Film: Equilibrium

"So we have created a new arm of the law: the Grammaton Cleric, whose sole task it is to seek out and eradicate the true source of man's inhumanity to man: his ability to feel."

The ultraviolent (although surprisingly bloodless) science fiction action film Equilibrium either rips off or brilliantly homages every great work of dystopian fiction (particularly We, The Giver, Brave New World, and The Matrix) that appears to have inspired it. Although the film lacks originality, fans liked it for being totally shiny.

After a Third World War devastates the Earth, the totalitarian state left in its wake (Libria) comes to consider human emotion as the root cause of all conflict. Libria subsequently bans all emotionally stimulating material (e.g. art, books and music); any "sense offenders" caught by the police end up sentenced to death by incineration. The government also requires citizens to take daily injections of an emotion-suppressing drug in order to prevent "sense offense".

The governing body of Libria — the Tetragrammaton Council — uses the police to maintain conformity; the high-ranking Grammaton Clerics, trained in the martial art of "gun kata", frequently carry out raids where they destroy both "sense offenders" and any offending materials found with them. A pre-Batman Christian Bale plays the role of John Preston, a highly-regarded Cleric who accidentally fails to take a dose of his emotion-supressing drugs and ends up feeling emotions — which attracts the attention of the Clerics and the Council's leader, the all-powerful "Father"...

The film gained notoriety amongst action film fans for John Preston's on-screen body count — one of the highest of any character in film history — the infamous "puppy shootout" scene and its climactic one-on-one gun battle.

This film has a character sheet.

Equilibrium serves as both Trope Maker and Trope Namer for the following trope:

Equilibrium contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: The katana used in the final confrontation.
  • The Ace: John Preston is considered this amongst clerics.
  • Aesoptinum: The drug Prozium subdues emotions to prevent such things as violence and war. This is helped along by the banning of anything with an Emotional Content rating of ten, which can include anything even remotely artistic, and anyone caught with such contraband is burned alive (or shot repeatedly if they try to make things difficult). Naturally, there's an underground resistance that the main character eventually champions after he stops taking his meds.
  • Alone in a Crowd: John Preston after he goes off his emotion-supressing meds. Probably many of the sense offenders as well, but the movie doesn't focus on them.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: After depending entirely on his bodyguards previously, DuPont demonstrates in his fight scene with Preston that he's an extremely proficient Gun Kata fighter. This is foreshadowed by DuPont delivering the exposition about Gun Kata in the first third of the film, and later by DuPont talking about the rumour that "one of us, the Cleric" had turned.
  • Awesome by Analysis: Gun Kata's shtick is that those trained in it can switch targets as fast as possible while avoiding the opponent's shots.
    • Gun Kata: Xanatos Speed Chess with guns. However, Preston and DuPont are the only ones we see doing any actual Gun Kata: Partridge is deliberately letting Preston do all the work, Brandt's only on-screen shooting is with an assault rifle, and none of the other Clerics bother.
  • Badass Longcoat: Preston himself, and the Clerics in general.
  • Batman Gambit: Preston stops taking Prozium and infiltrates the resistance. Just as DuPont planned.
  • Behind the Black: In the climax, John Preston walks into a small circular room with numerous pillars. After a brief conversation with the bad guy on the opposite side of the room, they cut to a shot standing in front of the door, while bad guys step out from behind the pillars. The problem, is that they were on the same side of the pillars as Preston. Some even walk all the way around the pillar just to make for a better reveal, rather than just moving straight for their target. Of course, it's possible he actually saw them, he just didn't care.
  • Big Brother Is Employing You: John Preston is the top Grammaton Cleric, responsible for tracking down and bringing to justice "sense offenders," the opponents of the Tetragrammaton Council, the government of Libria.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Much like Ultraviolet after it. The film uses shattering glass to signify a mook is dead.
  • Bloodstained Glass Windows: Played with, since only one shot is fired in a church.
  • Bodyguarding a Badass: In the final fight, Brandt guards DuPont even though, after Preston cuts off Brandt's face, it becomes clear that DuPont is a master at Gun Kata.
  • Book Burning: The dystopian society does this to pretty much any piece of art or literature considered inductive of emotion. They also like to kill dogs for much the same reason.
  • Boomerang Bigot: DuPont wants to destroy all sense-offenders, despite the fact that he is one himself.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Dealt with by having the main character have a mechanism under his sleeves that loads his pistols with new magazines. This does not explain how exactly the mechanism works however, or how many magazines it holds. He also has sort of elaborate decoy magazines, magazines on round bottoms that he tosses to the floor, runs out and shoots down several guards before dropping to the floor and slotting the magazines into his gun. Careful counting of shots along the hallway scene in which both the sleeve reload and the weighted weeble clips are used reveals at least 30 rounds per magazine are being fired all the way along. At best count, about 40 are fired before the first reload, possibly more.
  • Broken Faceplate: When a mook's visor is shattered they invariably collapse and die; it's due to being shot in the face, or a pistol lethally slamming into the Sweeper's skull after passing through the faceplate.
  • Bullet Proof Human Shield: At one point, Brandt machine-guns a sense offender who is grappling with Preston without killing him too.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Happens to Preston, after he stops taking his Prozium.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Where Preston literally hands his gun to Brandt for later exploitation.
  • Chemical Messiah: The drug Prozium makes people emotionless. The top brass sell it as a solution to man's tendency to war and strife. It isn't addictive, though going off of it can be difficult for people because it's almost like going on a drug, with a flood of emotions that are hard to control or hide.
  • Cheshire Cat Grin: Cleric Brandt has a smile which first inspires Fridge Logic when you realise that he's not supposed to have any emotion, then Fridge Brilliance when you realise that he doesn't have any emotion; his huge smile has nothing to do with real happiness or real satisfaction. Knowing this makes it pretty creepy.
  • Church Militant: Despite serving a secular state, the Grammaton Clerics use the trappings of this trope.
    • Some of the quasi-religious vibes are a bit more subtle: Though it also sort of resembles the Nazi swastika, the symbol of the Librian regime is most similar to the type of cross seen on the coat of arms of the medieval Kingdom of Jerusalem, or the "decapitated cross" of Brave New World. Moreover, "Tetragrammaton"note  is an euphemism used to refer to the name of God.
  • Clean Cut: He cuts a dude's fucking face off!
  • The Cobbler's Children Have No Shoes: The Tetragrammaton Clerics are tasked with rooting out and apprehending or killing Sense Offenders. Preston, stated as being one of the best Clerics, fails to realize that his entire family, both partners, and his boss are all Sense Offenders. It's clear that his reputation is based on his combat skills rather than his ability as a judge of character.
    • It is stated very early that Preston's high rating is due to his combat ability as well as his talent at finding emotional content material, no matter how well hidden they are in the sense offender's lairs, not his obviously lackluster ability to actually find the people he's supposed to be hunting.
  • Computer Equals Monitor: Preston shoots out a bank of monitors.
  • Contract on the Hitman: Preston is a highly-trained police officer/executioner for the Fascist theocratic government of Libria. Once he recovers his own emotions and realizes what monstrous society has been created in the name of peace and tranquility, he becomes a rebel himself and turns the tables on his former employers, killing the people send out to kill him and executing the head of the State Church.
  • Creepy Child: Preston's son plays at being one until he's certain Preston has undergone a Heel-Face Turn. Justified. See Dull Surprise
  • Creepy Cool Crosses: The Tetragrammaton logo is a so called Krückenkreuz, or Cross potent.
  • Cultured Badass: The Big Bad, being a hypocrite, keeps an art collection and reads poetry, quoting Yeats right before the climactic fight. He is also a Gun Kata master.
  • Culture Police: The Grammaton Clerics are an elite police force tasked with destroying all art and killing anyone who possesses art. This was because the dystopian government was attempting to stabilize society by completely eliminating human emotion (why the government needs an elite, Gun Kata trained task force to carry this out is never really explained).
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Preston's fight against Brandt.
    • Real Life Writes the Plot: According to the DVD commentary, the whole film was shot on a tight schedule, and the final confrontation scenes in particular were made in a rush. They actually had planned for a legitimate fight scene between Preston and Brandt, but they simply couldn't get Taye Diggs available in time to do the scene, so they did a pragmatic move and turned the whole thing into a Single-Stroke Battle, with a body double standing in for Diggs.
  • Decoy Protagonist: At first it seems like Partridge would be the hero of the story.
  • Diagonal Cut: There's a perfect diagonal cut/slide apart in live action as part of its climactic fight sequence, and the victim is even courteous enough to turn his head to the side so the audience can see his face sliding off. It looks exactly as awesome/stupid as it sounds.
  • Dramatic Deadpan: When Preston prepares for the climactic battle: "No." and "Not without incident."
  • Dystopian Edict: "No emotions at all!"
  • Dramatic Gun Cock:
    • Partridge induces Preston to kill him by cocking the gun in his lap.
    • Just before massacring a whole squadron of Helmet Mooks, Preston pumps two shotguns simultaneously by jerking them back so fast that the shotguns pump themselves.
  • Dull Surprise: Possibly the ONLY film in existence that not only justifies its existence, but makes it a plot driven requirement!
  • Emotion Suppression: Everyone uses a drug called Prozium to suppress their emotions. Refusal to administer it is punishable by death.
  • Emotions vs. Stoicism: Prozium is designed to block out emotions so that there will be no more violent conflict.
  • The Evils of Free Will: Father's dogma. Emotions are seen as an enabler, thus Prozium to suppress those as well.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Partridge is aware that he's been sense offending, carrying a Yeats book of poetry. He's cool, calm, composed. Constantly, even when faced with death. When Preston becomes suspicious and finds him in the church, he doesn't look up, doesn't bat an eyelid, totally aware that Preston is armed. He even goes so far as to read from one of Yeats famous poems, 'The Cloths Of Heaven'. He looks up, questioning everything the system stands for, hoping to get Preston to at least understand what's going on before he dies. We find out later from Mary that he was her lover and he secretly fought for the Resistance. The way he says the line below describes how resilient he is, because he doesn't do anything to prevent his own oncoming death despite knowing what was coming for him. He's going to die fighting for a cause and he wants it to stay that way. If it means dying for your beliefs, he's in no denial.
    Partridge: You always knew.
  • Faceless Goons: The Sweepers, who wear either riot gear or storm-coats, but almost always wear closed helmets.
  • First Time Feeling: Hits Preston hard, not least because, at the time, he's found and is listening to an old vinyl album of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, one of the most tremendously moving pieces of music ever produced by the human species. Even the script describes this introduction to human emotion as 'unfair'. (But it does a lot to explain his subsequent actions.)
  • Flat "What.": The reaction of the Nethers captain to seeing two of his men killed with their own shotguns. Justified because like everyone else, he would have been on Prozium and not felt fear at the result.
  • Flock of Wolves: It's implied Preston is one of the few Clerics who isn't taking Prozium when the movie starts. Although this was initially by accident..
  • Foreshadowing: Several instances:
    • In the beginning of the film, Brandt comments that he needs to stop by an Equilibrium center to have his dose adjusted, meaning he's either under-medicated or over-medicated.
    • John's daughter playing with her cereal near the beginning of the film foreshadows that she is no longer on Prozium, as does the fact that his son gets annoyed with her hint that he isn't on it either.
    • DuPont is teaching the Gun Kata class early on because he himself is a master practitioner. Also he refers to the traitor as being "one of us, the Cleric".
    • Jurgen is seen early on at a public broadcast about the dangers of sense offending, letting you know that he actually takes prozium to maintain his cover.
    • DuPont is seen angrily slapping a table during a conversation with Preston, suggesting that he's not on Prozium.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: Preston's Beretta shot flares look like the Tetragrammaton cross logo. The producer himself has stated that it was mostly a wasted effect, as few viewers noticed it.
  • Gas Mask Mooks: The incinerator personnel at the Hall of Justice. In scary black Soviet PBF gas masks.
  • Good Colors, Evil Colors: Although all of the main characters, both evil and good, wear black for the majority of the film, the climactic final battle sees the protagonist in a stunningly-white ceremonial uniform, while every one of the antagonists he fights — from the motorcycle-helmeted goons to the Big Bad himself — is dressed entirely in black.
  • Good Costume Switch: Preston dons an all white suit before the Final Battle, presumably his parade uniform since he's going to see Father. He even has his sword with him in a white scabbard. Then again, why a society with no emotions would need a parade uniform is unclear.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: The "translucent screen" variation, in the firing squad scene.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Father deciding to use an Unwitting Pawn to track down the resistance. It works. It works perfectly.
  • Grand Inquisitor Scene: The movie finishes on one of these, with the added bonus that the official also doesn't believe it either.
  • Gun Fu: They combine both this and Gun Kata in the Grammaton Clerics' signature fighting style.
  • Gun Kata: The Trope Namer is the style of gunplay used by the Grammaton Clerics in this film. The style was choreographed by a Karate expert, and you can see the Clerics often adopt very Karate-like stances while practicing or fighting.
  • Guns Akimbo: John Preston wields dual pistols and is quite literally untouchable by mooks. In an early scene, he jumps into a crossfire and stands calmly (then again, with emotions held under check he can't quite panic or anything) in one place while the opposition fires away with automatic weaponry and fails to hit him. The film attempts to explain this by inventing a fighting style known as Gun Kata, which teaches its practitioners to seek out locations in a fight where there is minimum probability of getting shot at and it's not "behind cover"). In a later fight, Preston reloads by a mechanism that inserts fresh magazines into the guns from his sleeves.
  • Heroic Second Wind: Noticeably averted, with the hero killing the Big Bad without breaking a sweat, and the only concession to show that the Big Bad is a credible threat is that he doesn't die instantly, unlike everyone else that came before. In the commentary the director even mentions this trope, and states he thinks it's stupid and unnecessary for the hero to lose to the Big Bad in round 1 because the audience already knows the hero is going to win anyway.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: The Tetragrammaton planned to use Preston as bait for the Resistance leaders.
  • Hope Spot
    • Preston rushes to the execution chamber to prevent Mary's death, but arrives seconds too late.
    • Preston's revolution was a trap of the authority.
  • Huge Holographic Head: Messages from the leader of the totalitarianist regime, "Father", does this with massive screens throughout the city. Subverted in that the real Father died years before. DuPont has been impersonating him since then.
  • Humans Are Flawed: The entire reason for the plot was because human emotions were a flaw and the cause of 'man's inhumanity to man.' The ending, while portrayed positively, never exactly comes clear on whether restoring human emotion is a good thing.
  • Idiot Ball. The Big Bad lets Preston, the highly trained Cleric who has killed multiple Faceless Goons and proven himself a serious threat, walk into the main headquarters without even bothering to search him for weaponry. He then tells Preston the master plan and as soon as his villainous monologue ends, Preston pulls out some firearms and fights his way to the boss's room. In a deleted scene, it would've shown earlier that the metal detectors are at the next door Preston walks through after taking the lie-detector, which raises the question of why they put the anti-gun security measure there instead of before the room they planned to spring their trap in.
    • In addition to just shooting Preston after they captured the resistance, they also could have shot him up with more Prozium to remove his emotions again.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: Averted. At first, it seems this is the only reason why Preston wasn't immediately killed when he went through the door at the sense offender hideout in the beginning. However, statistically the first man into a room is one of the safest in the opening seconds of an engagement (the second man in line is usually the first one to buy it) if his entrance is hard and fast enough. Preston slammed through the door all the way to the middle of the room in about a second; by the time the guys in the room realized he was there, the lights were out and they couldn't really shoot him without killing each other.
  • Interesting Situation Duel: The climax features a gun duel. It's awesome by virtue of the range being two feet; the combatants fire at each other with pistols while simultaneously trying to hit the other's gun away.
  • Invincible Hero: Preston. The director finds it boring when the villain "gets a few good licks in" on the hero because he has no intention of implying a Bad Guy Wins ending, and thus, there's no point in making it seem like the villain has an advantage at all when the result is a foregone conclusion. He does acknowledge that not everyone likes this approach. And yet, for all his physical invincibility, he turns out to be incredibly emotionally vulnerable.
  • In Your Nature to Destroy Yourselves
    Father: Intrinsically, humans, as creatures of the Earth were drawn inherently always back to one thing, war. And thus we seek to correct not the symptom, but the disease itself. We have sought to shrug off individuality, replacing it with conformity. Replacing it with sameness, with unity, allowing each man, woman, and child in this great society to lead identical lives.
  • It Is Pronounced Tropay: Preston absolutely murders the pronunciation of Ludwig Van Beethoven.
  • Irony: The culmination of the film involves Preston, an agent of the Resistance, attaining what the Tetragrammaton has been seeking since its founding — total emotional mastery — without Prozium. Unfortunately for the Tetragrammaton, this control manifests as the ability to channel his near-volcanic anger into an awesome display of precision ass-kicking.
  • Katanas Are Just Better: There is no good reason for Brandt's personal guards to carry katanas.
  • Kick the Dog: The Sweepers are shown gunning down fleeing and captured Resistance members, and dogs.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: "Not without incident." The trailer doesn't provide enough context for it to be a real spoiler, but you'll know where it's coming in the movie, and it was clearly intended to be unexpected.
  • Licked by the Dog: Several minutes after Preston cries at Beethoven, a puppy licks his face and brings out his compassion — to the point where he ends up killing a dozen men after he decides to keep it.
  • Little "No": "No. Not without incident."
  • Man in White: Preston in the climax.
  • Media Watchdog: What the dystopia is all about.
  • Meaningful Echo:
    • Near the end, DuPont echoes the Yeats poem Partridge was reading near the beginning: "You're treading on my dreams."
    • Before shooting Partridge, Preston mentions the anger and hatred felt by sense offenders. Partridge replies, "A heavy cost. I pay it gladly." When DuPont asks Preston whether killing a feeling human is worth the price, guess how Preston replies?
    • When Brandt is sparring with Preston he states that "it's my job to know what you're thinking". When Preston finds out his son is also feeling and knew that he became a sense offender, the son says "you forget, it's my job to know what you're thinking."
    • When Preston starts following Partridge's path, he repeats some of his excuses. "They miss things, sometimes..."
  • Mobstacle Course: Preston does this at least twice, one time without a real purpose besides just wanting to be alone.
  • Mona Lisa Smile: Mona Lisa is one of the paintings which is captured and burned in the opening. Adding to the tragedy is that the main character, initially a ruthless enforcer of the totalitarian regime, has no idea about the significance of it.
  • Mondegreen: When Preston doubts the wisdom of overthrowing the government, he says "What about war, the everyday cruelties that are all gone now?" Jurgen's response is, "Replaced by the Tetragrammaton?" Many think he's saying, "Replaced by a touch of grammaton?"
  • Mortal Wound Reveal: Happens to The Dragon Brandt.
  • Mouth of Sauron: Libria dictator "Father" is all over the television, but almost no one meets him personally. Vice-Council DuPont is explicitly described as "Father's Voice." Turns out to be a subversion: the real Father died years before, and DuPont is actually running things while pretending to be the Mouth of Sauron.
  • Murder by Cremation: Any imprisoned "sense offenders" eventually suffer this fate. Preston witnesses this first-hand when he sees Mary's execution.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: When Preston rewatches the recording of his wife's incineration, this time being able to feel. His face becomes a mask of complete and utter horror when he sees how he had just stood then, uncaring and cold, while she had been sent to a gruesome fiery death.
    • Earlier than that, the first time he kills a man after he goes off Prozium.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailers make it seem like Preston's wife was arrested recently and his motivation is pure revenge.
  • Offhand Backhand: Pretty much any shot Preston makes falls under this trope, since Gun Kata eliminates the need to actually aim.
  • Oh, Crap:
    • The technician administering Preston's polygraph test.
    • Also the Nethers scene:
    Mook 1: "No!"
    Mook 2: "Fuck!"
    Mook 3: "What."
    • DuPont gets progressively more unnerved as he watches Preston defeat each layer of his defenses.
  • One-Man Army: Preston. He smashes his way through every obstacle put before him and racks up a massive kill count over the course of the film.
  • Pendulum War: The minute Preston stops the broadcasts from Father, the previously completely ineffective sense-offenders Zerg Rush the Sweepers with zero casualties observed.
  • Pet the Dog: Done literally, as a first
  • Pistol-Whipping: The scene where Preston tries to let the sense-offenders escape. The resulting beatdown leaves several Sweepers dead.
  • Plot Hole: Supposedly, Preston swapped his government-issued (and personalized) gun with Brandt's to frame him for killing the Sweeper patrol. The swapping scene clearly happens after the killing scene, and in any case he used two guns in the fight and only swapped one. Some people think this hole is obvious and unforgivable. Others forgive it in order to enjoy the rest of the film. Still others come up with bizarre, elaborate justifications for why it makes sense if you think about it hard enough, usually fueled by an earlier scene where Preston hands Brandt a gun. The actual explanation is that the narrative was shuffled in editing to improve the pacing, and the director decided to let the plot hole slide.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Probably the only reason the drug ampules looks like bullets and the drug is injected with an apparatus that looks like a gun.
    • Viviana's execution robe is blood red, the color of martyrs.
    • Father extolls Prozium as the "opiate of the masses", a frequent variation on Karl Marx's view of religion as the "opium of the people".
  • Same Story, Different Names: Writer-director Kurt Wimmer's follow-up project Ultraviolet rehashed most of the basic elements of this film. William Fichtner even appears in both.
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: Apparently, once you are far enough up the ranks taking Prozium is not required.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: The Librian TV operators' response to Preston's Death Glare.
  • Shadow Dictator: Inspired by 1984, "Father" is the mysterious and omnipresent dictator of Libria. Though we do see broadcasts featuring him, they are faked, since the original Father died, and Du Pont was chosen to replace him.
  • Single-Stroke Battle: Preston's fight with Brandt.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Mary is the only female in the main cast.
  • Sociopathic Hero: The film both justifies and deconstructs this trope via Preston.
  • Stock Lateral Thinking Puzzle:
    Polygraph Operator: "How would you say would be the easiest way to take a weapon away from a Grammaton Cleric?"
    Brandt: "You ask him for it."
  • The Stoic: After starting as one, Preston quickly turns Not So Stoic as he struggles with having and hiding emotions. He even suffers a Heroic BSOD, but becomes The Stoic again before the final battle.
  • Straw Hypocrite: DuPont and Brandt aren't on Prozium. In the commentary, the director explains that this was done because most people assume that breaking their own laws is one thing all tyrants have in common, and he cast Taye Diggs as Brandt partly because of his giant smile.
  • Straw Vulcan: The ideological mainstream believes that emotion creates "man's inhumanity to man"; any attempt to evoke feelings in oneself or others is punishable by summary execution.
  • Take That:
    • The way items are rated, banned, and destroyed is a dig at the MPAA rating system.
    • Somewhat less subtle is Father extolling "the revolutionary precept of the hate crime" — as in, dubbing the "hate" the important part of the "crime", which makes Thoughtcrime Not So Crazy Anymore.
  • Tear Off Your Face: Preston kills Brandt by slicing his face off with a katana.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Pretty much the philosophy driving the movie. Aside from the overkill in combat, you really don't need dual flamethrowers to destroy a single painting.
  • Thoughtcrime: "Sense Offense"
  • Tin Man: Many of Preston's opponents who are supposedly on Prozium display plenty of emotions, Oh, Crap being a favorite. This is foreshadowing the fact that they aren't on it.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The Sweepers in the Nethers scene. Do not try to use your Walther WA2000 within three feet of a known Gun Kata expert, never mind that if you do fire you'll probably kill your mate standing on his opposite side.
  • Tranquil Fury: Four words: "No. Not without incident."
  • Troubled Backstory Flashback: The arrest and execution of Preston's wife. Bonus points for her being more colorful than everything else in the memory.
  • Undercrank: This gets quite noticeable in some fight scenes.
  • Unorthodox Reload:
    • Preston has some sort of device up his sleeves (literally) that will reload his pistols for him when they run empty.
    • During the final shootout, Preston is confronted by a hallway of machine-gun Mooks. He throws two magazines of ammunition halfway down the hallway, then starts shooting, running out of ammo exactly where the two magazines landed, reloads and continues gunning 'em down.
    • And the one guy assuming his Walther WA2000 is a shotgun, racking a nonexistent pump.