Surrogates is based on the graphic novel The Surrogates, which I reviewed here a couple days ago. It is the story of a society that has become withdrawn from reality because of a technology – originally intended to enable the handicapped to function better – that allows the human mind to link, cybernetically to a robot version of itself, and live vicariously through that surrogate.
With the vast majority of the world’s population now using surrogates to do everything from going on adventures to going to work, the production of surries, as they’re called, is now more a case of tweaking and fine tuning for maximum effect. Since surrogates are supposed to be 100% safe, when a couple is attacked by a helmeted biker with a strange weapon, alarms are raised because the operators died, too. Enter FBI Agents Greer [Bruce Willis] and Peters [Radha Mitchell]. Willis puts a slightly new spin on Greer: he finds himself becoming less enchanted with the technology he’s been using his entire career.
Tracing the killer to a “reservation” of anti-surrogate rebels, Greer is forced to abandon his surrogate before it can be destroyed. In his natural body, he visits the rez to speak to the anti-surrogate group’s leader, The Prophet [Ving Rhames]; a visit that has questionable results. Then there’s the agents’ effort to enlist the aid of the inventor of the surrogates, Dr. Canter [James Cromwell, James Francis Ginty]. Futile though it is, it does give us a look at why he invented the technology.
Besides following the mystery of how these supposedly impossible murders have taken place, Surrogates follows Greer’s attempts to reconnect with his wife, Maggie [Rosamund Pike] outside their surrogates. Unfortunately, there’s a tragedy that seems to play a big role on her decision to remain linked to her surrogate except when it requires recharging.
Surrogates works as a mystery as well as a source of provocation. If we become too comfortable living in pain-proof surrogates, will we be able to create and sustain human relationships? More to the point, with such a large percentage of the world’s population hooked into surrogates, what’s to stop a clever individual from finding a way to take over someone else’s surrogate? What does this possibility mean for the concept of the individual? What does it mean for the arts?
Sure, there are car chases, fight sequences and plenty of mystery to appease the fan of such things – but there’s intelligence, and a heart, here, too. The script, by John Brancato and Michael Ferris, takes the basic concepts from the graphic novel by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele and edits them into an action movie that makes you think. Jonathan Moslow directs with a firm hand – he makes the various action sequences feel new and manipulates conversations in a way that pulls us into the lives of these characters, whether they’ve linked to their surrogates or not [watch the play of emotions that cross Maggie’s face while she’s linked – there’s a real life going on there and we are, eventually given reasons for her preferring to live through her surrogate].
Considering how much action there is – and how thought-provoking the film is – it seems remarkable, but Surrogates clocks in at under ninety minutes, complete with closing credits. That’s quite the feat. The bigger feat is that it captures the essence of the graphic novel so well.
Final Grade: B+