At the tail end of a summer riddled with such high energy sci-fi films as Terminator 4 and Transformers 2 comes Surrogates, a Disney film with it’s own blend of sci-fi adventure sure to please any rabid fan. Surrogates shows us a futuristic world in which humans can experience life through robotic counterparts called “surrogates.” In the safety and comfort of their own homes, they simply sit back in a “stim chair” where they can control their surrogates as if they were their second skin. Bruce Willis plays Greer, an FBI agent who investigates the death of two people who died mysteriously when their surrogates were destroyed; a tragedy that was thought to be impossible. Greer’s investigation leads him to the “dreads,” those who have chosen to live without a surrogate, and their leader. When Greers’ own surrogate is destroyed, he is forced to continue the investigation in his own body.
From there the film dives into its third act, delivering some initially surprising twists that are obvious in retrospect. The film had to break some of its own rules in order to deliver them. In an early sequence, we’re told that no one can use a surrogate not already registered to them. However, in the third act characters change surrogates with as much spontaneity as the various identity switches in Mission Impossible: 2. When a filmmaker creates a new world with a whole new set of rules, he should respect his rules at least as much as he expects his audience to respect them.
Despite having a sizable visual effects budget, Surrogates was lacking aesthetically. Most of the surrogates were played by flesh and blood actors, but something about the stiffness of their performance or perhaps the ultra stylized sheen added to their skin gave the film an odd feeling. I breathed a sigh of relief every time I got to see a “real” human. I never thought a tired, bearded Bruce Willis would give me such a sense of relief.
One of the great advantages of science fiction is its ability to ask serious questions of human nature in creative and imaginative ways. Surrogates offers this to its viewers in some interesting, albeit understated ways. For instance, when a beautiful female surrogate killed near the beginning of the film is revealed to be operated by a balding middle-aged man, Greer and the other FBI agents are unfazed. This simple fact says much about our current society. The filmmakers seem to think this won’t shock their audience, and they are right. In a world where such things as sexual identity are a matter of choice, why would we be shocked? For the Christian, this reveals the need for relief from this fallen body. Yet it also shows quite clearly the inability of modern technology to deliver us from this problem. Technology, in its efforts to free us from the restraints of the world, only imprisons us further.
Surrogates doesn’t have quite the special effects or the exciting action sequences of a typical summer blockbuster, nor does it have the intellectual depth necessary to please serious science fiction fans. It’s most fascinating moments are delivered in the opening minutes during a documentary style presentation of the world that gave rise to Surrogates. Some of the footage they used was in fact real footage, particularly a video of a Japanese robotics engineer who has created a robot in his own likeness. Unfortunately, the film’s thematic subtlety ends there.
by brian walton