To Surrogates, with love*


Journal Entry 2009-09-27

Dispatched cyborg minions to see Surrogates. Sensory data gathered and sorted. Possible spoilers detected. Initial reports disappointing. Running deeper analysis. Processing…

Ah, the future. It’s a place that James Cromwell seems hell-bent on shaping. Whether inventing warp technology (Star Trek: First Contact), inventing robots (I, Robot), or raising talking pigs (Babe), Mr. Cromwell often shapes the future in world-changing, seemingly beneficial ways. No one can deny the appeal of a world in which one can actually order a side of bacon from the donor itself – from the horse’s mouth, as it were. In Surrogates, Dr. Canter (Cromwell) pioneers the technology that allows people to control and live life through their robotic counterparts, aka “Surreys.” Fringe on top is an extra.

Detective Tom Greer (Bruce Willis) and his partner are investigating the unusual destruction of two surrogates and the deaths of their respective owners. Could it be that the two are related? So much is implied by the previews. Willis’/Greer’s surrogate looks like a much younger version of himself sporting a waxy face and a fuller head of hair (see The Jackal). When Greer finds himself interacting in the real world without the benefit of his surrogate, the real world interacts back pretty harshly. Apparently, while occupying his surrogate, Greer is rarely exposed to physical harm, yet while walking around town in his own body, there are no end to the ass-kickings that await him. I feel it should be said, however, that Bruce Willis doesn’t fully dominate a scene until he’s wearing a few bruises and cuts on his face. In most of his movies, a healthy, happy Bruce Willis is less believable than a bruised, battered, and world-weary one.

Anyway, Greer’s investigation leads him into a zone populated by the remnants of humanity who have rejected the use of surrogates. They are led in their hatred of artificial humanity by a man known only as The Prophet (Ving Rhames). The Prophet speaks out against the people who use surrogates, calling them to return to their humanity, or alternatively calling them dead in their use of their robotic simulacra. The people here are portrayed either as peaceful, agricultural folk or as violent, ignorant folk with southern accents, despite their being located in Massachusetts. Trust me, if there’s one thing I know, it’s that folks from the South could never be mistaken for being from Bahston.

But this is all entirely incidental to the film’s plot. Yeah, the plot. Right, here’s the skinny. I’ll try not to ruin it for you. Surrogates are beautiful, durable, practically perfect in every way. They’re a bunch of veritable Mary Poppinses (except way hotter, no offense to Julie Andrews.) They protect their operators from the daily dangers of life in the real world, except when zapped a device that looks like my mom’s rechargeable flashlight circa 1986. Then they die due to excessive melting of the brain or something. Dr. Canter’s son has been killed, and Greer is looking for the man that killed that man’s pa’s grandson. End of story. Well, more than I can say without revealing too much more story to you. Yeah, the story.

Truth be told, the story is not that great. Not even that good, in fact. There are some interesting societal subtexts present that give the movie some depth, but these are not fleshed out (ha ha) enough to give them substantial weight. The viewer is left wondering about a number of things, for example how everyone, in a relatively short span of time, can afford surrogates. Does one buy them at the local department store as the clothes display? Are they like cell phones, available with a 2-year contract? (Speaking of which, why does a robot with a constant remote link to the operator’s chair even need a cell phone?) Does performance suffer in low bandwidth neighborhoods or densely populated areas? How does it affect romantic liaisons? “No, baby, it’s not you, it’s just that I’ve got a lot of lag here, and well you know, the spirit is willing, but the signal is weak.”

She left her heart, her ribcage, and her torso in San Francisco

She left her heart, her ribcage, and her torso in San Francisco

Several mentions are made to the new line of surrogates for kids, implying that there were none before. Can one then assume than normal kids are running around under the supervision of their surrogate-occupying parents and guardians? Somehow, the future variation of a childhood taunt lacks any real braggadocio: “My dad’s surrogate can beat up your dad’s surrogate without any permanent damage inflicted upon the physical person of its operator, ie your father!” What if a mother and a father switched surrogates for the day to play a prank on their kids? We’re talking potential psychological damage to children.

The in-film catch-the-audience-up-to-speed-device tells the viewer how much better human existence is now that everyone has a surrogate. Racism is eradicated almost overnight. Sorry, human nature isn’t that easy to change. Hate-filled people will find something to hate. Wouldn’t the racists just learn to hate everyone because of who might be wearing a surrogate of a particular appearance? It seems like a more realistic, if cynical, outlook on the situation.

Disease is wiped out, as well. Please. I can only imagine what the “I Love You” computer virus would do to a race of robots operated by promiscuous, consequence-obtuse humans. Sure, humans might not be infected, but do you know how bizarre every single robot would be acting when infected with a plethora of futuristic viruses, spyware, and rootkits? That’s the more likely outcome of plugging everyone into a machine. Just think about walking down the street with every single surrogate you encounter trying to sell you prescription medication at a discount.

Sorry, I’m letting my realistic side of me (some might say pessimistic) run away with my imagination. Surrogates is a fair movie that has a good premise, but suffers from a weak story and lack of chemistry between its principles. I guess that was the point. I give it One Babble.


What’s this? My cyborg minions feel I’m being too harsh. They felt that it perfectly displayed the clear advantage of technological beings over organic ones. I think I’ll be checking their circuits for cobwebs at their next scheduled maintenance, but I’m inclined to humor them. I’ll upgrade my purely organic opinion to a more biomechanically balanced Two Babbles.


Now beat it, you clinking, clanking collections of caliginous junk!

*Not a lot of  love here in this article, obviously. I just liked the title.



Filed under Reviews

2 responses to “To Surrogates, with love*

  1. Anonymous

    I’ve searched the internet looking for someone who’d challenge the, ‘racism will go away with surrogates’ conceit. Like you say, people who get off on it will find something else to be ugly and hateful about. The internet is a perfect example of this — while all the tech geeks continue to go on about the e-meritocracy where ideas are all that count, far from subsiding, racism has instead flourished on the intertubes precisely because of the absence of real face-to-face interaction — no real world consequences like getting punched in the face, or losing your job.

    Thank you for pointing out how silly those suggestions were.

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