Sunday, July 18, 2010


I've said before that I'm a sucker for sci-fi, even the mainstream special effects blockbusters.  Sometimes they're terrific, sometimes a waste of money and time.  Surrogates may not live on as a classic, but I liked it.  It's thoughtful and well-done.

Like lots of sci-fi, Surrogates takes a current phenomenon, alternative identities taken on by people on the internet, and draws out a possible extension: human-looking robots who are controlled remotely by their owners.  These "surrogates" go to work, shop, socialize, live daily life, while the owners remain safely ensconced in their homes.  Many surrogates resemble their owners, if a younger, fitter, better looking version, but others are completely different.  Imagine how surprised that guy would be to find out that the good looking young lady he picked up at a bar is actually a surrogate for an overweight, middle-aged man!

There are a few humans who resist using surrogates; many live in a surrogate-free zone, and are fomenting rebellion against the surrogate society.  When FBI agent Tom Greer's (Bruce Willis) surrogate is killed, he gets an first-hand perspective on life as a "meat bag."  Someone has developed a weapon that, when used to kill a surrogate, kills its operator as well, shattering the illusion that life through a surrogate is safer.  Greer's task is to find out who developed the weapon and destroy it.

Much of Surrogates is standard sci-fi action film fare, but it does raise some interesting questions about humanity and identity.  The Prophet (Ving Rhames) lives in the surrogate-free ghetto, and speaks of a post-surrogate world.  He admonishes his followers, as well as the surrogate-operating public, to join him in restoring humanity: "When you sacrifice your own personal desires for a great cause, a greater good, you never die.  That is what it means to be human. . . . We sacrifice many modern pleasures and conveniences to feel truly connected.  Not with machines but with ourselves. . . . This is what gives life meaning."
"Getting your face done" takes on new meaning.

Surrogates raises the questions, Does technology make us more human or less?  Are there limits to the use of technology for social interaction?  Do technological innovations isolate us or bring us together?  The answers are unclear; most of us have experienced both the positive and negative expressions of technology and communication.  But I do appreciate the movie's basic point: there is no substitute for face-to-face, skin-to-skin contact and communication.

Bottom line, 3 stars.

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