You can lose yourself in "Surrogates"

Sept. 28, 2009, midnight | By Masha Lafen | 14 years, 9 months ago

Jonathon Mostow creates an engaging vision of dueling realities

In Director Jonathon Mostow's "Surrogates," 98 percent of humans live an immortal existence as remote controlled robots transmit the thrills and absorb the pain of physical life. Every aspect of Mostow's film is a dramatic portrayal of a world where people merge with robotic net-imbedded society. The result is a compelling yet entertaining science fiction plot with an aftertaste of unusual moral complexity.

Based on the graphic novel of the same name, "Surrogates" is a film set in the near future about a utopian society where people live vicariously through robotic surrogate beings, which are perfected versions of their real selves. From the comfort of a high tech reclining chair, people control their surrogates with their minds and experience the world though a nearly indestructible shell. Surrogates allow people to do whatever they want and look however they want, without ever leaving their home. Death and suffering from crime, accidents and war have all plummeted as surrogates have taken the hits for humans. Not all people live the surrogate life. In the film there are small, isolated communities who have resisted using surrogates. The film portrayed them as a mix between backwoods fundamentalists and back-to-the-land hippies with a leader called "The Prophet." But for the first time in years, a surrogate is destroyed, killing its human operator at the same time. FBI agent Tom Greer (Bruce Willis in surrogate and human form) is tasked to discover how someone managed to kill a person though his surrogate, and in the process uncovers a complex conspiracy.

As Greer delves deeper into the conspiracy, characters can be hard to keep singular as villains and heroes change their appearanceby switching from surrogate to human form. It gets more further mind-boggling when people steal the surrogates of other characters, and characters appear in multiple forms.

The premise of the film offers a creative take on the next step in virtual reality. People's use of video games to create an alter-ego or a perfected version of themselves seems to be taken to the extreme in this film. Surrogates allow people to live out their wildest fantasies. Greer visits the home of a voluptuous blond surrogate that was killed, only to find that her operator is, to everyone's surprise, a fat middle-aged bald man. This scene makes the point early in the film that people live radically alternative realities through their surrogates.

Both the surrogate and real version of Agent Greer (Bruce Willis) were exceptional. To play the indestructible and ruthless surrogate, Willis tapped into his "Die Hard" persona. In one exciting scene, after crash-landing a helicopter and losing an arm, Willis chases a murderer through the rough, surrogate-free neighborhood with green pus flying from his shoulder stump and with a machine gun in the other arm.

In an excellent but believable contrast between the virtual and the real, the human version of agent Greer, is a man haunted by the death of a son, and wistful for real experiences and human contact. Willis's emotionally-charged performance expertly resembles the heart-wrenching performance in his "Sixth Sense."

The idea behind surrogates suggests that humanity's growing dependence on technology will cause us to become dependent on an indestructible alter-ego through which everyone lives indirectly. This evolution in real life would happen over a span of several decades. But in fact, it is the logical extension of virtual video games such as "Sims" or "Second Life." In the film, 98 percent of the world's population acquired surrogates within fourteen years. Considering the expense and inconvenience, that concept is completely unrealistic. But the rapid change of society makes the question "Is this our future?" even more poignant.

"Surrogates" presents a dramatic double-take on a new world. Whether you want to see the future of your own "Second Life," or you are simply looking for the latest Bruce Willis action-adventure movie, the film will not disappoint. For an entertaining science-fiction roller coaster, there's no substitute to "Surrogates."

"Surrogates" (88 minutes) is Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, disturbing images, language, sexuality and a drug-related scene. Now playing in theaters everywhere.

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