Christian Bale is watching – and what he sees is an unusually rich dystopia on screen.
Before The black Knight, the actor appeared in a 2002 sci-fi thriller imbued with the genre’s most animated tropes. You might decide that this movie’s over-the-top fight sequences are hopelessly mired in the same early obsession with trying to rip off. The matrix who had infiltrated most of Hollywood by that time.
But that would miss the biggest achievement of this wonderfully bizarre studio-shot sci-fi explosion. Bale’s contribution to the genre looks like a shameless Matrix counterfeiting; anyone who has heard of the film knows it, and the review is arguably true.
But secretly, the film in question is the greatest adaptation of George Orwell’s film 1984 again – mixed with the anti-emotion totalitarianism of Aldous Huxley Brave New World and combined with a hint of Ray Bradbury Fahrenheit 451 and his paranoid view of censorship.
Now that Balance is streaming on HBO Max, here’s why it’s so much better than a Matrix imitation. Light spoilers ahead.
The first thing you should know Balance is that it contains the death of Sean Bean to surpass all the deaths of Sean Bean. Before the idea took hold that this veteran English actor must die in all of his films (and TV series, like Game Of Thrones so memorably clear), Bean quietly dies near the start of Balance, after warning Bale’s character: all is not well with the system they live in.
Bean and Bale both play “clerics,” people who apply a strict emotional code in a dystopian future that seems utopian. (This is generally true of all utopias; they are all secretly terrible.)
The agreement with Balance is that, in this future, you cannot to feel too much of anything, or you will become a “sane offender”. This is similar to how to take medication in Brave New World regulates people’s moods, but the application of this law is closer to that of Orwell 1984, with an omnipresent leader named “Father”.
Why Balance is the excellence of science fiction
The action of Balance – Focusing on kinetic, sometimes balletic combat sequences, disguises the film’s value as a sci-fi artefact. For decades, the warning discourse of science fiction has been dominated by three dystopian books: 1984, the best of all worlds, and Fahrenheit 451.
These books all follow a familiar configuration: Going forward, something is unfair, unethical, inhuman, anti-intellectual, or all of the above. However, it’s someone’s job to apply whatever rule (reading is bad, having feelings is a no-no, whatever); then, in the course of this story, that initiate is forced to join the other side and be part of the free thinker rebellion they fought against before.
Some of these plot tropes were so ingrained in the genre that they later found their way into 1960s sci-fi novels like the one by Philip K. Dick. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) and William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson’s Logan’s Race (1967). Truth be told, most of Dick’s novels are written in this tradition, which is why you see former future cops on the run in so many of his stories – not just Blade runner, but also Minority report and Total recall.
What does this have to do with Balance? Simple: the film takes all of these tropes and makes its influences extremely glaring in the best possible way.
Balance play the hits
The moral complexities of Balance are fundamentally non-existent. Once Cleric Preston (Bale) begins to break the rules and empathize with sane offenders, the film’s tension only exists while waiting for the other shoe to drop. This is why the discussions on this film tend to focus on the excellent action scenes; these provide a good counterpoint to the uplifting aspects of the film. Just because these themes are old does not mean that they are not heavy. The balance The trick is that the movie looks dated, even though it looked edgy in 2002.
But, because the Matrix influence on the aesthetics of Balance hasn’t aged particularly well almost 20 years later, you just have the rest. This movie contains a pretty predictable plot, borrowed from some of the greatest books ever written. And that’s the secret to what makes it cool.
It’s a collection of the greatest hits of science fiction classics, crammed into an early action movie. Watching Balance now it’s more fun than it was in 2002. Back then, it was trying too hard to be a modern film peddling old school ideas. But now, because both things are old – the packaging and the thematic content – the movie is more interesting than it’s ever been.
Balance was never going to slip away The matrix. It wasn’t even his intention. Instead, like a sort of cinematic summary of several 20th century science fiction novels, it is skyrocketing. And in its shameless pilfering of Orwell, Bradbury, and Huxley, it might be more fun than these books were, even by accident.
Balance airs on HBO Max.