Movie Review: Surrogates

SurrogatesWillisby Brad Nelson
Bruce Willis stars in a sci-fi film where 98% of the human population is using a robotic surrogate through which they experience day-to-day life. In this movie you’ll see a mix of Brainstorm, Blade Runner, and The Matrix (in the form of a black prophet-like character). You can probably throw in a little Minority Report and I Robot as well. This movie isn’t highly rated at IMDB.com, and I had heard nothing all about it in terms of buzz, so I expected it to be a dog.

Surprisingly, this film was entertaining from start to finish. For me there were very few eyerolls. There were very few gaps in the plot. There were very few things, given the starting premises, that didn’t make sense. Suspension of disbelief was willingly granted. I found the characters and the plot, while perhaps made up of bits and pieces you’ve surely seen elsewhere, to work as a whole. Although this movie is perhaps not as memorable as some, it is deserving as a place in true sci-fi films.

The best of sci-fi are not mere cops-and-robbers movies or slasher films that dress themselves up with silver suits, rocket ships, and futuristic trappings and try to pass themselves off as something more. True sci-fi plays “what if” with the world. And Surrogates does just that. Granted, it could have taken a much deeper look at the theme of humans forgoing the world of the flesh-and-blood for the fantasy of perfect bodies. But it does at least look.

This is not a movie that is little more than a series of car crashes or modish bullet-time effects. It’s a thoughtful story, even a bit of a thinker’s piece. But Surrogates could have made this futuristic world a little more believable by connecting to the fact that we humans in our own daily world spend so much of our time painting over our bodies, applying makeup, modifying them, sometimes stuffing them with plastic, and just generally trying to beautify them and escape their limitations. If offered cheap, reliable, and sensually immersive “surrogate” robotic bodies that increased one’s pleasure while removing all risks of physical injury, who could say the world would not go for this en masse? If you look at online computer gaming, much of the world has already immersed itself in a type of virtual reality, and this reality is barely skin deep. In Surrogates, rather than any prior explanation of how we got here in increments, we simply start out in this world that has gone the full monty in terms of artificiality. But that still does work.

Although some of the more geeky or thematic aspects of this surrogate world are not explored quite as deeply as I would have liked, they are explored. This is not just a movie where things blow up. And perhaps I just have bad taste, but I suspect that opinions of this movie weren’t higher simply because it is less about explosions-per-minute and a little more about a true sci-fi “what if” scenario. Minority Report is a better movie, but this certainly is a worthy effort in terms of exploring possible what-ifs in the future. I give it 3 exploding brains out of 5.

And it just wouldn’t be a Bruce Willis movie if he didn’t get a little bloodied up. And he does. And, surprisingly, this isn’t your over-the-top Bruce Willis. He plays it pretty straight. And I think he plays it rather well. There’s a bit more grit and realism than just a series of his usual Tarzan-like screams of “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh……..” as he outraces the exploding fireball behind him. I think that’s where just a bit of Blade Runner creeps in. But this is a good movie in its own right exploring a subject in a way I had never seen before. And it’s a movie that also has an adequate ending. That’s especially important for sci-fi films because any sci-fi film will ultimately have to mean something deeper than just car-crashes-per-minute or it will fail. This one does not fail. • (927 views)

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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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3 Responses to Movie Review: Surrogates

  1. Kurt NY says:

    The premise was provocative. And, were such technology available, how many among us would not make use of it? We’re probably already moving towards it and don’t even notice it. When was the last time you’ve seen a picture of a female in other than a mug shot which has not been photoshopped? Do we even know what reality looks like anymore?

    The most popular magazines are chock full of pictures of unbelievably attractive people with elite crews of professionals “beautifying” them after thousands of dollars of plastic surgery wearing fashions whose daily cost probably exceeds our monthly salaries, whose images still get photoshopped to heighten their appeal. And legions of us (females mostly, but growing numbers of men as well) obsess with attaining that level of perfection. And for what?

    So, if it were possible for someone to present themselves to the world on a daily basis in the most perfect and attractive physical form available, one with no aches and pains of daily life, or inadequate vision due to aging, one which cannot be hurt through accident or injury? Scary.

    Of course, if that were so, and since there would be a cost to such things, a government program would have to be implemented which would provide them to the poor, since they couldn’t afford it on their own. After all, we wouldn’t want to disadvantage them further, would we?

    I think there was a Twilight Zone episode decades ago in which everyone was attractive. But isn’t everything relative? Can there be beauty without ugliness?

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Great point about the Photoshopped model, Kurt. We’re already living in unreality to a great extent.

      I liked this movie. And one reason the ADHD camera-shakes-and-explosions crowd might not like it is because this movie stays on the human scale. I love the poignant drama between Bruce Willis and his wife. I can’t so more without giving it away to people who haven’t seen the movie. But this movie does exist on the human scale. It’s not all bullet-time and narrow escapes.

      Again, I was surprised that I didn’t hear any buzz about this movie. I think people are starting to become more aware of it. But I do think this fits the premise of a good sci-fi, and the playing out of it is entertaining as well. Can’t ask for much more.

      I don’t remember the Twilight Zone episode. But there was one about this chick who has some kind of horrible disfiguring accident or something. Her face is bandaged and the doctors keep telling her that they did the best they could, but not to expect too much. I forget the details. But long story short, they finally take off the bandages and she is a gorgeous blonde. And then you pan over to the doctors and they are all pig-men. But to the pig-men, the gorgeous blonde was very repulsive.

      • Kurt NY says:

        Yeah, I saw that episode too (I think we’re dating ourselves). And I agree about the bit between Bruce Willis’ character and his wife, which kinda feeds into the whole premise we were talking about.

        And, of course one of the things explored in that movie was the same thing we see on the internet – that whoever or whatever you think you are talking to is not necessarily what you think. I think there’s some reality show on TV now (Catfish?) which connects folks who have been romantically linked on the internet but who haven’t met. The kicker I guess (haven’t seen it) is that the gorgeous female the guy thinks he has been corresponding with is something quite different. Never able to conceive why someone would do that.

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