Equals is not another young adult utopian/dystopian movie. I would argue that it’s not – primarily at least – intended for young adults. And it’s far less about the utopian world within which it exists. More than anything, Equals is a simple love story on amphetamines.

Equals Review

Drake Doremus has set his love story on a colony called The Collective, where antiseptic white high rises crowd the immediate landscape as the more natural world of blue sky and green growth cracks through the foreground demurely like a half-hearted promise. He dresses his characters in pale neutrals. He wipes their faces of emotion and color. The Collective is an anemic world, sapped of blood and love alike.

And in this infertile world, a love between equals defiantly sprouts.

Nicholas Hoult stars in Equals as Silas, who works as an illustrator in the coveted Asos block within The Collective. Kristen Stewart‘s Nia is the scribe from whose work he draws the inspiration for his high tech art work that is disseminated to the community. One such work interprets the world outside as crumbling buildings hunching over wrenched souls huddled together for warmth.

One day in Asos, Silas realizes that Nia might be infected. When a man leaps to his death – not an uncommon occurrence in The Collective – and lands outside their work room, Nia has a braced emotional reaction. She picks at her thumb and then hastily turns away. It’s not long before Silas recognizes the infection in himself, his first symptom a series of distressing and disorienting nightmares. He goes to the doctor and learns that he’s Phase 2. It’s not good, but it means that he has a fighting chance of hanging on until “the cure.”

While Doremus and his screenwriting collaborator did a fair amount of world-building, the more interesting manifestations of the plot involve Nia and Silas processing the unfamiliar feelings they have for one another, acting on them, processing them some more, giving in, shunning them, and then ultimately resolving that this love thing between them is worth the ultimate fight. It’s an intense falling, worthy of what one might imagine for two people programmed to not feel suddenly getting both the gift and the curse – and encountering lust and love and the fear of losing it all, or losing one’s life.

Equals revels in the nuance of its performances. Had lesser actors been cast, there’s no question it would have been an out and out failure. So much more of meaning and weight is spoken through facial expressions and body language that Hoult and Stewart masterfully imbue their characters with than through the mediocre dialogue. While people will say that Stewart, lazily pegged as an actress incapable of showing emotion, is perfect for this particular part, it’s her ability to give into her character’s emotions – at first hesitatingly and then with abandon – that makes her performance notable. 

Doremus sees Equals as a metaphor for a long term relationship. Unpacking that, it’s fair to assume that he sees the world that many of us live in as a tech-centric wasteland where raw human emotion goes to die. Finding one’s way back to that, to the feelings of early love, where all the rest is background noise, takes the strength of equals doggedly fighting for the cause.