Surrogates

Starring: Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, and Ving Rhames. Directed by Jonathan Mostow.
Rated M (Mature themes and violence). 88 min.

This film is advertised as a science fiction movie, and is based on a comic book series of the same name. The comic books were a set of books written by Robert Venditti, and drawn by Brett Weldele, and are now brought to the screen in a dark film,  starring the epic action-adventurer, Bruce Willis, as Detective Harvey Greer. The time is a not-so-distant future (the year 2017), where people are living in almost total isolation, protected within the confines of their own homes. Communication with the outside world is through remotely controlled robots, who serve as “surrogates”. The security of the world that is created in this robot society seems comfortable enough until the “son” of the designer, who invented the original surrogate, is found brutally slaughtered. People start dying, as their surrogates are destroyed. There seems to be a conspiracy to eliminate the surrogates, and to return Society to the days of old, when there was no dependence on them at all.

Ralph Willis plays the role of an FBI agent, who has the task of trying to find who the killer is. For this to happen, he has to leave the security of his home, and brave the world outside which is populated mostly by the surrogates. Radha Mitchell is Agent Peters, Greer’s partner, and Rosamund Pike plays the role of Maggie Greer, his depressed wife, who controls a surrogate, that was designed to be more attractive to her husband than herself. Ving Rhames plays the part of an insurgent, The Prophet, who fights (under control) for a world without surrogates.

There are many existential overlays to this movie which gives its science fiction elements some interesting touches. If surrogates run your life for you, you never have to be yourself, and the movie explores some of the limits of technology that has gone too far. Things happen. Surrogates were designed to do humans’ bidding, but they can be used without permission and can be programmed to be violent to others. They can perpetuate violence, when instructed according to another person’s wishes. Willis looks suitably stressed and anxious about his almost impossible task. The surrogates are popular and people do not want to lose their dependency on them. The comfort they bring makes them hard to give up, yet they are bad for Society. Control of them can no longer be guaranteed, and they stifle independence and human initiative.  

The best Science Fiction movies can never be dismissed as routine pieces of futuristic fantasy. They refer to science and technology of the future, but borrow, often shamelessly, from partially true and partially false theories based on actual science. The good ones set us thinking about what new happenings and scientific developments might occur in the future. They make us think about whether we would want to change the world that is created, or leave parts of it, or all of it, intact. In most of them, the future of humanity is at stake, and we are provoked to ponder how earth or mankind can survive. This film has many of these elements, but ultimately turns science-fiction uncertainty into a high-adventure story. Bruce Willis saves humanity, but in so doing, solves most of our thinking for us about what might have happened if some of the robots at least were allowed to stay the way they are.

The movie makes for entertaining cinema, but it could have been much more penetrating. It is a quality mix of action-based story telling with scientific fact, but in the final run the movie plays down the element of vision that keeps us wondering what might really happen after the film has finished. It is hard to be moved by the messages of this movie, so coldly are they delivered. The film has excellent action pieces that are backed up by some creative special effects, but the movie is more a steely-edged adventure yarn, than an excursion into the intriguing world of science fiction. 

Touchstone Pictures. Out September 24, 2009.

Peter W. Sheehan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.


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