By Erin Free

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EQUALS (2016) After trading in the complexities of modern relationships in the acclaimed Like Crazy and Breathe In, director, Drake Doremus, pushes his concerns onto an even more thoughtful and insightful plane with the stylish and inventive Equals. With faint echoes of George Lucas’ THX-1138 and Andrew Nicol’s Gattaca, this unlikely tale of tortured romance is set in a seemingly utopian future where genetic manipulation has eradicated all human emotion. But when Silas (Nicholas Hoult) and Nia (Kristen Stewart) start to actually feel things – including a burgeoning love for each other – it puts them both at enormous risk. As involving as it is thought provoking, Equals is beautifully packaged big-statement sci-fi, where love is the most fascinating special effect. “The [subject of human connection] is just something that’s endless,” Doremus told the website, Roger Ebert. “Long term relationships and different themes and metaphors in this film are really interesting to me, and it’s just constantly having love, losing love, taking care of it, maintaining it, it fading…it is just so fascinating with the life and people you meet, who come in and out of your life.” carrey-asleep-in-eternal-sunshine

ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004) With French visual wizard, Michel Gondry (Be Kind Rewind), behind the camera, and the wonderfully arcane Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) penning the script, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind is a delirious head trip of the first order. Kaufman’s most intimate and romantically honest script, this much loved critical favourite finds Joel (Jim Carrey in his finest dramatic performance) on a desperate search to retain his fondest memories of his true love, Clementine (a brilliantly against type Kate Winslet), before the Lacuna memory erasing procedure that they have both undertaken takes full affect. As much sci-fi as it is romance, as much a comedy as it is a drama, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind radiates with terrific performances by both leads, and an excellent supporting cast (Tom Wilkinson, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood), and stands as a fascinating drill-down into the subject of romantic memory, one of love’s most essential grace notes. And while the film jumps mercilessly back and forward in time, and from comedy to tragedy, the complicated relationship between Joel and Clementine proves that true love can withstand just about anything, including its own obliteration.

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HER (2013) Director, Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Where The Wild Things Are), delivered an unconventional sci-fi romance both uplifting and heartbreaking with the brilliant Her, in which the writer/director explores the relationship between the insular, awkward Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix in one of his most measured and moving performances) and his interactive (and increasingly sentient) computer operating system, Samantha, wonderfully voiced by Scarlett Johansson. Their love is made purely, painfully real, as we witness the throes of early romance, and then the bruising crunch when the impossibility of their situation becomes ever more clear. “There is a romantic relationship between these two characters, and that’s when the initial idea became a movie,” Spike Jonze told FilmInk. “That’s something that you can write endlessly about, because relationships are endlessly mysterious and complicated. When it became a love story, that’s when it became a movie. One of the most challenging aspects of any relationship is being truly honest and intimate and allowing the person you love to be the same. I don’t think that anything is black and white. The future is always mysterious, and all we can do is make the choices that we make. You create the life that you want to create as much as you can to make you happy. That’s all that we can do.”

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TIME AFTER TIME (1977) A canny, perfectly judged mix of sci-fi, comedy, horror, and romance, Nicholas Meyer (Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan) delivered one of the most underrated films of the 1970s with Time After Time. Malcolm McDowell stars as H.G Wells, the famed late 19th century sci-fi author who wrote the likes of The Time Machine and The War Of The Worlds. In this fanciful and inventive take on the author’s life, Wells has actually made his own time machine, and uses it to zoom into 1970s New York, where he gets cranked on a volatile dose of culture shock. He’s saved by a romance with sweet bank clerk, Amy (Mary Steenburgen), but is plagued by a problem far bigger and more potentially bloody than his difficulties in assimilating. One of his friends has also used the time machine…and, as Wells soon discovers, that friend happens to be Jack The Ripper (a terrifying David Warner), who soon develops a taste for the violent, sex-driven modern society that surrounds him. Wells and Amy (literally one of the sweetest and most endearing couples in cinema history) must race against time before Saucy Jack takes his murderous campaign into another time zone. The chemistry between McDowell and Steenburgen is voluble, and despite the literal overflow of ideas threaded through Time After Time, it’s their romance that remains the film’s most defining element.

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THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980) An icon of rebellious cool to rival James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause and Marlon Brando in The Wild One, Harrison Ford’s Han Solo is the sole nihilistic presence in Star Wars’ gallery of eternal idealists, and it instantly makes him the most interesting character of the lot. It also makes him the most obviously romantic figure in the film series too. Dashing and cocky, his bitingly funny banter with Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia hits its peak in 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back, and it’s here that their romance truly blossoms. Just as Han is about to be frozen in carbonite by the villainous Jabba The Hutt, Princess Leia says, “I love you” to which the “great rapscallion of the universe” (Ford’s description of Solo) famously replies, “I know.” It’s one of the coolest and most romantic moments in sci-fi cinema, and the line was actually improvised by Ford, who was initially scripted to respond to Leia’s proclamation with the far more predictable, “I love you too.” Says The Empire Strikes Back director, Irvin Kershner, in J.W. Rinzler’s book, The Making Of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back: “Harrison is a very fine actor. I regarded that scene as entirely his, which is why I gave him so much opportunity to tell me how he thought we should treat it.”

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STARMAN (1984) If ever a film was the victim of bad timing, it was Starman. A major detour for horror and sci-fi maestro John Carpenter (The Thing, Halloween, Escape From New York), this utterly charming film was conceived at the same time, but released after, Steven Spielberg’s smash hit E.T: The Extra Terrestrial. Because of a few cosmetic similarities, Starman got caught up in that film’s backwash, and quickly disappeared from few. Today, however, it’s a cherished cult favourite. When an alien life form crash lands on earth after being fired upon by the military, it takes the form of the recently widowed Jenny Hayden’s (Karen Allen) dead husband (Jeff Bridges), much to her shock and confusion. The “Starman” then coerces Jenny into driving him to Arizona, to rendezvous with another alien ship. Charmed by his naivete and sweetness, Jenny slowly falls in love with the Starman, while the government is in hot pursuit. Bridges is excellent as the Starman, amusingly struggling to make sense of his new human body and the strangeness of his alien surroundings, while Allen is at her lovely, disarming best. While Carpenter’s handling of the action and sci-fi is characteristically strong, it’s his surprising facility for the film’s romance that makes Starman a truly special film.

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THE FOUNTAIN (2006) When evidence is required of Hugh Jackman’s gifts as an actor, most veer toward the likes of his Oscar-nominated turn in Les Miserables, his searing performance in the powerful Australian drama, Erskineville Kings, or his work for Christopher Nolan in The Prestige. Few, however, pick 2006’s The Fountain off the proverbial shelf. Renowned more for director Darren Aronofsky’s (Requiem For A Dream, The Wrestler, Black Swan) stylistic innovations than its performances, this centuries-spanning cerebral workout nevertheless features a stunning, deeply committed turn from Jackman as a doctor who spans space and time, all in the name of love, as he searches for a cure for his cancer-stricken wife (Rachel Weisz). While it’s not always clear exactly what’s going on, Jackman makes his character’s anguish and desperation painfully and movingly real, instantly allowing a film principally located in the head to move slowly closer to the heart. Though certainly no cinematic Hallmark card, The Fountain is a powerful treatise on the defining nature of love.

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WALL.E (2008) “I saw it as a simple robot love story on a sci-fi backdrop,” WALL.E director, Andrew Stanton, told FilmInk in 2008. “All of the other elements in the film are just there to clarify the simple question, ‘What’s the point of living?’ The answer is, ‘To love somebody.’ That’s all that this machine is asking and wanting.” One of Pixar’s most daring and visually breathtaking films is set in the far flung future, when planet Earth has been overrun by garbage. The world’s obese, consumerist-slob population has departed into space on cruise liner-style space ships, leaving robots behind to clean up the planet for their eventual return. One such automaton is the resourceful little robot, WALL.E (Waste Allocation Load Lifters – Earth class). Near sentient, the loveable WALL.E compacts rubbish into neat squares, selecting bits of flotsam that catch his fancy. When a visiting space ship deposits a high tech robot, named Eve, to investigate if there is any sign of life on Earth, it’s love at first sight for the lonely WALL.E, and one of the sci-fi genre’s most unusual romances begins to unfold. With virtually no dialogue in its opening act (“Every five minutes of the movie was another challenge to tell the story without conventional dialogue,” Stanton told FilmInk), WALL.E plays out like a minimalist romantic tone poem.

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NEVER LET ME GO (2011) Based upon Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 novel, Never Let Me Go is a deep rumination on mortality and the fragility of love and friendship. The film opens as a seemingly austere English drama set at Hailsham, a school for orphaned children, but renowned music video director, Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo), imbues proceedings with a delicate stylistic flourish that belies the science fiction premise that slowly starts to creep in. The story is narrated by Cathy (Carey Mulligan), and begins when the central characters are in their early teens. Cathy falls in love with Tommy (Andrew Garfield), who is something of a loner with rage issues. Tommy is soon stolen away from Cathy by her impulsive best friend, Ruth (Keira Knightley), an act that causes a rift between the three, which lingers long into adulthood. “Great works of art make you reflect upon yourself,” Andrew Garfield told FilmInk of his experience of forming one third of this sci-fi love triangle. “I realised how much happier I could be, and how in turn I can make my family and friends happier. Reading the book and making Never Let Me Go made me realise that I need to focus on the positive things in life that will enrich both myself and other people.”

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THE TERMINATOR (1984) As created by writer/director James Cameron and actress Linda Hamilton, Sarah Connor is an action heroine unlike any other. In a genre filled with violence and death, she’s a true life force, fighting for the very survival of humankind itself. When we first meet her in1984’s The Terminator, Sarah is an average, every-day woman dealing with life’s standard obstacles. When Arnold Schwarzenegger’s hulking, murderous, stop-at-nothing cyborg arrives from the future, however, Sarah Connor is marked for death. She soon learns that in the future, she will give birth to the leader of humankind’s resistance against a machine revolution: she is literally the mother of humanity’s future. And though not as vital to the unfolding Terminator franchise, the father of humanity’s future is Kyle Reese (played with an engaging mix of toughness and vulnerability by Michael Biehn), a damaged, battle-hardened soldier sent from the future to protect Sarah Connor. Though they spend most of the movie running away from Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kyle and Sarah form an iron-tight bond: theirs is a painfully brief love born of pain and fear, but it’s one of the richest and most bracing in sci-fi history. “I didn’t want her to be the heroine that everyone expected,” Linda Hamilton once said of Sarah Connor. “It was a great challenge for me as an actress.”

Equals is available now on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital.

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