A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 36 – Surrogates

Surrogates – April 5, 2010

This is a new one for me and Andy. We like new ones on Mondays because we both get out of work early and still have the attention spans for something we’ve never seen before. The concept is an interesting one: The technology for robotic bodies has advanced enough to create well-nigh-realistic avatars with not just equal functionality to a human body, but advanced abilities like night vision and enhanced strength and speed as well as durability. People can operate these bodies remotely, using them to live their day-to-day lives from work to vacation to the minutia of grocery shopping or driving. After all, why not? Your robot body is hard to damage and it looks just like you want to look! But there’s a movement (of course) alleging that these “surrogates” are abominations and that humans should be living their own lives first-hand, not at a remove.

Now, this isn’t a new concept. I’ve seen it in a bunch of places. And there are some serious implications that I don’t think I’m quite well-versed enough to talk about, but just off the top of my head there’s the reason given by the surrogates’ creator in the movie. He created the technology to “empower the powerless” which, given that the character in question is in a wheelchair, has a rather obvious meaning of giving people with disabilities bodies without said disabilities. Someone with more background in disability advocacy could probably tackle that better than I can but I will say that I find the idea within the movie to be a good hook. The man who invented the tech did so with specific intentions. Intentions he felt were honorable and well-meaning and destined to change people’s lives for the better. And instead the tech turned into a way for people to avoid everything around them. That part’s sort of hammered into your skull every time they bring up the fact that the main character’s son is dead. Oddly enough, the first place that comes to mind when thinking of this whole remote-operated-body thing is an Anne McCaffrey book. One of the brain ship books. And even there, the ramifications of said bodies was mentioned. I wish I knew enough to talk about the real world implications, but I don’t, so I’ll stick to the movie.

Onto the plot. It’s a science fiction mystery. I really do like a good science fiction mystery that uses the technology that makes it science fiction to make the mystery a good one. I don’t just want a murder mystery set in the future. I want to have to rely on the future tech and future rules in order to solve the mystery. I want the murder or whatever’s going on to be dependent on being set in the future. I want to have to use the internal rules and logic of the world I’ve just learned about in order to figure out what’s going on. And in Surrogates, I did. Because it’s not just a murder mystery. It’s corporate intrigue and quasi-terrorism, but introduced through the mysterious death of a college student, apparently killed when his surrogate was destroyed. Which defeats the point of surrogates, and is therefore pretty terrifying to the people in the movie. A weapon capable of killing a human being by destroying the surrogate body they’re using has hideous implications for a world where almost everyone uses a surrogate all day every day. And so the main character, Greer (played by Bruce Willis, who, for the beginning of the movie is playing Greer’s surrogate with a full head of hair), has to track down the weapon and figure out who made it, who’s using it, and who’s behind it all. This takes him through the military, the company that develops most surrogate technology, and a “Dread” reservation, where people who refuse to use or deal with surrogates (led by a man calling himself The Prophet) have created a community where surrogates and “modern” technology are banned. By the time I got to the end I’d pretty much figured out a lot of what was going on, but not all of it.

The early reveals of the people running the creepily-perfect embodiments of the uncanny valley show that they could be similar or wildly disparate. And that serves to make me curious to see what everyone’s like back at home, in their bedrooms and living rooms and dorm rooms. I’d sort of hoped for more interesting reveals than people just being older and frailer than their virtual bodies. There is ONE good reveal, which I’d sort of seen half of, but not the other half of. But that one reveal ends up being the key to the mystery. Follow it closely enough and you can figure it out. And that’s really what I like about the movie, and about good science fiction mysteries (like Larry Niven’s Flatlander stories). Once you have all the info about the tech and the world, you can start to piece it together. But then too, the tech in this world makes for good mystery fodder. If anyone can be anyone else, then figuring out who’s pulling whose strings (both figuratively and literally – the surrogates are referred to as puppets a few times in the movie) can be incredibly difficult.

The action scenes left me feeling a little meh, but I find it hard to hold that against the movie, since a lot of the point of the surrogates and the malaise Greer seems to be feeling, as well as that of the arguments of the people on the reservations, is that there is no thrill to life if it’s not you living it. If you’re living at a remove, then nothing really affects you. In the middle of a helicopter crash, Greer opens his surrogate’s eyes and calmly looks around as the helicopter spins wildly through the air. He feels no real concern about what’s taking place, and therefore neither do we. I can’t decide if that’s intentional. If it is, nice move on the director’s part. If it’s not, it should have been. There’s some great creepy Terminator-esque scenes, with Greer’s surrogate body chasing a human, and that, I think, was an intentional display of just how different the surrogates are from humans, and just how dangerous they could become.

I won’t say it’s a brilliant movie, but I will say it deals with a not-so-fresh concept in a good way. The story is engaging, though the subplot between Greer and his wife didn’t do much more for me than bolster the whole malaise thing. But I forgive the romantic plot. It served its purpose and it didn’t take away from the larger story. To be honest, I’d be curious to know more about the world the movie’s set in, both before and after the movie itself. It’s well-built enough to make me want to know what happens next, and the meat behind the stories given in the opening credits background history montage.


April 5, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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