Imagine a world where you never have to leave your house. Instead you live vicariously through a robotic version of you. Sounds cool, huh? Strap into your “stem chair” and you’re off, controlling a better looking version of you. You send it to work, to the store, to parties, all from the comfort of your own home. You’re hooked into its senses so you experience anything and everything it does. There’s no reason to ever go outside again!
Surrogates, the new film starring Bruce Willis, takes us to a world where almost everyone is living their lives through robots called surrogates. The commercials advertise a world free from danger, because if your surrogate is hurt or incapacitated, nothing happens to the operator. Just a few repairs and the surrogate is back to its normal, operating self.
If you could be anyone, obviously you would be a better looking someone, right? Every surrogate has a buffed look, like an extra sheen of gloss has been applied. It’s actually a pretty ingenious tactic on the filmmaker’s part. The surrogates look ever so slightly like more humanistic versions of the shiny robots that used to peddle Duracell batteries years ago.
Not everyone is high on using surrogates to do their living though. Many humans have formed anti-machine tribes. They have set up reservations in major cities offering machine-free living. A man who is simply known as The Prophet (Ving Rhames) leads the robot-hating people.
Agent Greer (Bruce Willis) is working a case for the FBI. Seems a few operators have died the exact moment their surrogate died. This is unheard of, and causes alarm seeing that surrogates are a top-selling product worldwide.
Surrogates raises some key questions, but ends up skirting around the tough answers. In what is no doubt a comparison on people becoming more dependent on technology and less dependent on themselves, what would happen if all of us could stay at home while someone else – a robot perhaps – did all our work for us? Would this breed widespread apathy, agoraphobia, and anxiety? Would we become so dependent on our surrogates, that we’d forget how to feel and act for ourselves? Is this happening now with the invention of the Internet and computers? We spend countless hours in front of screens typing in information, no doubt getting lazier and lazier. Some interesting ideas and thoughts about modern society are definitely present here.
Where Surrogates really falls short, though, is that it doesn’t take a really tough look at what this kind of lifestyle would breed. We get bits and pieces, but with an 88 minute runtime, we’re privy to only a small amount of the detriment surrogates have placed on humanity as a whole. Instead much of the film is made up of generic chase and action scenes.
Whether it was by design by accident, James Cromwell stars here as the creator of the surrogates. He also starred in I, Robot where he was the creator of the robots. He plays his part of tortured scientist well, but with very little screen time. Much of the time is left to Willis who, as always, does a wholly competent job in his role. When he breaks free of his surrogate chains, he gives us a tiny feeling of what it must be like living life by yourself rather than through the eyes of a robot. In that idea is where the true inventiveness of the story lies. But, instead we are left with a somewhat predictable, semi-entertaining thriller that really does have some thought-provoking core ideas about base human desires and instincts, but not enough time devoted to them to make much of a statement.