Surrogates (2009)
Touchstone Pictures
89 minutes

Set in a possible future of our world, crime and communicable diseases have dropped to unimaginably low records. People now use Surrogates, life-like robots operated by people from the comfort of their homes. Accidents that damage or end a surrogate does not physically affect their human operators, nor are germs transmitted as widely due to the socially insular nature of the surrogates. However, that’s all about to change. Someone has discovered a way to kill the operators through their surrogates. It’s up to FBI agent Tom Greer (Bruce Willis) to stop them. He’ll need some help though, but who should he trust? In a world where surrogates can represent anyone, can he rely upon his partner, Agent Greer (Rahda Mitchell), or is he all on his own?


I liked a lot of the things about this movie. First of all, the concept is awesome. Questions of identity and authenticity have overtaken this century as one of the key issues, whether it’s in the quotidian aspect of identity theft or the abstract of locating homegrown terrorists. Surrogates is the right movie for this time. Unfortunately, shallow exploration of this topic and ethical choices take this movie from being a potential classic to merely a summer action flick.

I really liked the crisp visuals of this movie. The technology was interesting and within the realm of possibility. This potential is part of what gives weight to the movie.

I also liked the casting of this film. I imagine the casting department had a field day with it’s assignment: find the most physically perfect and beautiful people for this movie. Rahda Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, and Boris Kodjoe certainly fit this bill! It was exciting to see them spiffed up to a plastic perfection as their surrogates and then contrasted with their actual bodies after they unhooked. Bruce Willis was a great choice too. He certainly has the cred for an action flick. He also brings a gritty intensity that I enjoy and thought appropriate for a grieving father and law enforcement agent. His older age with its attendant wrinkles and silver hair was also appropriate for a man who has been using a surrogate for at least a decade and had a child and wife before that.

Much of my dissatisfaction comes from the ending of the movie. I’ll try not to spoil it!

Agent Greer’s final choice regarding surrogates reveal a bias that is unpalatable to me. It shows a Luddite disregard for the benefits of technology that does not address the core responsibility of human beings for their choices and actions. Surrogates could do a lot of good. Paraplegics could walk, or burn victims live without pain. Those without disabilities might live without discrimination. Greer’s choice was selfish. I firmly believe that it is not solely the fault of technology for criminal actions. In the words of my father, “Locks only keep honest people honest.” That is, if a person is intent upon causing harm to another by theft or violence, artificial barriers will only prevent them so much. People are determined and innovative. They will find a way to survive, even by criminal means.

In the movie, a statistic of a 99% reduction in crime in reported. I do not believe the existence of surrogates would actually account for this fact; it’s more likely that surrogate upon surrogate violence is not reported – perhaps because they’re not really “people.” (This is a callous disregard for the mental anguish of victims.) Crimes would still occur, and maybe even with greater frequency due to the physical prowess of the surrogates and the invulnerability of the operators. If crime decreased, it was more likely because the underlying cause of political disenfranchisement and social inequality was addressed.

Additional issues not addressed by the movie include the economic cost of surrogates, and their affect upon society.

How would people afford to purchase such complicated and delicate machinery? In this economic climate right now, we have Americans forced to choose between housing and food. Also, the movie implies that surrogates have spread globally. This is even more unlikely since wealth is not equal across the world, and even the social demand for surrogates would be uneven. Whereas Americans might be enticed by new technology and the allure of hypoallergenic hygienic relationships, this would not be the same in other countries. Body odors, physical proximity, and appearances vary widely across nations. The movie also occurs only a decade or so after surrogates are introduced; such a rapid and universal adoption is highly unlikely.

The social affect of surrogates would be monumental. If they were as widely used as shown in the film, dine in restaurants would cease to exist. Why have them if no one goes out, and surrogates don’t need to eat? Other businesses that rely upon the physical needs of people would also close. Why get your nails done when a surrogate’s are fused onto him/her? Dentists, doctors, and other medical professions would have to radically change if operators became agoraphobic. People would still need exercise and medical intervention, but it would have to transition to the home.

Despite my reservations about this movie, I would recommend it. It certainly entertained me and has provided fodder for questions and conversations. I would recommend this movie to people who enjoyed others such as Push or Total Recall.


About shortlibrarian

I am a woman working in the Twin Cities as a programming Librarian.
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