No, this is not a joke. The “YA dystopia for teenage girls” genre has come full circle and is sinking its teeth into 1984. Equals will be a “slightly updated version” of George Orwell‘s dystopian classic, with the main update being, according to its director, that “it’s about love in a world where love really doesn’t exist anymore.” Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult are starring. And I’m here to play devil’s advocate and say that it might not be the scourge upon humanity that you think it will be. Open your minds, my lovelies. But not too wide. Big Brother is watching.
First, the details: Equals is being directed by Drake Doremus, who helmed the 2011 indie hit Like Crazy. Moon scribe Nathan Parker is writing, which bodes well, because Moon was an excellent movie. That doesn’t mean Equals will be good, necessarily. Doremus and Parker are both relatively new to the scene, and even filmmakers with proven track records aren’t exempt from putting out stinkers (ahem).
On the surface, Equals certainly looks like it will be one. Our buddy site Geekosystem has a great article on how the very concept of romanticizing 1984 is so very, very headache-inducing, but the TL;DR is this: 1984 does have a romance, between the government worker Winston Smith and the thoughtcriminal Julia (Geekosystem opines, and I agree, that Stewart should play Smith and Hoult the love interest), but said romance has a pretty damn bleak ending. And it’s not the focus of the story, which “is about how the government controls literally every aspect of its citizen’s lives using a combination of fear and brainwashing, not about how sad it is that people are afraid to looove each other.”
So, yes. Taking 1984 and turning it into a romance: WTF. And that brings me to my main reason Equals might not be as bad as you think it will be: Nothing could possibly suck that much.
No, hear me out.
A common refrain whenever there’s an announcement of a new remake, reboot, or sequel is “No one wants to see [insert movie here]!” But quite often that’s not true. Sure, you may want to think one one wants to see Battleship, but the fact is that stupid-sounding movies with brand recognition do tend to make bank. That’s particularly the case overseas, where big-budget Hollywood blockbusters translate better than, say, comedies or low-budget indies. Explosions are universal. Cultural norms and humor are not.
But no one—NO. ONE.—wants to see a romantic reimagining of 1984 starring Kristen Stewart. The very concept is an anathema. I will bet my left boob that 99% of you, upon reading that this movie is going to exist, reared back from your computer screens in horror. I’m not exempt from that: My original title for this article was “Is A Romantic 1984 Remake With Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult Better Or Worse Than Rats Eating Your Face?”
This isn’t some big-budget adaptation of a best-selling YA trilogy out to make money from all its fans on Tumblr. There’s no big studio funding this thing. It’s a passion project. Even Stewart realizes how insanely ambitious (or just plain insane) this movie is:
“I can’t believe I agreed to do it… I trust Drake’s process and I know we will do something really natural and real. But I told Drake, ‘Don’t expect that I am going to be able to do this. It’s too hard.’ But he wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. I’ve given directors disclaimers before, but never this much.”
The lead actress looked at this movie and said “No, there’s no way this is going to work.” And they’re doing it anyway. That is ballsy.
Speaking of Stewart, she gets a lot of crap, particularly for the Twilight movies, where everyone had diddly squat to work with. But she can be a good actress. I’ve seen it with my own eyes: In Adventureland, where she played a character with severe emotional issues who has trouble opening up to others. It’s not that far off from a movie where the government squashes self-expression, even feeling. Stewart’s like Keanu Reeves: She doesn’t have the best range, but when you put her in a movie that’s within that range you can get something really good.
Maybe I’m being overly optimistic here. Hell, I probably am. “It can’t be that bad, right?” isn’t exactly the most compelling argument for something’s quality. (Incidentally, it’s the same reaction I had to Ben Affleck‘s Batman casting: It’s so counterintuitive that somebody at some point must have had a good reason for it. The movie will probably still suck, but that will be Snyder’s fault.) And plenty of passion projects end up being terrible. But for now I’m intrigued, because I’m a sucker for originality, and this movie is original, if only in the sheer level of batguano craziness it’s managed to achieve.