) but really enjoyed. They did a good job with that. I won’t say anything more.

The movie stars the guy from Swing Kids and Batman Begins (Christian Bale), Boromir from Lord of the Rings (Sean Bean, also in The Island, National Treasure), Benjamin Coffin from Rent (Taye Diggs), and the guy who played Robert the Bruce in Braveheart (Angus Macfadyen). Also, the girl from Punch-Drunk Love and Gosford Park (Emily Watson) was in it, and Lincoln Burrows from Prison Break makes an appearance. (See, isn’t it so much better to go ahead and take care of these things from the start? Now you won’t have to sit through the movie going, where have I seen that guy?)

The governing power outlawing everything beautiful and everything emotional are associated with Christianity. Their symbol is a cross, and their top trained agents are clerics. I find this ironic for a couple of reasons. First, Christians have always maintained that God created emotions as part of humanity. Granted, some weigh logic as better than emotions instead of equal, and very few go to an extreme as to say emotions are bad. But it’s the same with anyone, Christian or not, in our Western Society. Second, we have a Creator God who looked at this beauty He made and said, It is good. He gave us the capacity to create and to appreciate the waterfalls and the sunsets (some even, the sunrise, if you can awake in time) and the snow-capped mountains. He made the rainbow as a promise. He directs us to an end even more beautiful than the beginning, if that can be possible (which, obviously, it is)—more on that tomorrow. Third, technically, this ideology, of getting rid of emotions, belongs to Eastern religions such as Hindu and Buddhist. While the end goal of Christianity is to have perfect humanity, perfect in emotion, reason, and body, each individual personality in its most beautiful state, glorified, in other words (words that the Bible uses), the end goal of Hinduism and Buddhism is getting rid of personality to meld into one, one essence, one nirvana, the One. This sounds lovely, really. I mean, who doesn’t want to be part of the One that flows in everything? But it does mean ridding yourself of your own personality, emotions, reason, body, the whole bit.

This brings me to another point: peace done man’s way v. peace done God’s way. They are trying to control things, forcing a community together to fight, well, fighting. But in their way, they do away with everything beautiful. And it’s controlling, manipulative, and power-hungry, even if their original intentions were good. In God’s way, though, we “fight” with all the things that the government in this movie tries to wipe out: love, charity, gentleness, beauty, selflessness, generosity. God’s way is covert and surprising. God’s way protects the weak and the hurt and the poor doggies (I’m still not over that scene). Which brings us to the role of the cleric. In the movie, the role of the cleric was calculating and controlling while we know that in God’s body, the role of the cleric is shepherding, loving, caring, encouraging, willing to leave the 99 safe ones to go out on a limb (like a shepherd reaching for that stuck sheep) for the one lost. This is the hard (and that darn convicting) point for me. Isn’t it more fun to be with the 99? Isn’t it more gratifying? Isn’t it more strategic, even? Isn’t it just easier? But as a shepherd, we’re called to the lost one. No, the numbers aren’t behind us. Nor is the guarantee. Who knows if that one druggie or one woman who had an affair or one guy who left the church because Friday nights at the bar are more fun or one child who has a habit of biting as his only form of communication or one girl who thinks her only recourse is abortion will come to Christ? Who knows if our efforts will be wasted?

In the end, I think I’ll wait for God’s peace and God’s community, which will be in perfect harmony with Him, each other, and nature, thank you very much.

Update: I knew I'd forget something. Not important, but interesting to me. The main character's breaking point comes while he's listening to Beethoven's third symphony, the Eroica (which is not erotica but Hero) Symphony, originally dedicated to Napoleon, who, of course, is related to the French Revolution. (Later, the dedication was scratched out when Napoleon declared himself Emporer and proved himself to be just another tyrant.) I wonder if the film makers meant to associate that moment and the resistant's movement with the French Revolution.
And Real Live Preacher is right: it's not a particularly great movie, although I enjoyed it and felt it worth the two hours, though I wouldn't put it on my top ten by any means. He likens it to 1984. I would add Brave New World.


Real Live Preacher said...

I saw this movie some time ago. Rented it. It wasn't memorable; I can't remember much except that I thought it was just another "1984."

But I like your thoughts on peace. The biblical peace is shalom, and it captures all of what you describe. It's not just the absence of violence, it is the inclusion of right relationships between people and between people and the environment.

Christianne said...

Love this review! It's funny because just yesterday I read a comment posted by one friend to another friend who was recommending that she see this movie. I didn't recognize the name, so I didn't think much of it . . . until I meandered over here to read your lengthy and very thought-provoking review. Now I definitely want to rent it!

Jenn said...

Sometimes you just say stuff, Heather, and I want to tell everybody I know to pay attention. Thanks for your comparisons. So true. Thanks for being brave enough to say so.

Pamela said...

fantastic review!!!!

L.L. Barkat said...

Funny that we should find ourselves disturbed by a theme of someone wanting to take away our emotions, when we ourselves are often afraid to let them be.

Christin said...

Heather - I came to read your review when Christianne told me about it. I am the one who mentioned it to another friend. I agree that it is not a great movie, but it is interesting, and I have an affinity for strange, other-worldy movies, especially when I can't sleep at night.

My husband bought the movie a couple years ago, and we just rewatched it this week. I found it even more intriguing the second time through.

I enjoyed your thoughts on the movie. It is disconcerting how they portray the manipulative ruling body in church imagery, especially "Father."

As for your complaint that some emotions were accepted, the film makers spoke to that in the extra behind the scenes snippet on the DVD (I realize this makes me look pretty geeky, if I hadn't already). I think it was the director who said that he had to decide between making a movie in which the people were completely stoic, which would be boring and unwatchable, or making a movie in which the viewer could accept that the drug Prozium didn't nullify emotion but eliminated the highs and lows of emotion, so that the characters could have some depth and be interesting. After hearing his argument I agreed with his decision.