“Equals” features a dystopian future in the aftermath of a worldwide war, where there's only this one bubble of civilization left.  The outside, they are all consistently told, consists only of primitive barbarians, and they wouldn't want to go there.  So they don't.

            Instead, they all live in a highly technological, but completely sterile, environment, where emotions are suppressed, and feelings are discouraged, and all are supposedly treated as “equals”----that is, everyone lives the same way.  Go to work in the government-sponsored computer lab that does research into space exploration.  Dress in uniform white.  All the same hairstyle (slightly longer for the women, but simply combed back without any teasing, frosting, or coloring).  Everybody lives in a colorless apartment where the bed slides out at night.  The sparse closet merely offers identical garb.  The pre-prepared food is nutritious but sparse, meaning that everyone is also perfectly proportioned, because they aren't putting on extra weight. (Exercise class is mentioned, but not shown.  Presumably it would be without enthusiasm, also.)

            Silas (Nicholas Hoult) seems to calmly accept all these spartan circumstances without question or discomfort, until the day he suddenly finds himself staring at a co-worker too long.  Nia (Kristen Stewart) notices his attention, and at first pretends to ignore the shade of attraction in their interaction.  But she's feeling something, as well, and both are terribly confused.

            The government communications, presented matter-of-factly on public screens in reasonable voices, instructs everyone that S.O.S. (Switched On Syndrome) is a disease that needs immediate treatment.  So, if you're starting to feel something, you're to report to your superior, who will refer you to the Health and Safety Department, which will issue you pills to suppress your emotions, but also “tag” you at all the security clearances.  If you progress to the final stage of the dread disease, you're sent to the place where they give you shock treatments, and where the only escape is suicide.  And by the way, it's not that unusual to see someone drop from the rooftop because they just can't stand it any more, but the mess is soon cleaned up and everybody just goes back to their quiet work.

            The only music is some classical that plays in your apartment, where the only entertainment seems to be working 3-D puzzles.  There's no individuality at all, and there's to be no contact with the opposite gender.  When it's time for “conception duty,” the women will be notified.  (We don't actually see any babies or children, but we presume they're being raised in a separate facility.) 

            What happens is the unthinkable:  Silas and Nia develop feelings for each other, and soon try to find ways to hide so they can be together.  At first it's very Junior High----a lot of face-touching and confusion because of the remarkable inexperience at such interaction.  However, soon they discover the ways of all lovers everywhere, but now their problems compound:  there's no socially acceptable way for them to be together.  So they seek escape, which isn't easy, either.

            After almost veering into a Romeo and Juliet kind of ending, we settle for something less than happily ever after, but the point of the futuristic parable is still pretty clear:  we ought to be able to love whom we want, and society's efforts to circumscribe that are actually attempting to suppress human nature.  Have you noticed the t-shirts that say “Keep Calm”?  That would be the mantra of the future in “Equals.”  The problem with that is the rest of the statement in the Declaration of Indepdence, the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Ah, there's the individuality we all long for, especially the repressed characters in “Equals.”

Questions for Discussion:

1)                  Is suppression of emotion a good thing?

2)                  Is suppression of sexual expression a good thing?

3)                  What would you do if you found yourself in a world without love?

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Assocation