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Surrogates Review – Cyborg, Plain and Tall

Surrogates Review – Cyborg, Plain and Tall” width=”560″/>

The raison d’etre of much science fiction is presenting scenarios that may be impossible, but at the same time are scarily plausible. So it’s strange, and kind of fun, to see a movie that cheerfully presents the least plausible technological dystopia since The Running Man. Surrogates‘s notion that humans will soon spend their days controlling a plasticky cyborg manifestation of themselves in an otherwise unchanged society is kind of funny. But the movie is surprisingly committed to the idea — and it winds up going to some interesting places.

At the center of Surrogates is a convoluted murder mystery plot. It seems that though the whole idea of surrogacy is being able to do whatever one wants with one’s mechanical self while safely ensconced within the confines of one’s bedroom, someone has developed a weapon that fries not just the circuits of the robots, but the fleshy sponge-brains of their operators, too. The son of a surrogacy pioneer (James Cromwell) is killed in this way, embroiling investigating FBI Agent Greer (Bruce Willis) in a conspiracy involving anti-surrogate militants and their shadowy leader, known only as The Prophet (Ving Rhames).

But more fun than the fairly clunky machinations of the plot is watching the movie make an honest effort to grapple with the implications of its central conceit. Surrogates are big business, so there must be different models for different budgets — including, at one point, a hilariously low-end “loaner” that has trouble opening a door. Law enforcement has changed, and the movie depicts the process of obtaining a warrant not for a search, but for disconnecting a surrogate from its naughty operator with the tap of a button. And then what of the people who decide to go out surrogate-free? Disturbingly, Surrogates suggests that they endanger not just themselves, but everyone — because unlike with a machine, a human can be taken hostage, and that spells trouble.

The movie was directed by Jonathan Mostow, a fantastic filmmaker second only to James Cameron in knowing his way around an action scene. His instincts are once again dead-on here, and there are several set pieces that are as viscerally exhilarating as they are clever. My main complaint is that Mostow’s consummately professional style may actually be too slick for this material, which could have used a noirish edge to go along with that jittery, Herrman-esque score.

The ending will likely frustrate those who became invested in Surrogates‘s main storyline. The resolution is twisty, but far too neatly contrived, with a climax that disappointingly involves a lot of technobabble and frantic typing. But if the movie gets a bit hokey on the surface, its haunting undercurrents never let up. The flesh-and-blood people behind the shiny robotic identities are nothing so much as sad, and frightened. Greer’s wife (Rosamund Pike) will not emerge from behind her done-up beautician facade, and Greer’s profound frustration with this is kind of heartbreaking.

Surrogates paints an unlikely picture, but of course it’s familiar as metaphor. Surrogacy is the plugged-in world we inhabit. It affords us the freedom to do what we want behind a custom-built identity, with no risk of harm to us as we click and type away. But this has its costs, too. At the end of Surrogates, the appearance of a fat slob — a real, fat, human slob — is strangely beautiful. A genuine warm embrace is, too. Me, I think I’m going to go take a walk outside.

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