Dystopian Love Stories feel as if they were a dime a dozen. Especially in a posthunger games World has gone from trend to tired trope, the story of a boy and girl torn apart by a repressive futuristic society. However, these stories are usually aimed at young adults hoping to cash in on teenagers who are easily charmed by tense melodramas with a revolutionary twist.
In 2015, popular distributor A24 released a dystopian love story that resisted the temptation to fully embrace teenage romance, and the result is a haunting meditation on what it means to love and be loved.
First thing you notice Equal It looks so hygienic. All of the environments and costumes are in bright white, reflecting the society portrayed. Under The Collective, people are stripped of their ability to process emotions. All reproduction is by artificial insemination, and unemotional beings are perfect workers.
The film follows Silas (Nicholas Hoult), an illustrator who realizes that the dead state of those around him is not perfect. He begins to have nightmares and is eventually diagnosed with SOS, “switch-on syndrome,” a condition that allows the “sufferer” to experience emotions again.
At work, he witnesses someone with SOS committing suicide. None of his colleagues reacted – except for one. Nia (Kristen Stewart) eventually tells him that she has had SOS for a year but has resisted diagnosis and treatment because it results in an ostracism. The two fall in love and devise a plan to escape their company.
While Equal Stars two former child stars who have done their fair share of teen romance, this is a grown-up allegory of how capitalism can suck the soul out of people. It’s not the story of two lovers trying to seize the moment. It’s the story of two people trying to survive and feel something.
As with most dystopian romances, a parallel can be drawn Equal and Romeo and Juliet. There are two people who are determined to be together despite the world doing everything it can to keep them apart, and the characters’ emotions are more important than the world they are in. In the film’s emotional thesis, Silas tries to explain his feelings to Nia, although the concept is new to him.
“Space is where we find the answers to why we are here and where we came from. It’s like everyone is looking for those answers…eight hundred million miles away, and the truth is, the answers are right in front of us.”
Even amidst the blank white walls and the authoritarian leadership that controls not only minds but souls as well, Equal can feel oddly familiar. In reality, falling in love is generally encouraged rather than forbidden, but it still feels slightly rebellious to find joy in enjoying another person’s company, being happy in the moment, rather than producing or consuming. Equal exaggerates this rebellion and sets it on a dystopian backdrop, but the message is universal.
Equal streams on HBO Max.