Art after the End: Equilibrium

Equlibrium is a dystopian film from 2002, which is in many ways a variation on themes introduced in Fahrenheit 451 and 1984 and other dystopian narratives, but with its own gun-based martial art discipline and, in the end, a successful revolution added into the mix. Set in a future in which emotions are medically suppressed and “both feelings and artistic expression are outlawed”, ‘Clerics’, such as main character John Preston, played by Christian Bale, enforce the totalitarian government’s (headed by the “Father”) ban on art – as art evokes emotions. Art works are burned, offenders executed. Like the firemen in Fahrenheit, Clerics burn books, as well as other pieces of art – such as an unusually big Mona Lisa.

The film also features other art works, as well as poetry by Yeats and music by Beethoven (which are both shown to incite emotions).

Just as apocalyptic and postapocalyptic films often show, respectively, the destruction or the ruins of familiar landmarks, the art that remains in dystopian and postapocalyptic films is often part of the canon of Western art. Recognisability is important here, but also the ability of the respective work to stand in for art in general, for the whole of human culture from before whatever event or development produced this particular future. The question, then, is how the narrative would change if these works would be switched for other works. We suggest a little game – just think of any record, and ask yourself: If the record found by the Cleric was this one instead of Beethoven, how would that affect the story, and what would it tell us about art?

Art after the End: In many postapocalyptic or dystopian narratives, we encounter remnants of ‘our’ culture that has ended: art, artefacts, books, music, etc. Only very rarely, it seems, is any ‘new’ art produced after the apocalypse. Here, we catalogue these remnants, which are often gathered in archives, museums or collections, serving as a reminder of what was lost. What is their relevance for the postapocalyptic present?

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