FilmForce: Script Reaction (The Full Posting)
Stax here with my reaction to the screenplay for the forthcoming science-fiction movie Librium! Kurt Wimmer (Sphere) wrote this 104-page draft and will also direct it. Cameras are set to roll soon in Europe. Christian Bale (American Psycho), Emily Watson (Angela's Ashes), and Taye Diggs (The House on Haunted Hill) have been cast. Dimension Films will distribute the picture sometime during 2001. Lucas Foster and director Jan De Bont (Speed) are producing.
This project was publicly announced back in late 1999 but production has been delayed ever since. There are conflicting reports about when Librium is set to begin filming. Most industry trade reports state that it will commence principal photography in July in the United Kingdom. Earlier reports suggested that the film would shoot in Bucharest this August; perhaps the production will move there after filming in the U.K. in July? Yet another report suggested that filming would begin this fall in Berlin. I tend to believe that it will shoot this fall since Bale is still in Greece filming Captain Corelli's Mandolin. The most widespread (and bogus) rumor about Librium circulated a few months ago when the BBC erroneously reported that Leonardo Dicaprio was set to star. He was not but I can't help but note the irony that, like the well-publicized casting fiasco over American Psycho, Christian Bale has scored yet another role that was once alleged to belong to King Leo.
Librium takes place in an undetermined future where North America has become the vast citadel realm known as "Libria." Somewhere along the line, people saw how unguarded emotions led to horrors like war and crime. (Well, duh!) In order to eradicate these social ills, the citizenry have agreed to be doped to the gills every day on the real-life drug librium. I had never heard of librium before this movie so I thought it was a product that might have KY Jelly as an ingredient; boy, was I wrong! Librium is used to treat anxiety and alcohol withdrawal. I can't help but wonder if the filmmakers will get sued for associating this product with fascism and the loss of free will. Hey, I'm no attorney but stranger lawsuits have happened; however, if a book and a movie called Prozac Nation can exist without any legal action taken against it then Librium should be in the clear.
In this bleak future, nearly everyone is sedated with librium, virtually nullifying their emotions (they act something like Vulcans); they don't even touch each other affectionately. How they procreate is never explained so I assumed it is done via test tubes. Librium has apparently made society more content, peaceful, and productive. But in return for complacency, citizens have forsaken their basic freedoms and become the willing subjects of a fascist, cult-like government. The leader of Libria is the never seen, omniscient, and totally emotionless "Father" (God crossed with the Wizard of Oz and a touch of L. Ron Hubbard). Like that song says about Elvis, Father is everywhere. (This gimmick reminded of that classic Star Trek episode where the Enterprise discovers a planet run by Nazis, right down to the mysterious Fuhrer and the resistance movement.)
Those who sin by not taking their librium are known as "sense offenders." They also violate Father's dogma by hoarding works of art, personal mementos, and even puppies (anything that might prompt an emotional response). Sense offenders live primarily outside the citadel in a deserted suburbia called The Zone; some people who live within the Citadel try to fake being on librium but it is a death sentence if they're caught. A group of sense offenders, led by the enigmatic Jurgen, have organized a resistance movement to destroy Father and his government. But Father won't be toppled easily. He is protected by a sort of Jedi Knight/Judge Dredd security force known as the Grammaton Clerics, physically superior fighters who are trained in the "intuitive arts." The clerics use their gifts for perception (and a whole lot of firepower) to weed out, arrest, and often exterminate sense offenders.
The most feared cleric is John Preston (Bale), a widowed father of two young children. Preston is a stone cold lawman and a righteous believer in Father's rule; he strictly upholds the laws of Libria and doesn't display a hint of emotion when reminded that his wife was executed by the clerics for refusing to take her dosage. Preston is the protégé of Vice Council DuPont, Father's right hand man and a powerful Grammaton Cleric himself. Preston's icy resolve begins to thaw soon after he discovers that his partner Errol Partridge has stopped using librium; Preston must then execute him. Later, Preston accidentally(?) breaks his own vial of librium and then mysteriously skips out of a distribution center before getting his replacement dosage. Like a junkie who is detoxifying, Preston is overwhelmed by a rush of sensations; for perhaps the first time in his life, John is experiencing true emotion - and he seems to like it.
Although determined to keep his new cold turkey status a secret, John suffers a crisis of conscience that causes him to break his composure publicly more than once. Will Preston turn his back on his beliefs and on the law, or will he succumb to his newfound humanity and confront Father? Forcing John towards the latter decision is his private investigation of his dead partner's relationship with Mary (Watson), a mysterious and alluring sense offender who is condemned to die. Preston soon discovers ties between Mary, Partridge, and Jurgen's resistance movement. Quicker than you can say "convert," Preston agrees to aid the resistance's coup de grace while also striving to mask his increasing emotionality from his new (and very patriotic) partner Brandt (Diggs).
This synopsis makes Librium sound like a ludicrous B-movie. It may very well end up being one but the most amazing accomplishment made by Kurt Wimmer was in making me suspend my disbelief. Except for a few scattered moments, I actually accepted this story's far-fetched concept and went along for the ride. It helped that Wimmer often used a less is more approach with both his dialogue and his characters. In hindsight, there are numerous flaws with the story's logic. But like The Matrix, a film with even larger plot holes, you go along for the ride.
As with Scott Frank's script for Minority Report, a project that Librium strongly reminds me of, it was tough to fully accept that America would willingly go along with such a hair-brained, radical scheme. Then I remember just how medicated a society it has become. How it seems like every other kid these days has been diagnosed with ADD and is on Ritalin, or how some people even give Prozac to their dogs (try a choke collar first, for crying out loud!). Librium is a warning about the dangers that such a drug-dependent culture might have on America's future. As far as accepting the idea of Father, I remembered David Koresh or the Heaven's Gate cult and then it seemed plausible that someone could amass such influence over others.
This project's similarities to Minority Report are striking; it should be noted that both are being produced by Jan De Bont so how coincidental can that be? Librium, however, succeeded where the latest draft of Minority Report failed. For the most part, I accepted Librium's "high concept" more than I ever did that of Minority Report. Both stories' protagonists are remarkably similar. Like John Preston, Minority Report's John Anderton is a true-believer lawman who has a dangerous falling out with the powers-that-be; Anderton's and Preston's respective conflicts threaten the very foundation upon which their fascist governments have been built. There is also precious little that is known about both heroes' pasts but we do know that John Preston's wife was killed and that he has been trained since childhood to be a cleric. Like a Hitler Youth, he is exactly what his overlords have made him. Knowing all this about him made Preston much less of a cipher than John Anderton was. Portraying Preston will be a greater challenge for Bale than one might think. Because Preston can't exactly wear his emotions on his sleeve, Bale will have to demonstrate enormous control. That will require a lot of discipline; maybe Leonard Nimoy can give him some pointers on how to pull it off without seeming wooden.
Librium falters most during its last act. Once Preston's conversion occurs then his showdown with DuPont and Father becomes inevitable. The finale as written here is fun but perfunctory. It is also too reminiscent of the end to The Matrix, with guns blazing and characters being capable of inexplicable physical actions. Also, the very last scene was way too "Hollywood" for its own good (if I said why it'd be a huge spoiler). I just hope that Wimmer improves the story's home stretch because it lacks the integrity of what came before it.
Another grievance of mine: if using your senses is against the law then aren't the clerics' "intuitive arts" a violation of that very law? After all, the clerics use their honed powers of sensory perception to "feel" their way around sense offenders' homes, mostly to search for hidden caches of "emotional" objects such as art works or personal effects. Don't clerics then break their own golden rule every time they use their powers? Another gripe I have is that Librium clearly "borrows" some of its most memorable elements from Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. When the clerics discover paintings (which have been outlawed), they burn them. This is right out of Bradbury's tale where firemen torch banned books. And that classic genre novel's main character, also a member of a fascist law enforcement agency, has a relationship with a woman that causes him to question his loyalties and beliefs. Some viewers may be more bothered by these similarities to Fahrenheit 451 than I was but it is still a valid complaint.
I hope Wimmer has the budget to realize the Libria he has created on the page. A huge stone wall seals off this strictly black-and-white, harsh-looking metropolis from the rest of the world (shades of Escape from New York?). It should hopefully be an impressive sight but one that clearly draws upon a number of well-known cinematic influences. The lack of color, except for when "emotional" items like paintings are seen, may recall the visual gimmick used in Pleasantville. Also, the citadel's regular law enforcement personnel, dubbed "sweepers," are clad in black and white armor that is perhaps too reminiscent of George Lucas' stormtroopers.
Despite the weakness of its final act when conflicts were resolved far too easily, I was pleasantly surprised by Librium. Hopefully, its interpretation to film will retain the same taut pacing and understatement that made this draft entertaining. Kurt Wimmer has bitten off quite a bit to chew here for his second attempt at directing; I hope he doesn't choke on it. His last directing effort, the poorly received Brian Bosworth action vehicle One Man's Justice a.k.a. One Tough Bastard, does not do much to allay that fear. On the plus side, Wimmer has a decent script and a talented cast to fall back on. I hope that Librium overcomes its similarities to other films of the "bleak future" sub-genre and keeps the audience emotionally involved with Preston and Mary. If it does, Librium should make for a decent genre sleeper along the lines of Gattaca.
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