Arch 443/646: Architecture and Film
Fall 2008

Equilibrium (2002)
Kurt Wimmer, director


Discussion Questions:

Please answer the questions below. Use paragraph form. Your answer should be around 400 words. Email me your responses in Word .doc format to: I will be posting these each week after the class. You should be prepared to deliver your answer in class -- but paraphrase, do not read it. There are 28 students and we can take no more than 1 hour and 15 minutes for our discussions.

Please reference other course films as indicated. If I have not indicated the use of other films, please feel free to include any that you think might be of significance to your question.

updated Friday, December 26, 2008 12:46 PM


1. Andrew Azzopardi

(Re)interpretation of this symbol and its use throughout the film.

When looking at this symbol, one can obviously see parallels  to several other symbols. Most notably we can see a direct influence from the german Swastika flag, specifically the flags composition, the red background with a white disk and there emblem. An interesting point of note comes when investigating the role of the swastika in both Hinduism and Nazism. In the Hindu religion the swastika is a symbol of good luck, welfare, and prosperity. This is a severe contrast to the way the Nazis had used the symbol, as it became the emblem for German purity and victory- also the colours used were the original colours of the German flag. Another symbol, which is an interesting point to bring up, as the tetragrammaton has incorporated it, is the sickle and hammer most notably used by the USSR. This symbol is one of dedication, unification and the common man- which all are factors in the nature of communism. Together these symbols come together in the reinterpretation of these two flags, the swastika replaced with hammers on a white disk on a red background. Together they spell out a very different message  that the flag by theselves- they induce a level of control and power in the attempt for unification. This flag shows us the nature of the state, a state of sameness, or hardworking individuals who all share the common goal of being one.

Last is of course to discuss the word itself- The Tetragrammaton. This word is a word which has been used for a long time, and has extreme significance in the Jewish religion. This word is the word given to the four Hebrew letters of Gods name, Yahweh or YHWH. This association with this historical word alone gives us a greater indication that this state is harkening in a new form of human with a new common goal- unification. To call their flag ‘GOD’ or ‘he is who’ it is implying where the citizens loyalties lie- with the father. This whole state has been modeled to be their new religion.



2. Tyler Bowa

Use of backlighting of the main character(s) - Equilibrium and Clockwork Orange.

In a world plagued by madness, it is important to be able to differentiate the important from the normal.  I think that this idea really applies to both Equilibrium and CO through the use of backlighting.  When the backlighting is cast on the characters, it reminds us of their precise figure that they are in fact human, and are more than just an object of mass.  It gives them a human quality that may be overlooked in the society in which they exist, especially in Equilibrium.  There is also the attention to detail in the shadows that the backlighting creates.  In CO the shadows cast by the main characters are extremely long and tall, and extend to the edges of the scene.  I think this may be representative of how the characters see themselves in their own world; above the law, better than the mass majority.  In Equilibrium there is an obvious focus on the outline of the guns.  I think this may be a reminder that the Cleric is in fact the law, and is above the mass majority in terms of social standing.  It is clear that the use of backlighting will create silhouettes.  The silhouette was invented by an 18th century artist, Etienne de Silhouette.  He used black paper to cut out the shapes and outlines of important political figures.  The silhouettes created in both films really emphasize the fashion used in both films.  It reminds us how ridiculous the outfits are, from long man-dresses to giant cock-pieces and white spandex.  In short, the use of backlighting is an effective technique to highlight important details that separate the main characters from the majority, both subtly and directly.


3. Martin Chow

Use of high angle shot (Equilibrium and Brazil).

The future worlds depicted in the films Equilibrium and Brazil are characterized by a massive and dominating central government.  While the structure of Libria is clearly the more powerful as evidenced by the ordered cleaniness of the imposing architecture throughout the city, the building containing "Brazil's" Department of Information Retrieval appears to be an isolated bureaucratic stronghold in a city of chaos.  In both cases however, the individual feels small and hapless within such an enormous organizational framework.

The high angle shots in both films are used to depict the insiginficance of the individual, where from above, a person is reduced to a pixel in the midst of massive architectures of concrete and stone.  At the same time, much emphasis is usually put on the long shadow that the person creates, which implies a sense of direction.  In the case of Equilibrium with the shot of Cleric Preston ascending the steps, the shadow is behind him and he is ascending into brightly-lit higher realm.  Sam Lowry's entrance into the Department of Information Retrieval shows him exiting the light into a very inward-looking space, suggesting that his promotion to that department is merely a promotion of an insignificant cog to another level of bureaucracy.



4. Jamie Ferriera

The relationship between architectural style and the sense of the individual self. (Equilibrium and Brazil)

Both films utilize a very modern architectural style to associate a totalitarian government form and a setting where the power of the individual is lost through repetition, scale and appearance.

The column is a repetitive form used to compare the individual. The relationship between the individual and the column is much like that of a building. It is one element that has a static role to support the weight above it, and particularly in these government establishments in Brazil and Equilibrium this is mirrored. The people are all column supports, each the same, unable to process individuality, by being oppressed by a greater weight that restricts their movement, and forces them to obey.  In the process the individual is lost along with the rest of their fellow citizens. In the two images, the linear formation of citizens in equilibrium and the floor of the Ministry of Information allow one to realize this particular relationship of repetition, but of also symmetry and balance. The only way to identity a particular element, requires a code a number, which is robotic and without individuality.

Scale is another form that triumphs the individual in these particular films. The monumental scale of one’s surroundings has an immediate impact on the loss of individuality. Buildings are overbearing, greatly overshadow the human element, making the surrounding incomprehensible, and oppressive making the individual insignificant in relation. Brazil’s architectural sets though heavily outweigh its equilibrium counterpart in terms of the silo where Sam Lowry is tortured. Its scale establishes the power of authority, as its particular form is relentless, cold and dark. It’s effectiveness forces Sam to dream and imagine an escape from this particularly horrible place. For Libria, this particular extreme doesn’t exist, but the scale of the architecture is still effective, as the large spaces and vertical heights, still display a sense of entrapment within the confides of a city authority.

Both architectural styles of Brazil and Equilibrium are without face, and are best described as minimalist monochromatic exteriors in terms of government property. The power of using a monochromatic scale is effective as the removal of colour further diminishes the individual and their likeness to a surrounding. Colour provides a greater sense, and higher chance to find one’s self, as was the case for John Preston looking onto the sun and the metropolis before him. For architectural settings beyond the city, as in Brazil where Mrs. Buttle lives, and in Equilibrium where rebels live, the architecture is in a state of decay. They become ruins, and more importantly ruins to the human element. These contrasting forms between a highly maintained and fascist architectural appearance versus a destroyed and deteriorating one, emphasizes moments within the relationship between the individual and the architecture that they are surrounded by.

These particular architectural elements and treatments demonstrate how individuality and identity is lost within place. Repetitive forms, sublime scale, and stale appearance have the ability to oppress, but never the ability to destroy entirely the human will, as with such a bleak surrounding, a character still has the ability to strike from recourse, and by doing so heavily contrast them and force the equation out of equilibrium.



5. Meghan Galachiuk

Escape to the church, which is situated on the "outside" as a refuge for reading poetry. (Remembering that the enforcers are all called Clerics and trained in a monastic way...)

The escape to the church is significant in 2 ways. One, because the church has basically been obliterated in this new society turning it into a fascist reality where people worship the government. Teaching provided by the church that would teach compassion and love, are now run by the government and teach disconnection from emotion. Sean Beans character, has been raised to in away not all that different from the way that monks are trained. Which, as he begins to feel finds the appeal of a real church, which is great contrast of what he knows. But the similarities are enough to give him a sense of safety; the dilapidated church is enough to make Sean Bean comfortable enough to perform the sense offense of reading poetry.  Finding refuge in something that is similar to the new artificial world but that evokes emotion and is extremely different from all he’s been taught shows an inner struggle. Because he is found in the church it shows that he has resigned himself to feel, if only for a moment.

Secondly, the fact that the church is meant to be a sanctuary, which someone raised in a community with out church would not understand. In fact in a society that does not provide any sanctuary for the individual it reflects on the appeal of a Churches architecture that it would appeal to someone with no experience with it. The set up would not be completely new to a Cleric you was trained in a similar way as the Church once trained. As well the new society uses the basic layout of a Church to present propaganda. It is proven that when change is happening that we are drawn to the familiar. This is a comment on how similar the creators of this film thought the methods of the church are to that of a fascist future government. It shows how ideal the church is for spreading message and ideology. Which actually makes Sean Beans characters action of reading poetry in a place that is familiar but different reflect a much greater inner struggle of trying to reconcile everything he’s been taught with everything he is beginning to feel.



6. Sarah Hawley

The architectural style of the city of the "future" vs the depiction of the "outside world".

The Architecture of the future shows a dense high-rise city with discreet differences in its materiality and overall appearance from the 'outside world' as it is shown in the movie. The buildings are very minimal especially in their interiors, which normally are all white with no decoration. Even the windows are treated on the inside so there is no view to the exterior. This all springs from the fact that the citizens of the future city take a dosage and therefore they do not feel. This is why everything is minimal with no colour, texture or ornamentation and no window view to outside. The control the government has over the communism like society is reflected in the monumental design of its architecture, especially it's police head quarters and public square. This main part of the city has a huge open plaza that's always busy and large concrete surfaces creating a harsh atmospheric quality which is found throughout the city and amplified by its extreme scale. The architecture has a sense of precise control about its form which portrays the feeling of the people in the film. All of this is in contract to the depicted 'outside world' which is really a collection of our architecture from the 19th and 20th century. Here the government has no control and therefore the architecture shows an extreme different to the city.The outside world shows us a collection of architectural styles from Victorian to contemporary styles, all at a small scale of about one to seven storeys compared with the large high-rises of the future city. Colour, material, texture all vary accordingly in the outside world in every building, as each one is unique. Through the architecture the director is able to represent the control of the government and portray the moods of the people within that environment. This extreme contrast in the film's architecture provides an interesting angle in its presentation in a film which is mostly comprised of a rather dull and typical plot.

7. Fernie Lai

Hitler as positive reinforcement versus the same as negative reinforcement (ie. intended to induce revulsion) Equilibrium to Clockwork Orange.

Hitler was used in both movies in the process of brainwashing. In Equilibrium Hitler was shown as the human nature that they are attempting to avoid, hatred, fear, which had, in the past, led to war; while in Clockwork Orange, it was used in association with physical pain, to discourage further violence from the “patient”. One was the enhancement of feeling as positive reinforcement, whilst the other, the elimination of it as negative reinforcement.

The idea of being able to eliminate the act of violence due to the elimination of emotion is rhetorical. Emotion is the reason there is violence, but it is also the reason why we would want to restrain violence. How is mass murder to eliminate sense offenders different to mass murder due to sense? It is ironic, that the cruelties of Hitler are exhibited as the violence they are attempting to avoid whilst the society themselves are invoking the very same violence to offenders of the rules they’ve established. Is it only because emotion has eliminated the sense to feel pain and sadness for other’s death that gives the false imagery that the world has become a better place?

Using the same imagery of Hitler for both processes brings on the realization that the perception of madness comes from the collective interpretation of the viewers, rather than Hitler himself. The image representing very different things depending on how it is used, and the associations made along with it.



8. Eric Lajoie

The nature of urban space in the film as it defines the character of the society and amount of control of the leaders (Equilibrium vs Batman).

In Batman, the nature of the urban space is very chaotic and organic. I would imagine having a difficult time drawing the city in plan. I believe this represents the difficulty that the leaders of Gotham City are having controlling the crime syndicates that are running a muck in their city. This of course sets up the whole reason for a hero such as Batman to exist, in order to bring justice and order to the city spiraling out of control. Equilibrium is just the opposite. The nature of the urban space within the city walls is that of grids, plains and straight lines. This represents the complete control that the leader has over the population. The city grid is the best form in which to house a population of people that are under constant surveillance and guidance of the controlling government. This situation also requires a hero to free the people form their enslavement, to lead a more natural lives.



9. Andrea Lam

Means of advertisement of propaganda materials (Equilibrium vs Brazil).

The propaganda in both Equilibrium and Brazil preach a higher authority that claimed to know the proper method for living, with proper rules in place. However, the biggest difference is in the presentation of them. I would go so far as to say that the propaganda in Brazil is more subliminal, taking the form of the written word on billboards and overhead signs. In Equilblibrium, the Librians are bombarded with the propaganda of Father. There are assemblies where he speaks, talking billboards everywhere, and it is all very systematic. With the ultimate goal of training everyone into complete obedience, droning on in an auditory way compared to a visual way is the key defining factor of Libria's success. One can easily ignore a billboard by not glancing in that direction, but when it comes to sound bites, there is no shutting off your ears. At one point, John is told 'it is not about the message of Father, but our obedience to it' and this properly sums up the underlying menace of turning its inhabitants into drones. By attempting to eliminate emotion, with the pre-cursor that it is the salvation where there is no more war or hatred, they are actually eliminating free thought and uniqueness.


10. Bi-Ying Miao

Poetry as an offense (Equilibrium to Alphaville).

Poetry transcends words in a phenomenological realm for poetics is an expression of the complex abstractness of human imagination.  Beyond the concrete form and utilitarian function of words, poetry challenges the meaning of words and open the mind to free interpretation and perception. In the films Equilibrium and Alphaville, poetry is prohibited by the authority rule to repress consciousness in the people and maintain a conflict-free society. As a result, emotions and free-thought are erased from the conscience of the individual in order to feed the order of the collective state.

Since poetry is a kind of manifestation of the human imagination which is not governed by convention or structure, both Alphaville and Libria, in their striving for a machine-like stability, has deliberately exterminated poetry in different ways. The Tetragrammaton Council of Libria search out and destroy artifacts of poetry and arrest anyone in possession of it. On the other hand, Alpha 60 in Alphaville eliminate words from the dictionary and eventually, the collective knowledge of its citizens, so that poetry cannot even be understood. Both fascist societies render completely emotion-less as a result of this and other forms of repression.

In the case of Equilibrium, the post world war attempt for peace and order ironically results in a cold world of emotionless murder and oppression. When Preston confronts the breech of his long-time partner on the possession of poetic literature, an emotionless state of mind allowed him to mechanically take the life of a friend.  Wimmer's deliberately places poetry between the two characters in this scene to emphasize the detachment from human emotion in the act of murder. That is also to say that behind the murder of poetry, there is the murder of humanity. A madness is a apparent in this violent and unnatural method of peace enforcement.

Similarly in Alphaville, the role of poetry as an offense depicts a mad world where the most basic aspect of humanity is destroyed in the elimination of poetry. Any word that carry emotional and psychological undertones such as “love” and “conscience” are dangerous to the integrity of the state since poetic language can be a gateway for emotion and free thought.

For both societies, poetry is a threat to the structure of order for it inspires human tendencies to feel and question. These tendencies tend to individualize people rather than to unite them under one collective ideal. However, in the attempt for unified peace eliminating poetry, both films portray dehumanization in the absolute removal of emotion.



11. Andrea Murphy

Significance overall to the issue of sense offenses in the film.

In the eyes of the citizens of Libria, sense offenses appear as physical objects or places that are triggers for emotions. What seems to be uncertain is why these offensive objects or spaces should need to be destroyed in the manner of Fahrenheit 451, when the citizens are continually drugged to not experience emotion at all. It is this incongruity that leads one to believe that “sense offenses” are in fact the manifestation of the paranoia that exists in the highest reaches of Librian government power.

The society which is illustrated in the film is, like in Gilliam’s Brazil, a world in which one must suspect his neighbour and watch what he says for fear of being reported. What is more alarming, however, is that in this film, the suspicion and paranoia seems to lie primarily with the government agents and dictators, as they are the ones who seem to be the most capable of free thought. In a world in which no law-abiding citizen can be inspired by a painting or poetry, the burning all forms of artwork or historic literature, seems to be a pointless exercise. The leaders have a paranoia about an uprising (and rightly so) and have thus opted for a failsafe approach to controlling the population’s access to objects that stir up emotion.

Throughout Equilibrium, the government appears as a religious sect, which draws the similarity between the sense offenses and forms of idolatry, in which one might worship an artistic object instead of the “father” figure. With the elimination of beautiful objects that trigger emotions, citizens are unable to be distracted from the “divine gift” of peace that “father” has provided for them. Not only will the destruction of sense offense material serve as a back up plan to the drugging of the population, but it will also focus the population on the worship and dedication paid to “father”.
What has been created in the land of Libria, is a society of rebellion which is lying dormant, and thus the government has become insanely paranoid about resistance to the current regime. Driving himself to madness, the political leader has extended his power to the elimination of sense offenses which would be unnecessary if he had faith in the power of drugging the population. The complacency of the people towards their fascist government does not last after the Prozium dose is discontinued, and so the leader, however crazy he may make himself, is right to be paranoid about destroying the triggers of that which he really wants to eliminate: emotion.



12. Morgan O'Reilly

Method of elimination of "sense" offenders (Equilibrium vs Alphaville).

The process of execution in Equilibrium is extremely ritualistic.  Mary wears a red cape (reminiscent of the executions of the Salem Witch trials) and is lead to the incinerator. She is shown the fire that will kill her. The fire is then turned off and she steps into the large incinerator. She is enclosed and the seconds to her death are slowly counted down. The authorities of Equilibrium seem to be trying to remove all emotion from the execution process. They even refer to execution as ‘being processed’ rather than being executed. It is completely contained; the death is not seen and evidence of the body is completely taken care of by the incinerator. The executioner turns away as Mary watches the flames that are about to kill her. The viewer, however, is left to observe this emotional moment. The process is clean and easy and the authorities do what they can to distance themselves from its emotional significance. At the same time it can be said that the process is quite contradictory. The very existence of the private ritual acknowledges the fact that the execution of a person is not to be taken lightly. It is respectful of individual life, an idea that is ultimately contradictory to the doctrine of Equilibrium.

If the execution process in Equilibrium was to be truly without emotion it would have to be completely disrespectful of the victim’s life, similar to the method used in Alphaville which is much more hands on. The victim stands on a diving board, is shot by a firing squad and after falling into the pool, is retrieved by four women who  ensure death before removing the body. Unlike Equilibrium, privacy is not given to the executed. If anything their deaths are extremely public and definitely not contained as the bodies are not removed from sight. As they fall into the pool one would imagine that the blood would become much more visible, however there seems to be no blood at all. This might be a strategy used to emphasize the numbness the population feels towards these deaths and to diminish the idea that a human life is being taken away. The spectators witness the person being drowned if not killed by the gunshots, and the body is seen being taken away by the women in swimsuits. Unlike the elaborate and sterile execution facility of Equilibrium, the swimming pool seems to have no relevance at all. While the execution process of Alphaville is still somewhat of a ceremony it is completely public and does not respect individual life. It is more of a performance for the benefit of the spectators, unlike Equilibrium, which is contained and respects the significance of the moment for the victims.



13. Sue Anne Tang

Significance of the tearing away of the film on the window. Significance of the initial placement of the film ON the window as a method of "sense" control. The extension of this in "gloves".

The tearing away of the film on the window signifies John Preston’s emerging awareness of ‘feeling’, which occurs after he does not take his daily dose of the emotion numbing Prozium. His desire for truth and life is evident as he rejects the ‘Father’s’ constructed and controlled view by removing the physical barrier of film to see reality and beauty. An awakening occurs when Preston is emotionally moved by the view of sun over the city after he removes the film. This awakening is an indication of Preston’s transition from emotionless to emotional.

Like the film place on the windows, the gloves are also a barrier for Preston to grasp reality. In the beginning of the movie, Preston methodically wears his gloves for his clerical duties. An ungloved hand is meant for tasks, not for the pleasure of touch. During his transitional state of feeling, he begins to take the gloves off. Through the sense of touch, Preston begins to understand feelings, whether it is enjoying the sensation of running a hand over a steel railing or the gentle caress of Mary O’Brien’s hand. During a raid when Preston stumbles across a room filled with sense offense objects, he begins to run his hands across everything to enjoy the various shapes and textures. For the first time, he is associating feeling with touch. Sequences with the hand gloved and ungloved emphasize the importance of touch and also suggests the protagonist’s state of feeling. His senses, in coordination with each other, begin to propel him to discovering the meaning of life, which, according to Mary, is to feel. As a result of the emotional impact of touch and sight, Libria makes effort to hinder people from feeling by controlling their senses. The film on the window distorts the view so the recognition of beauty and reality cannot promote feeling. The use of gloves enables Libria to maintain control since pleasure and emotion that can be derived from touch.

Overall, the scene with Preston tearing away of the film on the window marks his breakaway from the control of the senses to invoke feelings. The deliberate placement of the film on the window and the use of gloves for the clerics, shroud reality and devoid the citizens of their senses, in this case, sight and touch, which facilitates the inability to feel.



14. Meredith Vaga

Use of colour both overall in the film and in reference to "sense" offenses.

The primary colour palette used in the film “Euilibrium” is one of cold, mute colours such as grays and blues. This is clearly meant to reflect the oppressive, unnatural sterile nature of the society. As well, this colour scheme serves as a literal reflection of the numb zombie-like state the inhabitants of the city are experiencing with the use of the mood suppressant ‘Prosium.’

Because when one is on equalizing drugs like that so regularly, it is not a stretch to conclude the users are pretty placid, and as such are not able to access their faculties for imagination. This suppression is itself expressed in the ‘cold’ colours as perceptible by the viewer: after the initial starkness, the colours seem almost incidental to the plot, not dissimilar to the way in which the government hoped to sweep the whole ‘control’ business under the rug.

The colour scheme in reference to the sense crimes is held in a complete polarity to the cool tones of the society. If colour is a visual perception of one’s world, of course it would change drastically once the blinders had been removed. As such, the colours enveloping the sense crimes are warmer yellows, oranges and reds. Hints of colour – such as the church where Sean Bean’s character was found reading Yeats where one can see the bright colours of the stained glass windows. As the viewer ostensibly is seeing the film through Preston’s eyes, when someone on screen is committing a crime, the reverberations are simply echoed in the presence of some warmer colours. However, the colours illustrated in those scenes have nothing on the veritable smorgasbord the viewer and Preston experience when he personally begins committing the crimes.  

One is almost assaulted by the intensity and variation of the colours, thereby giving them an additional underlying feeling of unease beneath the ‘warm fuzzy feeling’ such tones generally produce. Once Preston is able to see the world unveiled, the reality to the viewer is presented through the colour palette as almost surreal or hyper real, as a way for them to infer the intensity of the feeling for Preston. This is especially apparent when Preston is in the ‘art room’ listening to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. To me, that seen both reminds me of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave as well as Synesthesia – where one sees colours when they listen to music.

I found it interesting to note that several small pieces of the film such as the actual Prosium capelets, the virtual projections of ‘father’ and the fire in the crematorium, though still washed out and dull were warm colours. Here the palette is working outside the parameters and realities of the film, such that the warm colours subtly (or not so subtly in case of the art) point to relavent and important bits of the film that should be catalogued by the viewer for later on. Also, when there are any scenes outside the city (i.e. closer to feeling) the colour palette creeps in more browns, taupe’s and other warm tones.  

Finally the colour juxtaposition can also be seen in the lighting: the ‘natural’ yellow glow is present during sense crimes, where otherwise the film’s lighting director employs use of blue light to emphasize the sterile nature of the city.



15. Anna-Joy Veenstra

Use of high angle for filming.

In the film Equilibrium there are a number of times where high angle shots are used. These scenes range from Preston getting out of a car, waiting in line, working at his desk, lying in bed, during fight scenes and Gun Kata education.
With this kind of filming, there is an emphasis on the dependence and smallness of the characters that make up Libria. This is because a subject of a high angle shot looks more vulnerable or insignificant. Also, the subject seems smaller and often appears to be swallowed by the setting, thus becoming a part of the wider picture. These shots also provide more information about how a character moves in their environment. We can better see how Preston reacts to his surroundings, especially when he decides to quit taking his Prozium doses.
The high angle shot in filming is typically used in scenes of confrontation and fights to show which person has the higher power. Preston is often portrayed in this way, heightening his performance in the numerous fight scenes that take place throughout the movie. His agility and superior skill are shown, making his character seem messianic.

This use of filming in juxtaposition with other angles also creates striking visual compositions.
However, the relation between camera and subject can be rendered ironic, or it may suggest more the subject of perception than to the state of the subject. The extensive use of high angle shots in Equilibrium is emphasizing the idea of omnipresence in the Librian society. That Father is watching over everyone as an ever-present eye. There is a sense that he enters into every realm of living, right into the bedroom. Nothing is sacred; you are watched at all times.

On this note there is also a time when the high angle camera shot is through the eyes of Preston (ie when he is watching the education of Gun Kata). This shows that he is able to raise himself above the society’s oppressive mantel and view what is happening with objectivity. It is after this point that Preston is seen forgoing his dose of Prozium and reveling in his feelings and senses.



16. Rui Wang

The nature of "home" and family. (referencing both architecture and social issues).

In our reality, home is a place that is meant as a retreat from the hectic lifestyles we have at work or school. Home should be a place that is warm and comforting. Families should also embody these ideas. A typical family is one in where everyone feels completely at ease with eachother and can express themselves fully.

This is why the home and family seen in Equilibrium feels so off. Christian Bale's character uses his home as a place to sleep and nothing more. There is no connection with his children, and he possesses no personal items, no photographs, flowers, or paintings. Thus social interaction becomes nothing more than a rhetorical task to be accomplished to pass the time.

The fact that Bale's character sleeps on a bed that has two distinct sides also tells us something about the level of separation of contact in their society. And when his child tells him to be careful about taking his drugs, you can see how purely professional these relationships are. But it is also amazing how fast our natural feelings return back to us if we stop taking the drugs.



17. Jane Wong

The education of children and their role in society.

In Libria, children are exploited for their impressionable and unprejudiced minds as tools to detect those who have been committing crimes. They have a very special role in society as those who still have their innocence, and have not “fallen” (self-knowledge, awareness) to lose it, and thus, can be indoctrinated by their education to condition their minds to believe what societal norms are.  This said, an incredible amount of trust is put into them because they are seen as pure creations and embodiments of societal ideals, not prejudice to any specific person or cohort, making them excellent detectors for offenders. It is clear from the authoritative “recreational” television programming that John’s son engages in, that creativity and imagination is repressed over the importance of maintaining peace and order in society. Poetry and colour are seen as sources of experimentation and creativity, and all forms have been eradicated from society to prevent any outlandish action. By this removal of distraction, children would not know any different, and be able to concentrate at tasks at hand and perform their obligatory duties.

However, the innocence that children possess also gives them an upper hand, where they are able to mislead adults to believe that they are not capable of deception, giving them an opportunity to navigate freely through different levels of authority, and necessarily, through the rest of society. They are incredibly observant, and learn through imitation and manipulation of what they see in front of them, and the tools they use to learn societal ideals become the same tools they use to their advantage for deception. John was spared arrest because of the cleverness and careful observation of his own children, and it is demonstrated in his son’s behaviour just how misleading children can be even to their own parents (again, lack of prejudice/preference) to achieve their own interests.



18. Yoshi Hashimoto

The significance of the choice of music, as well as its role (Equilbrium vs. Clockwork Orange).

Firstly, I found the choices for accompanying soundtrack in Equilibrium much more varied.  The music transitioned from choir music (both the sincere and serene kind and the eerie, demonic possession kind), to techno to heavy metal.  Secondly, the placements of these were wholly appropriate.  Such was the timing and variety that it was almost formulaic, without surprise or irony.  It was, in fact, hard to even notice, unless one reminded oneself with timed regular checkpoints to make note of what was on the audio track at various points of the plot.  This is not to imply that it is lame or poorly executed…in fact its seamlessness is testament to good orchestration.  It’s just that it is predictable and interchangeable with parts of every movie ever made.  It is entirely instrumental in nature if I recall correctly, and would probably make a good workout tape.  The significance of the music was not particularly crucial, except that it ramped up to be emotive during points of awakening self awareness, and became heavy and machinelike during moments of combat and aggression.

Clockwork Orange, on the other hand, was entirely unsettling and appropriate in its inappropriateness.  Our antihero Alex has a penchant for Beethoven, especially the Ninth Symphony.  It is a quirky choice, not what you would expect from such an uncouth thug.  Kubrick liked to make odd juxtapositions of classic symphonies during the most brutal acts of brutality and violation.  Later, during his incarceration, the experimental aversion therapy (known as the Ludovico technique- Ludovico is Spanish to the German Ludwig- coincidence?) accidentally places his beloved Beethoven in direct association with sickening effects, rendering him unable to listen to it without becoming violently ill.
The choice of music for this soundtrack plays not only a vital role within the movie, but its iconic and incongruous nature is irreplaceable.  It is part of the mad nature of the movie.  Kubrick has effectively claimed Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony as his own; never again can it be used without comparison to his movie.

It should be noted that there is a moment of commonality between the two movies.  Beethoven’s (Ninth Symphony?).  At an early point of John Preston’s “awakening”, he  discovers during one of his raids a cozy little hideaway littered with memorabilia and emotional iconic possessions of someone clearly free from the effects of Prozium.  Amongst them is an old fashioned LP of the Symphony.  When he plays it, it is like the rest of the soundtrack- appropriate and predictable, probably exactly the way Ludwig would have wanted it.  The crackling of the needle over the imperfections of the vinyl grooves add an extra layer of humanity, which is so absent from the rest of society.  This, however, is where the similarity ends.  The symphony is merely a bit player representing the jewels of humanity, nothing more.  



19. Elfie Kalfakis

"Nature" as a sense offense.

“Emotion is Chaos” a line taken from the movie, Equillibrium by Kurt Wimmer.   It’s true, the natural human condition is emotional, and since nature is a form of chaos, then yes, emotion is chaos. Libria is a fascist regime in the movie that is governed by a leader, whom is referred to as “Father”. The political powers of Libria attempt to eliminate all human emotions by means of technology, an injected drug – Prozium.  Anyone attempting to feel or awaken their senses is viewed as a criminal, or sense offender.  The relationship between nature and technology in the city is directly related to the relationship between human senses and political control.

Nature in the movie is often not shown.  The entire city is a rectilinear landscape, stark, grey without any natural pigments and full of boundaries.  Anything taking a natural form, whether it is rain, fire, or even a puppy, is in direct relation to an emotion or re-awakening of the human senses. The city of Libria as an urban fabric, is a completely man made society that blocks out the natural world.

Nature itself could be viewed in this movie as a sense offence.  The political powers are attempting to foster, or “Father”, a civilization through technological means.  Technology is based on logic.  Pollitical powers of Libria use logic as a means of control.  Imposed ideas on the citizens that ‘emotion’ is ultimately the human flaw that causes violence and war is in fact a façade.  It is not a humane attempt for the salvation of human civilization. 

A society based purely on logic is easy to control.  Logic has a set of rules, actions and reactions.  There is predictability in these efforts.  And although there are logical rules in nature, nature is still an unpredictable force.  So, the reason nature can be taken as a sense offence, is the fact that it is an unpredictable force that inhibits political control.  And what’s interesting is that the one way political powers could annihilate sense offenders is through combustion, fire – a natural force.

So nature as a sense offence, ultimately describes a relationship of man and technology.  Where man is a part of a complex system that encompasses logic but also unpredictable forces, and technology is a limited product of this natural occurring system.



20. Elaine Lui

Architecture as it represents a double standard.

The architecture in Kurt Wimmer’s Equilibrium is represented as a double standard; banned items from the city-state Libria are found in the innermost chambers of the diplomat DuPont. The luxury of emotion is exempted from the citizens but the leader is allowed to feel and manipulate people to carry out his selfish ambitions in this dystopic world.  This hypocrisy shown by the ruling authority shows the lack of value placed on its citizens and is perceived as unjust; not governing for the sake of people, but by manipulating others through selfish means. This egotism translates into the architecture of the ruling class that is unique to the architecture of the masses.

The Neathers are of crumbled walls and sparse, dusty settings that seem to have spacious quality and dramatic lighting that emphasizes a place of mystery. It is a place full of broken walls, high ceilings, and dramatic light with mystically dusty air. The society of rebels exist in an underground that meanders, each person wanders to his own accord but is located directly under the great plaza of emotionless people controlled by the government who walk quickly in straight lines.  As John Preston stumbles into a room full of EC-10 materials, (emotional content materials) colourful and textured materials well as warm hues fill the room. This is what is forbidden of the people under the rule of Libria.

The life of Libria’s citizens consists of identical working spaces with conformed pieces of equipment to the extent of stationary. Symmetrical spaces are typical, with cool lighting and material of blue, glass, shiny floors and metal finished furniture. View to the outside are obstructed; of the sunrise and sunset, as discovered by Preston as he peels away the frosted window of his home. The citizens of Libria are forbidden to experience what the ruling power holds sacred to only themselves.

Dupont, the ruling member of this society – has an office that is lined with paintings and furniture of wood and marble. His view is the only unobstructed one from a high location that overlooks the city. Forbidding these luxuries from his citizens demonstrates the extent Dupont’s lust of power exists, to the extent of regulating the citizen’s emotions, creating an easier way to manipulate people. The architecture reveals the perversion of the ruling class and valitifies the protagonist’s decision to overthrow those of authority.



21. Reggie Macintosh

Art as it represents a double standard.

Equilibrium, a film that combines the ever-watchful government of 1984 with the drugged populous of Brave New World, illustrates a city of the future that has done away with human emotion to solve its problems.  Artwork, of both the written form and the visual form, plays a key role through the film to establish the double standard that separates the government from its people.

We see artwork in two main events in Equilibrium, at the beginning where it is being confiscated and destroyed as a sense offence and at the end in the interior office of ‘Father’, the despot controlling Libria.  It is in these book-ended appearances that artwork best represents a double standard. 

The Mona Lisa, chosen for its ability to represent the meaning of artwork as a whole, is burned at the beginning of the film to instil in the audience the desire to rebel against the people performing the atrocity and to feel sympathy for those protecting the masterpiece.  The piece, as we know it today, hangs in the Louvre for the public to view and enjoy yet, its original purpose was to probably hang in the private collection of an important or wealthy patron.  Its selection as a piece of public art is ironic in that it was not originally intended for public view but for the elite.  In this, the Mona Lisa acts as a double standard.   

The office of Father at the end of the film is lavishly adorned with Romantic paintings, gilt columns, and intricately designed furnishings where the rest of Libria stands completely bare, devoid of feeling.  All forms of decoration and adornment are strictly forbidden according to Libria’s emotionless doctrine yet, the man in charge is permitted all that is banned, including the ability to feel.  Artwork is seen to be only for the elite to enjoy, and only for those at the very top of societies ladder.  The double standard acts to foreshadow the downfall of the corrupt government whose idealic dogma is a sham and whose purposes are purely for personal gain and indulgence.

Artwork as the representation of a double standard is highly successful in it’s ability to create an emotional response in the viewer, as that is inherent in its design.  Art, being the embodiment of human emotion, thought, and history, is an ideal medium to contrast the emptiness of Libria’s society of medicated captives and omniscient government.



22. Judith Martin


The symbolism overlain in government settings within equilibrium borrows from Christian expressions to strengthen the films portrayal of a subjugated future society.  Architecture is often used in the political sphere to display the authority and power of the governing party.  The symbols used by organized groups are often branded with particular morals, values and general beliefs, some examples are: the swastika, the cross,  the dove carrying an olive branch. Paralleling the films use of Christian vocabulary (such as father, savior, and cleric) the film uses basic Christian icons in the depiction of government spaces.  The most prominent symbol is the capital ‘T’ standing for Tetragrammaton.  Tetragrammaton is the Hebrew word for the four letters of God: YHVH.   The ‘T’ symbol is also reminiscent of the structure Christ was crucified on.  A ‘T’ symbol appears in the office scene where there is an explicit hierarchy between the Dupont and Cleric John Preston. Dupont (the higher ranked official) is placed in front of the ‘T’ with the ‘T’ acting as a threshold and emitting light from the next space.  Framing Dupont in front of the ‘T’ in such a manner gives his figure the appearance of being superimposed on the ‘T’ suggesting his position as a god-like figure by referencing Christ’s status on the cross.  Emulating Christian theological symbols reinforces the governmental characters power by suggesting the said characters have god-like status.  The ‘T’ is also present in other spaces within the government complex such as the gymnasium and the interrogation room.  The symbol is projected onto walls and floors with an intense light.  By projecting the symbol the viewer assumes there is a source of light beyond the view-port.   The light source could represent the ever present watch that God or in this case the ‘Father” of Tetragrammaton has on society.   The theological symbols appearing throughout Equllibrium heightens the movies depiction of a exploited future society.

"Tetragrammaton." Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 10 Nov. 2008. <>.



23. Derek McCallum

Use of "corridor" spaces.

In the film Equilibrium, the use of long spaces is expressed in two different ways - through exterior colonnades and interior corridors.  The film was shot primarily in Berlin, and it is likely many of the shots use certain fascist-era buildings that espouse a sense of power, oppression, and uniformity.  The image of men standing row upon row in perfect symmetry and regularity, within an architecture that is equally formulaic and repetitive throughout its length speaks to the humanity that is missing from both.  There is little difference between the stone columns lined up along the colonnade and the emotionless men who inhabit it - the uniformity in colour, proportion, and function is relentless in both.  The exterior colonnades act as permeable thresholds between the exterior world and the interior world of the government.  They allude to openness, but, like the stone columns, the oppressive forces of the state are omnipresent and prohibit the freedom of movement to and fro the architecture might suggest.   

The interior corridors seem to serve a slightly different purpose.  They are distinctly one-directional, and the only point of connection between Point A and Point B.  Introducing the element of time alongside spatiality, the length of the corridor is a direct interruption to the character’s ambitions, and the architecture is an obstacle he must overcome.  Symbolically, the corridor space also alludes to the character leaving the realm of his regular self and actions and departing into new ones.  This is apparent as the “senseless” Preston races through these corridors driven by his newfound emotions – first to rescue Mary and then to assassinate Father.

The colonnade and corridor spaces within the film are largely curvilinear.   On the one hand this prevents both the character and the viewer from seeing to the end of the space and understanding its conclusion, and on the other it suggests that the space is enveloping or wrapping around something else.  These corridors protect some inner spatial realm, and it is never clear where it is or how to enter it until the last minute as the curving walls prevent any long distance views.  So while the linear colonnade suggests a degree of permeability and lateral movement, the curved corridors suggest an endless loop around a secret impenetrable womb.   



24. Sarah Neault

Surveillance / privacy / secrets

Is privacy a right to secrecy?
Is secrecy necessary to protect privacy?
The two terms have very different connotations:
“Secrecy” has a sinister connotation.  It is something one or only a few people are privy to something that would change the social dynamic, perhaps something criminal.  To keep a secret is to protect.

We allow our governments to keep secrets.  The citizens of Equilibrium allowed their government to keep secrets.  In our world, the people too can keep secrets; when power is balanced that is the trade: I trust you, my government, to in your secret keeping, be judicious.  You are not keeping secrets from me, but from our common enemies.  I have entrusted you with this duty. In Equilibrium, the power is not balanced, and the enemies of the government are the people.

In our world the individual is permitted a privacy; it’s a form of secrecy, but its somehow less sinister.  In return for permitting my neighbor the freedom to act as he pleases, so long as it doesn’t affect me, I agree to not try to find out something that does not effect, but may offend me.  Within Equilibrium both of these state and private power structures are corrupted.  The state and the people are no longer on the same side.


  Please read the following 4 questions as a set. Symmetry has been seen as the essence of the classical language of architecture.
It provides quite different means of interpretation in Zoo, Belly, and Equilibrium. Relate each of your questions back to the classical/humanist intentions of symmetry.

25. Lisa Rajkumar-Maharaj

Symmetry as a symbol of beauty.

Humanist values, especially Renaissance Humanist values, perceived the creation and pursuit of beauty to be fundamental in their search for divinity. Their perception of beauty adhered to the classical texts by Greek philosophers, including Vitruvius’ works on art and architecture. Classical theories of beauty regarded symmetry in form as being a divine re-interpretation of the chaos that is our world. The order of columns, their articulation and the pure symmetry of temples and temple fronts reflect this aim; to make sense of our world through symmetry and to thereby create beauty.

In all of the aforementioned movies, symmetry is used very significantly to hearken back to classical ideas of beauty in different ways. Belly of an Architect does it quite literally, as it is told within and through several classical architectural monuments. The symmetry and monumentality of the architectural sets very strongly oppose the chaotic lives of the characters in the film. In a sense it portrays a universal or omniscient eye that sees and frames all, reminding us of that classical idea of beauty being of the divine while discussing the importance or unimportance of human destiny in the classical/humanist world.

In Z00, the types of symmetry that occur involve characters and their movements more than it involves architectural sets. This is because the film appeals more to a humanistic approach, to ‘Know Thyself’, than a classical understanding of beauty.  In a sense, this film strips the idea of beauty of its romanticism and expresses it purely through symmetry, colour and bare form. It is also naturalistic, but not outside of the domestic or human context. Like the Zoo, it is nature, but nature in a human world. Like the decomposition of the story, the twins and the animals, it is nature, seen through the human eye, with hints of the divine. One can argue that Z00 presents a more secular humanism, where there is no God but there is still the ascendance of nature over a kind of manic human experience.

Finally, Equilibrium most clearly illustrates a distinct relationship of humanism and classicism in architecture with the overall film. The new city is largely symmetrical and monumental. They are also quite bare, in a fascist type of style. It is fake classicism in that it is without the humanistic aspect completely. The idioms of the new regime that represses all forms and expressions of emotion are of unarticulated forms that oppress rather than celebrate. Ideas of symmetry and classical ideas of humanism are therefore inverted. Symmetry becomes a symbol of dominance and oppression, while fragility and ambiguity become desirable. This is not in complete opposition to the humanistic or classical idea of beauty although the architectural style of the city is a perversion of their ideals. The leading characters in the film attempt to recreate a humanistic beauty through entirely different means that are decidedly un-architectural.



26. Michael Taylor

Symmetry as a symbol of balance.


27. Alison Janes

Symmetry as a symbol of oppression.

Symmetry - a "patterned self-similarity" that can be demonstrated or proved according to the rules of a formal or logical system, for example geometry.

Peer relationships are based on symmetry (ex. mirroring the actions of another). Asymmetry implies an imbalance in power – dominant versus submissive, dominator vs. dominated. These power relations are manifest in spatial asymmetries – above below, larger and smaller, narrower and wider, straight vs. crooked etc. benefiting those in power with the dominant condition.

In Equilibrium, the ideal presented by the government is a society free from emotional fluctuation and therefore equal in their monotone state. The symmetrical architecture represents this equality on the surface - the neatly organized and mirrored spaces provide a logical framework for a society of similar peoples interacting in equal and symmetrical ways. However, the symmetrical system imposed by the government actually suppresses symmetrical interactions (interactions between equals). Instead, it creates an environment for the oppression of differences and reinforces an asymmetrical power relationship (dominance) between the government and the people.

The spaces represented in the movie follow logic or patterns set out by those who created them, in this case the governing body. The designer can decode the logic of this system. He is in complete control because he understands the shape and makeup of each space and therefore able to predict the interactions that will take place in these environments. However, the occupant of such spaces is not privy to knowledge of the overall scheme. They are lost within the “self-similar” spaces. Unable to differentiate one place from another they cannot situate themselves in a greater scheme and therefore cannot understand it.  This allows for the control of the occupant – the direction they travel, forced perspectives presented to them, where they can move and where they can gather. The result is an architecture that oppresses difference by suppressing movement outside of or different from the system. This prevents the rise of counter culture movements and revolt, because they cannot be incubated under the surveillance of the symmetrical architecture. Revolt must happen underground; hidden from the tyranny of the system, in places that can be differentiated from something else, unique and away from the surveillance of the designer - places for the individual.

In A Clockwork Orange, the symmetry of the prison also sets up a self-similar space that prevents the differentiation of one place from another or one person from another. This environment oppresses Alex’s highly individual character because his is unable to react against a backdrop of similarity. The symmetrical architecture oppresses his ability to set up anything but symmetrical interactions between himself and other inmates. He is unable to impose difference and therefore unable to dominate. In contrast, the location of the guardhouse at the centre of the panopticon, where one has the privilege of surveillance and the only unique location in the system, represents the dominance of the prison guard over the inmate. Therefore, the symmetry of the panopticon actually creates an asymmetrical power relationship between the occupant and the “designer”.



28. Allan Wilson

Symmetry as a symbol of power.

As an example of a society utilizing symmetry as a fundamental principle of power as well as a cosmological preface, the example of the ancient Romans, and the primary equation of symmetrical form with divine perfection, is suggested as a comparative model. Beginning with temple orientation and organization, the physical manifestation of the city-state itself is then rooted in this mythology. As an example, consider the earliest symbol of the polis; wherein the symmetrical diagram of the cardinal axis is inscribed by the circular representation of the city wall.  Resultant is the belief that the city (and thus the ruling structures) becomes endowed with value of higher worth as well as a systematic reduction in the perceived infallibility of that particular power structure. Looking at the films, Equilibrium, Zed and Two Noughts, and the Belly of an Architect it is interesting to compare how the plot is organized around this power archetype.

Unlike the roman tradition of symmetry as a spiritual or phenomenological homage, symmetry, as it is emphasized in the city of Libria, is used as a deliberate social filter. Essentially, it removes the possibility of self-expression by establishing a very clear urban facade, against which deviations are quickly noticed and thusly dealt with. As well, in a very fascistic way, it is intriguing to note how directors Carrie LeGrand and Duane Trammell use highly evocative imagery similar to that of the ancient social state as a method of reiterating the enforced infallibility of the governing system.

In contrast, symmetry in Zed and Two Noughts, is used by Peter Greenaway as a symbol of corrupting both established power and circumstance as well as a symbol of destined reunification. The example being that it is when the brothers are beginning to come back together from their separate ventures into knowledge that they begin to over come their grief. Although appearing erratic and ultimately becoming self-destructive, they are essentially returning to their initial platonic form, and thus are endowed with actual self-control and superiority over their environment.
Finally, symmetry in Belly of an Architect s used as a character by Greenaway which is asserting its power over the protagonist Stourley Kracklite. The American comes into the city with a passionate assertion of authority, intending to stage his exhibition. It is in this clash of personality versus mythology and the process of becoming self-consciously empirical, that he is ultimately driven to madness, suffering a similar fate as Augustus.



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