Movie Metaview: Surrogates

Posted: May 11, 2011 in Movies

I’ve been asked a number of times to write full reviews of movies, on the back of my tweets and FB rants on the subject. I’m just glad people weren’t getting fed up with them! As a result, I intend to post occasional “Movie Metaviews” – looking at films from a bigger perspective.

To kick this series off, here’s a review I did for another site some time ago regarding “Surrogates” (2009):

Who would want to live a life by proxy? According to Jonathan Mostow’s “Surrogates”, the majority of us would.

Bruce Willis plays Tom Greer, an FBI agent living in a future where robot surrogates have become the accepted way of life for most of the population. The real Tom stays at home in his Stim Chair, allowing him to operate his Plastic Tom (an unnerving Bruce Willis with smooth face and nylon hair) and commune with the outside world. Society is bustling with a synthetic community, while the real-life flesh-and-blood (referred to as “meatbags”) hide behind closed doors. Tom and his wife – both grieving over the loss of their son in an accident years before – only communicate through their Surrogates, never face to face. His marriage has become an online relationship.

When Tom investigates a series of murders – where both Surrogate and Operator are killed simultaneously – he is finally forced into venturing outside on his own for the first time in years, squinting and stumbling in the bright streets and corridors as he struggles to uncover the dawning conspiracy. As he does so, he confronts his own battle: as much as he wants his name cleared and the killer brought to justice, he just wants his wife back.

“Surrogates” has fun with the world that Mostow has created – rudimentary courtesy models while your Surrogate is in for repair, a rebel band of humans who decry the use of Surrogates, sexy blonde Barbie dolls operated by male slobs, salons for your Plastic self – and allowing a stiffness to the Surrogates’ performances to contrast neatly with their rougher-edged “meatbag” counterparts.

With a strong supporting cast (including Radha Mitchell, James Cromwell, Ving Rhames and Rosamund Pike), and threads of “Demolition Man”, “Minority Report” and “I, Robot” running through, “Surrogates” doesn’t try to be anything other than it is – a fun ride but nothing new. While the mystery may not be as complex as other films of its ilk, and the action sequences aren’t ground-breaking, it is in the way it speaks to the viewer’s own world that it scores. Online anonymity, the hunger for physical beauty, Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games, Japanese Hikikimori who live their lives online and never venture from their rooms for years… these are not the concerns of science-fiction, but of our world right NOW. Is this what it means to really live?

As Tom’s investigation reveals the inevitable secrets, it’s not that surprising when you see where it arrives. However, the film is brave enough to dwell tantalisingly on Tom’s final dilemma in the race-against-time climax. And it is in that moment that the film begs one of the big questions of modern life: in our pursuit of living vicariously and seeking bodily perfection, at what point do we realise we’re MISSING the point?

  1. Joey says:

    Sweet man! Really interesting review. I remember not thinking much of the movie, but the underlying message is definitely poignant right now!

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