It is the future and mankind has finally eradicated all wars and lawbreaking as we would know them, as after centuries of struggle something approximating a utopia has been established. Or at least that's the public face of this society, for any form of emotion has been outlawed, and if you show any feelings then you will be arrested and taken away for rehabilitation; they may have cured cancer and the common cold, but the authorities hope to have found a cure for anything that might disturb the placid surface of the city community where Silas (Nicholas Hoult) stays. He is aware, as they all are, that some citizens break down and even self-destruct, but he knows how to deal with that kind of incident - doesn't he?
Equals was a Ridley Scott production that continued the filmmaker's interest in bringing science fiction to the screen large and small, directed by Drake Doremus who also came up with the storyline. Well, sort of, as it was heavily indebted to the George Lucas debut feature THX 1138, so much so that it was effectively an unofficial remake with its heavily medicated futuristic society where emotions were punished with imprisonment and various treatments. All this really lacked was a tense car chase come the end of the movie, as you looked in vain for anything resembling an action sequence here, no matter how it might have benefitted, Lucas well aware of the handy power of a grand finale.
In this, as before, love was against the law, something drawn from George Orwell's novel Nineteen-Eighty-Four and its adaptations and efforts it inspired, but it was more the Lucas film that Doremus constantly harked back to, especially in the sterile, monochrome design, actually shot at locations around the appropriately futuristic-looking Singapore and Japan. The sets were minimalist, with absolutely nothing extraneous, so the act of watching it was oddly soothing when the characters were so repressed that they would not crack a smile, lose their tempers or otherwise make a scene, not until they were pushed to do so anyway. Silas needed a specific, forbidden lady friend for his love to be kindled, and she turned out to be Nia.
If Silas had had a forbidden boyfriend instead, then Equals could have had a more potent romance than the one we got, or alternatively if Nia had a girlfriend either of which would have bolstered the message since heterosexual romances are encouraged the world over, not so the other kinds. But this played it safe, and cast Kristen Stewart as the love interest, leading to a hefty degree of snarky comments that she was ideally suited to essay the role of a blank-faced, emotionless character when in fact she wasn't playing that at all, she was actually in the role of a ticking time bomb of feelings that had to erupt eventually, and not when she was alone and had to burst into tears or whatever in private. Hoult and Stewart made a decent enough couple, but the necessary sparks did not quite fly as you would hope.
The plot had it that emotions were actually considered a disease, known by the abbreviation S.O.S., and after Silas has a few bad days holding back tears in the aftermath of seeing a suicide's body who leapt from the roof of his office building, he is diagnosed with that. Yet he has definitely witnessed Nia displaying the same symptoms, and makes a move to connect with her which she initially resists, then gives in as they commence an illicit affair under the noses of the powers that be, so we can tell this will not be allowed to proceed, which is where the plans for them to escape enter into the narrative, as they did in the Lucas film. This was both less harsh than that and considered grimmer fates for its hero, though each finished on a note of hope; filling out the supporting cast, who did not get a whole lot to do, were Australians Jacki Weaver and Guy Pearce as members of Silas's encounter group, and indie queens Bel Powley and Kate Lyn Sheil as co-workers moved to suspicion by Silas and Nia's hints that all may not be entirely tickety-boo. Which it wasn't really, so indebted to Lucas and other science fiction that it didn't breathe convincingly as its own entity. Moody electro soundtrack by Dustin O'Halloran and Sascha Ring.