So here’s the thing: Early Internet buzz kept calling this sci-fi parable a sterile, sexless drag in which everyone looks the same and wears the same clothes. Wrong. Actually, Equals is very sexy, mostly because there isn’t much of it and yet you feel two people so longing to have it. Nia (Kristen Stewart) and Silas (Nicholas Hoult) are two work drones who live in solitary cubicles, get up every day, dress all in white and labor in some kind of futuristic collective called the Collective. Everyone is equal in the Collective because they’ve all been switched off emotionally between conception and birth. Yes, it sounds like an echo of 1984 — or Brave New World or Gattaca or Logan’s Run or any number of dystopian tales about a worst-case-scenario future. So let the Internet have its fun, such as this précis: “Bella and the Beast reenact the Twilight saga on the set of THX-1138.” Good one.
But let’s talk for a minute about the actual movie. Directed by the talented Drake Doremus (Like Crazy, Breathe In) from a script by Nathan Parker (Moon), the film isn’t defined by its drab, hopeless trappings. Nia and Silas don’t break their first sweat by getting it on. They imagine what it might be like to get it on. They even imagine what it would be like to feel love. In the terms of this movie, the actual doing it is less rousing than the thought of doing it. Restraint is a hell of a aphrodisiac.
The theme isn’t new, and the execution here can be blunt and overly solemn. But Doremus and Parker are onto something about how curiosity about human contact can lead to curiosity about what’s outside, beyond the parameters of ego and orgasm. Fanciful? Sure. Familiar? You bet. But watch what emotions Stewart and Hoult, both quietly devastating, manage to express with a simple look or a gesture. Equals is really about possibility in a world gone cold from insisting that things can’t change. Sound like any place you know?