The world of the future is a very different place. Instead of venturing outside themselves, humanity has chosen to protect their fragile bodies indoors, using their brains to remote control android surrogates. As durable and attractive as money can buy, surrogates represent a way to enjoy life without the danger – but all that seems set to change when a weapon surfaces that both destroys a surrogate and kills the user connected to it. Can FBI Agent Tom Greer (Bruce Willis) figure out who the culprit is before they threaten humanity’s new way of life?
For my next couple of reviews, I’ll be focussing on sci-fi movies that have an intriguing concept, but completely fail to execute them well. First up, obviously, is Surrogates, a tale set in a world where humans prefer to remain in the safety of their own homes whilst interacting with others through the medium of androids that never age, die or get hurt. It’s the ultimate in avatar technology, but it’s also one that raises many questions that the writers clearly hope we’ll never think about.
First off, if the majority of people’s days are spent motionless in chairs remote controlling these avatars, why isn’t everyone suffering from obesity and muscle wastage? Do they all have gym equipment in their homes so they can exercise and work out at night? How does procreation work, given that you’re most likely out having sex via your surrogate than as yourself? Assuming at some level of intimacy you decide to get together and do it in the flesh for the sake of conceiving a child, how does a pregnancy proceed? Is there a midwife that calls round? Does the baby stay in the room with you when it’s born, or is it looked after by the surrogate? At one point in the film, new “surrogates for children” are advertised – how does this even work? At what age can a child start learning to control a surrogate? Do you need to keep upgrading models as they grow?
Anyway, let’s switch off our inquiring minds for a moment and focus solely on the plot of the movie itself, which includes, disturbingly enough, a Bruce Willis surrogate with hair (thank god that gets destroyed partway through). As one might expect, humanity’s idyllic future is being threatened – by a weapon that destroys not only a surrogate, but in an unprecedented turn, also kills the user attached to it. Given that everyone has lived in a world of safety and low crime rate for years (which doesn’t stop the police and FBI from having as large a department as ever), this is an unwelcome turn of events, and it’s up to Bruce Willis to sort things out.
Of course, Bruce, or rather his character Tom Greer, being a main character and all, has problems of his own, namely that since the death of their son in a car accident some years back, his wife has become terrified of the outside world and refuses to interact at all without her surrogate. The real world, after all, is a scary and dangerous place, as Bruce himself realises when his surrogate is destroyed and he decides to go it alone with his comfortingly balding real body.
At this point, I’m going to be spoiling various plot twists, so look away now if you’re still dead set on watching this movie. Anyway, as Bruce delves deeper into the story, complete with various obligatory action scenes, he learns that the weapon is the last of its kind, and is left over from an experiment gone wrong. Now, the very creator of surrogate technology himself (portrayed by James Cromwell, who will always be Zephram Cochrane from Star Trek: First Contact to me) is using it as part of an elaborate plot to make people realise that, actually, surrogates aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, and we should probably go back to how things were before. In order to achieve his aims, he has gone to the trouble of hatching some elaborate plot involving a splinter group of ghetto dwellers who refuse to use surrogates, and even the murder of his own son. The culmination of the plot seems to involve not only destroying all the surrogates, but killing everyone they’re attached to, because the only way humanity will learn their lesson is if EVERYBODY DIES.
Naturally, Bruce is on hand to save the day, with the help of a techie who does all the actual hard work, but when the moment comes, he chooses to save humanity but shut down all the surrogates. Now somehow, this works out magically and everyone emerges from their homes ready to start a brand new day, unrealistic as this seems. Given that humanity’s entire infrastructure has evolved to accommodate surrogates, surely Bruce Willis has actually just doomed everyone? Presumably, surrogates were being used to do all the hard jobs of society, including operating heavy machinery, generating power and such, so when they were all shut down, everything should have just gone haywire. Not to mention the psychological effects on the people who had spent the last few years indoors in chairs. Are we really supposed to believe they just picked up where they left off pre-surrogates?
All in all then, Surrogates is, as I said at the start, a good concept that completely falls down in the execution. Next up, I review In Time, which suffers from much the same flaws, but nonetheless deserves its very own review to pick it apart.