In case you missed my first article, I’m here to expose my lovely and devoted readers to old and obscure classics of cinema, music, literature, and television. In the realm of overlooked gems, one category seems to pop up again and again: cult classics. This isn’t because of the merit of any particular cult favorite; it’s mostly because the fans of these cult favorites never shut the hell up. This week, I plan to tackle the cult-favorite Equilibrium, and then switch gears to cover a personal favorite, Igby Goes Down.
Movies: Equilibrium (2002)
Equilibrium, for some reason, is always compared to The Matrix. I have no idea why. Granted, both take place in a post-apocalyptic world, both have some pretty intense gunfights, and both incorporate heavy philosophical commentary. The big difference is The Matrix was an excellent movie that expertly balanced mind-blowing action with subtle—yet powerful—allusions and philosophy. The Matrix redefined the action and sci-fi genres. Equilibrium has about as much depth as a kiddie pool, and its action—while pretty decent—falls well short of The Matrix.
Equilibrium is set in the far future, where an oppressive government called the Tetragramaton rules. All emotion and feelings are banned, and everyone is required to take regular doses of a drug called Prozium that suppresses their impulses. Christian Bale stars as a “Cleric” of the Tetragramaton who hunts down “Sense Offenders”—people who refuse to take their Prozium. Somewhere along the way, Bale misses a dose and eventually teams up with a group of rebels to take down the government and its head, an enigmatic “Father.”
What could have been an intelligent, action-packed insight into modern society’s obsession with all sorts of drugs to “cure” the most mild of abnormal behaviors instead degenerates into a lugubrious, pseudo-intellectual rant about how we must “feel;” otherwise, human existence has no significance. And even this could have been done well, possibly by showing Bale struggling with the painful emotions over the death of his wife and seriously considering—as many people do—whether it would be better to not feel at all than to feel such pain. Instead, the movie is a ridiculously one-sided montage with people listening to music and suddenly breaking down with overwhelming emotion. The idea is given a bit of token lip service as some of Bale’s enemies try to reason with him, but it’s all thrown to the side pretty carelessly.
Additionally the movie is rife with references to 1984 and Brave New World that are not so much allusions as they are outright plagiarism. It’s kind of a shame to watch talents like Christian Bale, Sean Bean, and even (surprise) Taye Diggs go to waste on this train wreck of post-apocalyptic sci-fi clichés and Community College Philosophical Insights 101.
Movies: Igby Goes Down (2002)
We all hate high school. There’s no escaping it. Some people stick it out, do their work, and take challenging classes so that they can go somewhere like the University of Chicago where they just chill out, do drugs, and have sex with beautiful women all day long. Others, like Igby (Kieran Culkin), just sort of skip all the work and go straight to the drugs and hot women.
Igby’s the son of rich Northeastern socialite Mimi Slocumb (Susan Sarandon) and Jason Slocumb (Bill Pullman). After his father is institutionalized for schizophrenia, Igby spends his teen years getting kicked out of prep school after prep school and drifting around New York while his mother, his older brother Ollie (Ryan Phillipe), and his uncle D.H. (Jeff Goldblum) work to keep him “respectable.” The cast is impressive enough, and all of them put in some pretty respectable performances, with my personal favorite being Jared Harris as a misunderstood modern artist. (Was I the only one who lost all faith in humanity when he showed up in Resident Evil: Apocalypse?)
What makes this movie one of my favorites is its pacing. Every one of the actors is a pleasure to watch, but director Burr Steers never overdoes any of them. Mimi Slocumb is a pill-popping neurotic, but she’s never presented so riotously as to be completely unbelievable. Culkin’s performance could have been better, and some of his lines are a little too stilted to be realistic, but he brings a kind of depressing affability to Igby’s character that’s completely redeeming. In Igby we see a lovable, mischievous misfit. He’s a kid who saw his father—a man who had everything—lose it all because of a disease that ravages regardless of money. Every character has a genuine reality to them, and their (often absurd) backgrounds are presented with such indifference and fine pacing that the audience believes them before they even have a chance to question them.
That’s all for this week. As always, if you have any suggestions for old or obscure movies, books, TV shows, or music, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. All suggestions are welcome.