Salt makes paranoid dystopia hot again

Kurt Wimmer is best known as the writer-director of two paranoid dystopian films, Equilibrium and Ultraviolet. But as writer of Angelina Jolie's new film Salt, out today, he brings the same paranoid sensibility to the here and now. Spoilers ahead!

The plot of Salt is a classic spy tale: Evelyn Salt is a super-decorated CIA agent who's accused of being a deep-cover Russian spy, placed among us way back in the Cold War. Is she actually a double agent? Or a triple agent? Where do her loyalties really lie? This turns out to be a much more complex question than it appears at first, and the ambiguity (which does resolve itself eventually, don't worry) takes us into classic Wimmer territory: the existential maze of dread.


Salt is a better movie than either Equilibrium or Ultraviolet, not least because its twists and turns do wind up making sense, more or less, and its paranoid worldview doesn't strain your credulity quite as much.

In Wimmer's world, everyone's a liar, and nobody lies more than the people you've enshrined in your heart as authority figures. The people you trust to guide you and shape you are actually brainwashers and thugs, and any values they instill in you are just cult indoctrination. You see this pretty clearly in Equilibrium, in which the whole of society has become a kind of Prozac-driven cult, but the theme returns quite strongly in Salt as well. In Salt, nobody is who they seem, and it's not so much a question of whether someone has been secretly brainwashed — it's how many times they've been brainwashed, and which round of brainwashing will be the one that takes.

And the way in which the evil authority figures in Salt try to own you is the same as in Equilibrium — they strip you of all your personal relationships and try to isolate you, in order to deaden your emotions.


Angelina Jolie's character in the movie, Evelyn Salt, would make a fine Cleric in the world of Equilibrium. She moves like Milla Jovovich in Ultraviolet, remorseless and balletic — she even changes her hair around like Milla — but she betrays no emotion whatsoever. Except if you pay attention — Angelina Jolie actually does a stand-out job in this role, giving her character little tics that you almost don't notice, which betray what's really going on.


At this point, of course, you're really asking — is there Gun-Kata? And yeah, more or less, there is. There is a lot of Angelina Jolie taking out a ton of heavily armed opponents using crazy martial arts, acrobatics and cleverness. Imagine if the scenes of Black Widow taking out all those guys in Iron Man 2 had looked less obviously computer-generated, and you'll get a good picture of Salt's action scenes.


Salt shares the elements that made us love Wimmer's earlier films, including the way that killing people and inflicting mayhem are the only way that anybody ever expresses an emotion, or communicates at all for that matter. That's a beautiful thing, in an action movie — the action is where people show us who they are, and there's no time for people to tell us shit. They'd only be lying anyway.

Is Salt science fiction? Honestly, it's sort of in the "spy-fi" genre. There's technology that doesn't quite exist today, particularly in one crucial early sequence. And it's a sort of heightened reality in which everything is over the top and excessively paranoid. After a while, you do get the sense that reality itself has been compromised by all of the violence that's been done to everyone's world view in the betrayals and counter-betrayals. Present-day America, Wimmer seems to suggest, is the new Wimmerian dystopia.


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