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Friday December 1st 2023

Equilibrium | 2002

Equilibrium filming location: Olympia Stadium, Berlin
Equilibrium location: the entrance to the city: Olympiastadion, Berlin

Kurt Wimmer’s first feature film suffers from over-familiarity, borrowing heavily from George Orwell’s 1984 and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. We’re back in one of those dystopian societies that bans books, art and human feelings – for the good of the people, of course.

The rules are policed by ‘Grammaton Clerics’, among whose ranks is the sternly punctilious John Preston (Christian Bale). When he misses a dose of emotionally numbing drug Prozium (note to copyright lawyers, NOT, repeat Not, Prozac), Preston begins to question the rules and to love puppy dogs.

Elaborate sets for the film were built in Berlin’s huge Deutschlandhalle, a complex built for the 1936 Olympic Games. It lingered on as a sports/concert venue but in 2011 was demolished.

There’s extensive CGI but the film also makes use of 1930s Fascist-style architecture in both Berlin and Rome.

The symmetrical white streets of ‘Libria’, the post-WWIII city, utilise the EUR (Esposizione Universale Roma) in Rome, a vanity project of dictator Benito Mussolini chosen for the World’s Fair of 1942 to celebrate 20 glorious years of fascism.

Equilibrium filming location: Palazzo dei Congressi, EUR, Rome
Equilibrium location: the Librians watch government propaganda: Palazzo dei Congressi, EUR, Rome | Photograph: iStock / Massimo Merlini

The outdoor screen on which the Librians are treated to political polemics from Father (Sean Pertwee) is superimposed onto the EUR’s Palazzo dei Congressi, while the masses exercise among the white columns of the Museo della Civiltà Romana (Museum of Roman Civilization), Piazza Giovanni Agnelli, 10, which you might recognise from the funeral scene in 2015 Bond movie Spectre.

Equilibrium filming location: Museo della Civila Romana (Museum of Roman Civilization), Piazza Giovanni Agnelli, EUR, Rome
Equilibrium location: the Librians exercise: Museo della Civiltà Romana (Museum of Roman Civilization), Piazza Giovanni Agnelli, EUR, Rome | Photograph: wikimedia / Blackcat

The coldly rigorous lines of EUR were previously featured in Michelangelo Antonioni's 1962 L'eclisse, Bernardo Bertolucci's 1970 The Conformist and Federico Fellini's Otto e Mezzo along with his segment of portmanteau movie Boccaccio '70.

It also appeared in Dario Argento’s 1982 shocker Tenebrae, went on to serve as the headquarters of ‘Mayflower Industries’ in the 1991 movie Hudson Hawk, with Bruce Willis, as well as becoming ‘Imperial Rome’ for Julie Taymor’s 1999 film Titus, an adaptation of William Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus with Anthony Hopkins in the title role.

The entrance to the government centre is the frontage of Berlin’s famed Olympiastadion (Olympic Stadium), given an imposing flight of steps and a lot of extra height courtesy of plenty of CGI. Built as Adolf Hitler’s centrepiece for the 1936 Olympic Games, its intimidatingly Fascist style has since been toned down a little by modern additions.

Equilibrium filming location: Olympia Stadium, Berlin
Equilibrium location: Preston is ordered to "kill Father": Olympiastadion, Berlin

The curved passageway studded with wall-lamps evoking Ancient Rome’s grandiose imperialism, seen when Preston pushes his way through crowds after being given the order to “kill Father”, is the Olympiastadion’s exterior walkway.

Equilibrium filming location: Tempelhof Airport, Berlin
Equilibrium location: the checkpoint out of the city: Tempelhof Airport, Berlin | Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo / imageBROKER 

Outside Libria’s city limits lie the Nethers, the anarchic suburbs not yet under control of the state.

The first glimmers of humanity appear when Preston’s partner Partridge (Sean Bean) pockets a volume of WB Yeats’ poetry and sneaks off to the Nethers to read it. The checkpoint through which he’s obliged to pass is the exterior of Berlin’s old Tempelhof Airport, only a couple of miles south of the city centre.

Tempelhof, originally built in 1927 and massively extended by the Nazi government of the Thirties, was one of Europe's three major pre-World War II airports, along with London's Croydon Airport and the old Paris-Le Bourget Airport. It was central to the Berlin Airlift of 1948-49, when much-needed supplies were delivered by air to the blockaded West Berlin.

Equilibrium filming location: Glockenturm, Olympiastadion, Berlin
Equilibrium location: Preston misses his dose of Prozium: Glockenturm, Olympiastadion, Berlin | Photograph: wikimedia / Fridolin freudenfett

The ‘Equilibrium Centre’, outside which Preston first misses a daily dose of Prozium, is the entrance to the Olympia Glockenturm, the Belltower rising up behind the Olympiastadion, again extended with CGI. In the Thirties, this tower was intended to provide a fittingly monumental backdrop to the seat of the guest of honour (and guess who that was).

Equilibrium filming location: Bundestag u-bahn Station, Berlin
Equilibrium location: the glum office in which Preston works: Bundestag u-bahn Station, Berlin

Preston’s glum office, where the simple act of rearranging his desk gives rise to suspicion, is the (then as-yet unopened) Bundestag U-bahn station near to the Reichstag and government buildings. Before completion, the station was also used as the entrance to 'The Hive' in Paul WS Anderson’s 2002 Resident Evil.

Equilibrium filming location: Barensaal, Altes Stadthaus, Klosterstraße, Berlin
Equilibrium location: Preston faces off against Brandt: Bärensaal, Altes Stadthaus, Klosterstraße, Berlin | Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo / Agencja Fotograficzna Caro

One of the film’s original ideas idea is Gun Kata, a screen-friendly, choreographed martial art with guns. The Clerics practice this discipline, and Preston later has to compete against the suspicious Brandt (Taye Diggs), in the Bärensaal (Bear Hall), the stone-arched lobby of the Altes Stadthaus (Old Town Hall) in Berlin.

The most striking feature of the Bärensaal is carefully avoided on-screen – the Georg Wrba sculpture of a bear, the symbol of Berlin, for which it’s named.

Equilibrium filming location: Altes Stadthaus, Klosterstraße, Berlin
Equilibrium location: the exterior of the Altes Stadthaus, Klosterstraße, Berlin

The Bärensaal is not generally open to the public, and the building now houses the municipal department of interior affairs and sports. It faces the Molkenmarkt and is bound by four roads: Jüdenstraße, Klosterstraße, Parochialstraße, and Stralauer Straße. You can see its small but lavish foyer as Katniss's 'prison cell' at the end of The Hunger Games:Mockingjay – Part 2.