Last night I watched a strange movie called Equilibrium, starring Christian Bale — another apocalyptic and dystopian themed film in the manner of The Matrix and Orwell’s 1984. While it was a bit campy, it had some contemporary references that might be worth considering and commenting upon, as they have some bearing on the recent discussion of “chaotic emotion” raised here in The Chrysalis.

The film opens upon a post-apocalyptic fascistic society now called “Libria” that has survived a nuclear war. The survivors blamed the World War on chaotic emotions, and now set about to criminalise all emotion and feeling. Highly trained assassins called “Clerics” hunt down and murder “sense offenders” or feelers as being a threat to peace. The citizens of Libria (a reference to the sedative Librium, I guess) are required by law to take a daily dose of “Prozium” (evidently Prozac) which is a drug that suppresses emotion and benumbs sensation.

As a consequence of this drastic repressive solution to the problem of the chaos of the passions, Libria is riddled with ironies and self-contradictions. “Freedom” has come to mean freedom from feeling. The citizens have come to believe they have achieved social peace under the wise guidance of “Father”, and have eliminated war and murder, even though Libria is highly militarised and very violent, and is engaged in constant surveillance, war and the daily massacre of “sense offenders”. All music, poetry, and art is criminalised and ruthlessly suppressed, as are all expressions of empathy.

And, of course, it wouldn’t be a story without an inner “Resistance” of feelers and sense offenders who disturb the peace of equilibrium, which is only the “ratio” of rationality and which is quite irrational because the Librians have confused this equilibrium with equanimity so that they do not recognise that their own murderous violence against “sense offenders” in the name of preserving “equilibrium” is a self-contradiction. Equilibrium is a perverted and distorted understanding of what is really equanimity, which is the orderly arrangement of the passions. So the logic of “Father” and of his “Cleric” assassins is a quite self-contradictory and maddening pretzel logic.

In those terms, its possible to see Libria as the realised totality of Iain McGilchrist’s left-hemisphere of the brain and the suppression of the right-hemisphere’s mode of attention, but which makes its active presence nonetheless real in terms of the self-contradictions of Librian society and its rulership. Those contradictions are evident to everybody but the Librians who remain benumbed and oblivious to their own self-contradictions.

Is such a dystopian future society at all conceivable? More or less. To a certain extent, the features of that future society are already present — chaotic emotion and the loss of equanimity interpreted objectively as loss of equilibrium, the management of chaotic emotion and anxiety by suppression or the routine resort to sedatives, consolidation and centralisation of power along with indoctrination and mass surveillance. Many of the core features of Libria are already in place, even though the criminalisation of dissent hasn’t really reached the murderous and pathological levels found in the film — yet, anyway.

As mentioned, the film is a bit campy but it hasn’t really completely lost the plot. It’s core themes remain anchored in contemporary sociological truths — chaotic emotions, the social consequences of such affective disorders, deficiency of a rationalistic, totalitarian response to those chaotic emotions or affective disorders, misunderstanding of the implicit connection between equilibrium and equanimity, so that every violent effort to preserve or restore equilibrium has the perverse effect of destroying equanimity, requiring more sedation and more violent efforts — and so, a vicious circle which becomes self-devouring and self-consuming. Libria is Blake’s “dark Satanic Mill”.

“Everything possible to be believed is an image of truth” (Blake). And while some aspects of Equilibrium are quite implausible, others are not so implausible but are exaggerated for effect.



6 responses to “Equilibrium”

  1. LittleBigMan says :

    Great movie!! Here are two of my favorite scenes:

    The puppy in the first clip is just irresistible.

    The second clip shows the hypocrisy that is always the insignia of such dark regimes. The top leader has the walls of his room adorned with beautiful paintings while the possession of the same sort of art has been banned by the rest of the population.

    I saw the movie a while back but, from time to time, I still think about its theme, and the word “enantiodromia” always comes to mind. Christian Bale is that enantiodromia that is inevitable, in my view, in every extreme situation like that.

    And this “loss of equanimity” that you talk about is a clear indication in my mind that a society is headed in that direction.

    Another thing I love about this movie is a dramatization and a reminder of Seth’s remark that “individual matters.”

    Indeed! And I think we all know that.

    Moreover, deep down we also know that although “individual matters”, there’s a great price to be paid by the individual(s) who will step on that path. And today, one can scan the globe and see for himself/herself in which cultures more individuals have been willing to pay the price and in which cultures more individuals have not.

    But it seems to me that the answer to such cruel dystopia is to spring into action with something you have already discussed in your previous essays: forming a “successful we”.

    The impact of this “successful we” against brutality is beautifully framed in the computer-animated film: “A Bug’s Life” 🙂

    • LittleBigMan says :

      By the way, Christian Bale’s character in that movie goes by the name of “John Preston” 🙂

      • Scott Preston says :

        Yes, I know. Appropriate for Bale’s character as “Cleric” since “Preston” means “from the Priest’s Town”.

        • LittleBigMan says :

          I love it! That’s very very interesting!!

        • LittleBigMan says :

          It’s truly incredible how much meticulous knowledge goes into film making. I’m sure the vast majority of public will not make the connection between the roots of the surname “Preston” and Bale’s character as “Cleric” in that movie.

  2. abdulmonem says :

    Last night I was thinking about equilibrium in the psychological sphere ( equanimity) because there is no equilibrium in the human sphere and its meaning in the mechanical, mathematical sphere and the consequence of addressing violence by violence through all this showmanship of violence without any recourse to any attempt to reorganizing the disorderly situation with an appropriate code of value as the only way to mend disorder as was put in your following post. This recall to my mind Jesus episode of the cheek as the most effective and valuable tool in redressing violence and not as a sign of weakness as stupidly interpreted by some. Our world is crying from the distorting and destructive way of addressing violence by violence with no sign of success but with heaps and heaps of more violence. This is the natural consequence of disrespecting the divine code of value. It is no wonder that there are so many voices crying to return to the divine story after many centuries of denial,distrust, neglect and falsification that there is no prophets, no god ,no books and no day for human gathering and that the human is the only god of the earth ( self-worship). The delusion of disbelief and its destructive consequences as are amply demonstrated across all the quarters of our oppressed earth that is expressing its rebellion to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear and heart to feel.

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