Growing up I played with my fair share of action figures. In doing so, I created my own worlds and acted out my own stories (okay, largely embellished ones based on the cartoons I’d watched that day). I became engrossed in this playtime and for a short amount of time each day it was like a manufactured reality where I was like a god bringing life to these small figures that were held together by elastic hips. Fast forward 25 years and now there’s all sorts of virtual realities, be it in video games, online worlds or those annoying farms and pets people obsess over on Facebook. No matter how interactive, realistic looking or immersive these activities are, there’s still a sense of distance that comes with them. It’s a similar feeling I got watching Jonathan Mostow’s Surrogates. And although I suspect it was an intentional and calculated decision, the result is a film that raises many interesting ideas but follows through on few of them.
Surrogates is one of those movies that makes like the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come in that it takes place in a not-too-distant future. It’s a warning of sorts or, at the very least, a heads up. Just about everyone has a robot self, a surrogate, that exists in the public world. Us humans are relegated to languishing in our homes, being all unattractive and such. But these surrogates are the model of perfection, at least in the looks department. At least, that was the gist that I got. Surrogate Bruce Willis’ hair looked like it belonged on a teenaged Donald Trump.
Willis plays Tom Greer, an investigator looking into the possibility that someone devised a way to kill people through their surrogates. Prior to this, if something were to happen to a surrogate, their human counterpart would simply be disconnected and move on, much like in a video game. But now there’s something that causes the robots’ eyes to melt and the humans’ brains to turn to jell-o.
Surrogates questions the direction of disconnect in which we could be headed. With technology we can be more connected than ever, but it’s replacing the important person-to-person interactions. Rather than chatting with the people we’re standing in line with, we’re engaging in text conversations with people on the other side of town. Instead of taking a short walk down the hall to see if a co-worker wants to grab a bite to eat, we’re often sending them an email. It’s an act of removal and the creation of real surrogates would be the ultimate embodiment of this.
Ironically, the biggest problem with Surrogates is the very disconnect it’s commenting on. Even though the central theme is one of how the characters aren’t leading real lives, there’s the issue that the script never fully connects with them either. It’s a hollow story even when humans become the focus. I could never fully connect with the story because Mostow seems to be keeping the viewer at bay. Rather than delve more into the implications, the film focuses on all the things the technology can bring.
Ultimately, Surrogates raises a lot of big and relevant questions, something integral to great science fiction. Although answers don’t always have to be provided, I never fully got the sense that the movie did little more than scratch the surface of possibilities. And because of that, it created the very same vacuum of disconnect it appeared to be investigating.
Surrogates Blu-ray Review
Despite not being a great movie or one that met much acclaim, Surrogates has an interesting Blu-ray release that delves into the bigger ideas the film tries to present. Shown in widescreen 1080p high definition, the film looks great. Audio is in 5.1 DTS-HD MA with dubbed tracks in 5.1 Dolby Digital Spanish and French. Director Jonathan Mostow provides an informative, albeit largely technical commentary. The bonus features are led by the 15-minute featurette “A More Perfect You: The Science of Surrogates.” It’s a look at how the technology in the movie could evolve to become reality and how it might affect us. A second featurette, “Breaking the Frame,” looks at the graphic novel that inspired the film. Addition bonus features include four deleted scenes with a total running time of more than five minutes and the music video for the song “I Will Not Bow” by rockers Breaking Benjamin.