Director: Jonathan Mostow
Surrogates didn’t seem to make any big waves at the box office, but overall it’s not a bad film. It isn’t the most original in story or style, but it was still a solid effort, and managed to tell a complete story in 90 minutes without seeming overly rushed or leave gaping holes in the plot. Having said that, an extra 10 to 15 minutes of development, both of characters and of the world in which they live, would have been nice, spread throughout the film.
The story is fairly simply told: fourteen years ago, a scientist developed a system whereby a human could connect to and control an android avatar using only their mind, and receive the sensory experience of the android. Very quickly the use of these “surrogates” caught on, taking us to present day (2017) where apparently 99% of the world’s population uses surrogates. Aside from one rather large techie who worked with the FBI, the rest of the 1% of the population live on reservations as conscientious objectors to the use of surrogates. That’s the setup.
The plot itself revolves around an FBI agent (Willis) still dealing with the death of his son and his wife’s headlong retreat into surrogacy. Willis investigates death of the son of the inventor of surrogacy, which is tied directly to damage done to the surrogate, something which is supposed to be impossible. During the investigation, Willis’ surrogate is destroyed, forcing him to continue his pursuit in the flesh, reinforcing his growing feeling that surrogates are overused and that the human objectors may have a point. In the process, he discovers a multi-level conspiracy which is ultimately aimed at killing every person hooked into a surrogate. At the last minute Willis (with the help of the meatbag techie) enables a buffering workaround to prevent the destruction of the surrogates from harming their operators, but decides to allow the destruction of the surrogates to take place. As the world awakes and walks outside for the first time in years, Willis goes home to reconnect with his wife.
Not a great movie, but there are definitely worse. It could have used more than the brief background of the world in order to establish the veneer of the supposed utopia. It’s also interesting to note that this is based on a short run of comics from the mid 1990s called The Surrogates, which took place in 2054. Had the film been set a further 37 years into the future, it would certainly feel less immediate, but it would have allowed for the entrenchment of surrogates into society to seem more reasonable and less abrupt. I personally prefer my dystopian films to be darker, so the way in which this one ended – humans freed from the curse of the surrogates – was just too chipper. If the ending of the comic series, the wife’s committing suicide, despondent over the loss of her surrogate, had been used, the personal tragedy could have tempered the global euphoria, at the very least.
The notion of virtual life and control of avatars is prevalent within modern communication discourse, particularly due to online interactions and MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. Movies such as Gamer and Avatar also dealt with different issues surrounding interaction through controlled intermediaries in a real world environment. All in all, the idea is topical, and it is addressed in an interesting manner. The execution isn’t perfect, but the film is definitely still watchable.
Review Date: 2010-06-14
IMDB Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0986263/