Equilibrium - Production Notes

Last Update: 03 December 2003

In the nation of Libria, there is always peace among men. The rules of the
Librian system are simple. If you are happy, you will be arrested. If you cry, the
law will hunt you down. If you read a contraband book or so much as look at a
smuggled painting, you’ve committed a criminal sin. And skip your medicine
and your life will be over.

This is the shocking futuristic world of EQUILIBRIUM, a razor-sharp
action-thriller set in a future where emotion has been banned as the very root of
crime and war. To keep the peace, citizens must take their daily dose of
Prozium, a powerful designer drug that stops feelings dead and keeps everyone
on an even keel. Refuse to take the drug, and special police, trained like Samurai
in unique forms of deadly combat, go on the hunt.

Up until now, top-ranking government official John Preston (Christian
Bale) has believed in this system, has upheld the system as a highly-trained
“Cleric” who seeks out and destroys those who don’t take their pills. But then he
skips his own dose of Prozium – and discovers an incredible new world of
sensation that gives him the passion to fight for freedom.

Writer/director Kurt Wimmer (“The Thomas Crown Affair”) blends the
brisk intelligence of a “what-if?” sci-fi scenario with the inventive action of a
martial arts thriller in EQUILIBRIUM. In doing so, he creates a mind-boggling
alternate reality that challenges not only what audiences think but what they feel
as a man awakens to happiness, awe, love and fury for the first time, and rises up
as a rebel warrior to overthrow the dictator who has outlawed it all.
EQUILIBRIUM features a dynamic young cast that includes Christian
Bale, Taye Diggs and Emily Watson.


What would it take to stop human hatred? For some, the answer lies in the
brain. Stop the turmoil within the mind –deaden all desire, passion, anger, fear,
confusion and hope – and you can stop the turmoil in society. But what would it
be like to never know the heart-stopping beauty of a painting, to never ache with
longing for a lover, to be without the motivating spark of fierce anger?

In the tradition of sci-fi works that imagine a perfected future gone
alarmingly wrong – Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 151,” George Orwell’s “1984,”
Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” Phillip K. Dick’s “Minority Report” –
EQUILIBRIUM presents a vision of a world at peace, with a tremendous human
cost. This is a world where war is a distant memory, yet where there is no music, no
art, no poetry, where anyone who partakes in such banned activities is guilty of a
“Sense Offense,” a crime that carries a death sentence. It is a world where the ageold
question “How do you feel?” can never be answered because all feelings have
been shut out.

Into this world writer/director Kurt Wimmer places a man who is about
to have his mind blown wide open when he begins to experience the sensational
highs and lows of emotional life. Now it is up to John Preston to hide his brand
new feelings from a totalitarian police society so that he can join with
underground rebels to stage an unexpected uprising.

“At its core, EQUILIBRIUM is about a man learning to feel something for
the first time,” says Wimmer. “The entire futuristic world of Libria is really a
convention we created to tell a powerful human story. Obviously, the film takes
a certain amount of inspiration from Huxley, Orwell and Bradbury, who also
used the paradigm of a future society, but this film has its own story to tell, the
story of a man rediscovering what makes him human.”

Wimmer was inspired to write EQUILIBRIUM after his own reawakening
into the world of expression. Turned off to the pretentiousness of the art world
after finishing art school, Wimmer recalls shutting off not only his love of
painting but any deep emotional reaction at all. It wasn’t until he got married
and had children that he began to understand the great loss of living in a world
devoted only to ideas and never to feelings.

“I suddenly went through a process of peeling away layers,” he recalls. “It
was a very moving time in my life and I wanted to write about it – about a man
taking this sort of journey. It was then that the idea of Libria, of a world where
people are medicated into remoteness, came to mind.”

As he continued to probe the idea, Wimmer found himself creating an
original futuristic world from scratch. His Libria is a stark, black-and-white
(color, after all, evokes feelings) metropolis, which is run by a mysterious
dictator named the Father who wields power through a group of Ninja-like
“clerics” who enforce his vision of peace through the chemical control of all
emotion. Elements from classic sci-fi movies as well as from German Nazism
and Japanese Samurai culture blend with Wimmer’s emotionally sedated world
to form something eerily familiar yet entirely new.

“In writing the script I was influenced by many different cultures that
have advocated the suppression of emotion, from religious orders to the Samurai
who followed a strict, selfless code,” says Wimmer. “That’s how I developed the
idea of a society ruled by a group of Warrior Monks who have honed themselves
into rocks, physically and emotionally. But it’s not ever that far from our own
world. The trend towards controlling what people feel is rampant in our
contemporary society.”

To keep the story’s impact close to home, Wimmer also decided to set his
story in an indeterminate future. “I wanted to create more of an alternate reality
than get caught up in the gadgetry of science fiction,” he explains. “In fact,
there’s no technology in EQUILIBRIUM that doesn’t already exist. It’s more like
a parallel universe, the perfect setting for a parable.”

The world of Libria is, of course, a fairy tale creation. Yet almost every one
who read the script for EQUILIBRIUM saw many parallels with trends in today’s
society – whether in regimes that legislate against freedom of expression, in
censorship of movies, art and literature, or in the increasing use of
pharmaceuticals and recreational drugs to dull the full impact of life’s problems.

Says producer Lucas Foster: “EQUILIBRIUM deals with a society that
favors emotional oblivion, which is something we all have encountered in some
form. It’s also the story of one man’s breakthrough when he decides to
experience reality fully and first-hand. Behind the action and thrills, it is the
story of a man’s inner transformation.”

After falling in love with the script, Foster also decided there was no
doubt that it was time for Kurt Wimmer to make his directorial debut. He says:
“Kurt’s writing was so specific and personal, and his imagination so huge and
deliberate, I felt he was the only person who could do justice to the themes of this
enthralling story.”

Wimmer also turned out to have a uniquely dynamic sensibility for
innovative, balletic action – breaking the mold of ubiquitous slo-mo digital effects in
favor of a more immediate and visceral style. “Mostly I did whatever I could to
create kick-ass action on a low budget,” says the writer/director. “Almost all of the
fight scenes were shot in one take, because we didn’t have the time or resources to
reset all the squibs and physical effects! But this only seemed to make it more
forceful and direct.”

The film also presents an entirely original fighting art: the Gun-Kata, a fast
and furious combination of Western fire-power with Eastern discipline of the body.
Says Wimmer: “Hong Kong action movies brought out the idea that if a man has
two hands, he can shoot two guns but that’s as far as they took it. I wondered:
Have we really hit the envelope for gun-play or is there somewhere new it could go?
To me, combining the gun with martial arts was a natural. No one has ever used a
gun before in a Kata form but it becomes the perfect extension of the body and can
be used in ways not usually seen.”



In EQUILIBRIUM, versatile young star Christian Bale takes on one of his
most challenging roles to date as John Preston, a government official of the
future whose brutal, emotionless world is shattered to pieces when he begins to
feel the primal surges of anger, sadness, fear and love for the first time ever.
With his old reality turned upside down, Preston must figure out how to both
handle, and hide, his emotions while carrying out the most important mission of
his life: overthrowing Libria’s dictator, The Father.

Kurt Wimmer spent months searching for the right actor to play Preston,
but kept coming back, time after time, to Bale. “It was in ‘American Psycho’ that
I saw what I wanted,” he notes. “In that film, Christian plays a heinous
individual and yet you can’t help but like him. This was a quality I knew
Preston would require because he starts out as someone who does some pretty
awful things but you slowly become aware his motivations are noble. I think this
part gave Christian a chance to put part of himself on display no one’s seen
before.”

Bale was drawn to his character’s intense journey, which is equal parts
physical and spiritual. “Preston goes from bad guy to good guy in just five
unforgettable days,” he notes. “He goes from feeling nothing to feeling everything
and then having to suppress his new emotions in order to not get caught. It’s a
pretty remarkable range to go through.”

Immediately, Bale realized the performance was fraught with risks,
demanding a very careful approach. “Having to show Preston’s inner turmoil to the
audience without him revealing any glimmer of emotion to his associates was quite
a challenge. Talk about balancing on a delicate knife edge,” he says. “I had endless
discussions with Kurt over how much I could reveal to satisfy both extremes in the
story. We both wanted to avoid the nudge-nudge, wink-wink approach so we
shaded Preston’s character with nuances I hope the audience will respond to. I think
one scene that encompasses everything I tried to achieve with Preston is when he
listens to Beethoven’s 9th symphony for the first time. It’s then, in a wave of emotion
and realization, that he decides no one has the right to outlaw beauty.”

Another big draw for Bale was the chance to reunite with Emily Watson,
with whom he previously starred in “Metroland” in a very different kind of
romantic relationship. “I thought exploring the heated relationship between
John and Mary would be a unique adventure for us both, with the added bonus
of each being able to try out new things,” he says.

Once Bale took the role, he also went into physical training. John Preston
is one of Libria’s most skilled martial artists – a master of Kendo and of Libria’s
special “Gun-Kata,” Wimmer’s innovative fighting form that merges Westerstyle
gunplay with an Eastern Karate sensibility. Bale worked closely with stunt
coordinator Jim Vickers to get a crash-course in the Japanese fighting arts as well
as the Zen of handling multiple guns simultaneously.

“There are some really amazing choreographed action sequences in the
film,” Bale points out, “and I wanted to be ready. Although I studied martial
arts for ‘American Psycho,’ I needed more training for the kind of big-scale
Kendo fights in EQUILIBRIUM. I took an eight-week course in Judo, and I so
enjoyed it, that I look forward to doing more action roles.”

Adds Wimmer: “We were immensely lucky to discover that Christian is a
gifted athlete. He has the ability of a trained dancer to remember choreography
instantly and I honestly believe that he made the action scenes in this film work
as no one else could have.”

Playing John Preston’s new partner, the intuitive but hardcore
government man Brandt, is rising star Taye Diggs. Ironically, Kurt Wimmer
wanted to cast Diggs for a quality considered controversial in Libria: his smile.
“I knew I wanted him immediately because he has that one million mega-watt
smile that to me says this guy has to be evil. It’s a story about people who don’t
feel but with this one expression Taye speaks volumes.”

Diggs was hooked by the script from the first page. He says: “I liked the
combo of high octane action in a solid story with serious underpinnings. What
really got me is that the core of the piece is the dynamics of human emotion, the
idea that you have to let the human spirit thrive.” To prepare further for the
role, and to immerse himself in the most frightening Big Brother scenarios, Diggs
read such classic sci-fi works as 1984 and Brave New World. “These books were
inspiring but also helped me to develop a new angle on it all,” says Diggs.

Diggs sees Brandt as the very antithesis of John Preston, a man
determined at all costs to keep the system working. “Brandt’s like a coiled spring
with the constant rumblings of certain emotions like pride and over-zealousness
that he must keep in legal check. But if killing is on the agenda, he’ll be the best
killer there is,” he says. “It’s easy to play an emotionless character, but not one
with so much going on behind his calm expressions like Brandt.”

Also joining the cast is two-time Academy Award nominee Emily Watson,
making her first departure into action, starring as the “Sense Offender” Mary
O’Brien, who challenges John Preston to enter the underground world of the
feeling. It may seem like surprising casting but the filmmakers always wanted
Watson for the role. Recalls producer Foster: “Kurt and I became passionate
about Emily and went after her with a vengeance. I find her a most mesmerizing
and compelling actress and we needed those qualities for audiences to truly
believe that John Preston would go against all his rigid training to fall in love
with her.”

Adds Wimmer: “I think what impressed me most about Emily is her
unique combination of beauty and feistiness. She is an actor par excellence and
she raised the level of everyone around her.”

Watson admits she is actually a long-time fan of sci-fi and cool action
films, but she was also drawn to the role’s dramatic complexity. “The role of
Mary has some real acting muscle I could sink my teeth into,” she says. “She’s
not that different from the intense, emotional and sacrificial women I’ve played
in the past, but this time I also learned about the rigorous nature of special effects
and action.”

Watson particularly enjoyed Kurt Wimmer’s approach to her character.
“His main word of advice to me was ‘Passion,’” she explains. “Mary is very
much an illusion to Preston – a person who embodies every one of his
awakening ideals. I tried to give their brief meetings a resonance beyond the
romantic without compromising the ultimate aim of Kurt’s vision. We discussed
the idea that emotion is the one feeling that sets us apart from other animals. It’s
a great human quality but it’s also desperate and difficult. That’s why Mary
focuses her hatred and loathing of the Libria system on Preston and why he
becomes obsessed with her. Love and hate are similar emotions, after all.”
The cast is rounded out by Angus MacFadyen in the role of DuPont, the
sinister controller of Libria who serves as the mysterious Father’s mouthpiece.

Says MacFadyen: “The role is an interesting one because DuPont is a
manipulator and an expert politician and you might be convinced by everything
he’s saying because he’s so charming. Kurt told me that the audience should be
seduced by his line of reasoning before suddenly thinking, ‘Hang on a minute,
what am I getting sucked into? The man’s mad!’”

MacFadyen continues, “Like the rest of the cast, a lot of my energy was
taken up with internalizing emotions. DuPont has a hidden agenda like other
characters and I think the key point of the story comes when Preston is finally
pushed to kill him. I mean, what will Preston have to suppress in his newfound
humanity, which has just blossomed, in order to do that? It’s these sophisticated
sub-texts in Kurt’s script that I found really intriguing and provocative.”

Sums up Kurt Wimmer of the challenge that faced the entire cast: “It’s
quite a conundrum to ask actors to portray characters who don’t have any
feelings. But everyone worked incredibly hard to bring subtle shades and distinct
glimmers of personality to each character in order to make Libria a disquieting
but engaging world.”


EQUILIBRIUM is a movie that provokes ideas, but it was also written as a
blistering action-thriller. To create the hypnotic look and feel of the film, Kurt
Wimmer was inspired by such diverse sources as Asian Samurai films, classic sci-fi
movies and Futurist drawings of European cities.

The film was shot in Berlin, Germany, home to some of the world’s most
diverse architecture – from the ultra-modern to the eerily austere. It turned out to
be the perfect stand-in for Libria. Lucas Foster recalls: “We looked at Brasilia, the
City of the Future, the new Rome, modern Paris slums, the Lloyds building in
the City of London and read numerous books on designers like Corbusier, Albert
Speer and Frank Lloyd Wright. But Berlin was the only city that seemed to have
it all.”

For Wimmer, Berlin offered at least one thing no other city could: the stark,
obsolete architecture of Hitler’s Fascist era. “That spare architecture does convey a
sense of power and a sense of the whole being more important than the
individual,” he says. “But it also is an architecture that pretty much disappeared
after World War II. You don’t see it in the rest of the world so it feels uniquely
frozen in time, which is precisely the feeling I wanted for Libria.”

Among locations used in Berlin were the Palace of Justice, the Reichstadt,
the Brandenburg Gate, the subway system and the Deutschlandhalle. The entire
arena of the latter location, the site of Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, was used as a
sound stage in which Wolf Kroeger created the lavish sets that brought the
Librian future to life.

For the cast, the location only heightened the intense ambience of the film.
“It’s strange to think we’re making this film a stone’s throw from where the old
Berlin Wall used to stand,” remarks Emily Watson. “The resonance has been
inescapable and added immeasurably to our performances. Berlin is an exciting
mix of classic architecture – pompous and grand in the old manner – with
beautifully engineered new constructions using huge domes and weird spirals. It
couldn’t be a more perfect backdrop for the story we’re telling”.

Visual effects supervisor Tim McGovern worked alongside Kurt Wimmer
and Wolf Kroeger to formulate the look of the walled Librian metropolis.
McGovern, who won an Oscar for “Total Recall,” started with a theme of
grandiosity. He explains: “The whole idea of fascist architecture is to make the
individual feel small and insignificant so the government seems more powerful
and I continued that design ethic in the visual effects. For example, Libria is
surrounded by a seventy-five feet high wall with massive gates bearing the
granite etched inscription ‘Librium est Libertas.’ Like the Hoover Dam, the walls
just keep going on and on and use vertical and horizontal lines in a Mondriantype
way.”

Special effects supervisor and coordinator Uli Nefzer created
EQUILIBRIUM’S wild barrage of physical effects ranging from flamethrowers,
exploding pillars and breakaway walls to trapdoor mechanics, catapults and gun
flashes. Perhaps the most unusual effect Netzer created is displayed in the
climactic showdown between Preston and DuPont, He explains. “When they
start fighting in Father’s Boudoir, they can both anticipate each other’s every
move, so the bullets they fire collide in mid-air, shatter and spray out in a disc of
fragments. While the colliding is a visual effect, the discs of shrapnel are
physical realizations and took a lot of working out. It looks amazing and for me,
is one of EQUILIBRIUM’s visual highlights.”

Despite meticulous attention to the visual design of EQUILIBRIUM,
Wimmer’s focus always came back to the characters. Concludes Taye Diggs:
“EQUILIBRIUM is a futuristic action film but one that isn’t afraid of raising
serious issues. It would have been easy for Kurt Wimmer to avoid the more
controversial aspects of the story, but if that had been the case I wouldn’t have
considered appearing in it. And, while there are many fantastic images in the
film and the action is second-to-none, it’s Kurt’s screenplay that’s really the best
special effect of all.”

x

Return to the Equilibrium main page

Return to Films & TV

Return to The Compleat Sean Bean Main Page