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Laramie Movie Scope: Surrogates

Odd sci-fi movie about being yourself

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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October 1, 2009 -- Most people have two faces, one is what the world sees, the other is the one that shows up in the mirror in contemplative moments, or after a night of heavy drinking. In this film, we have an exaggerated form of that, where not just the face, but the whole body the world sees is fake, an artificial surrogate robotic body, controlled remotely by a person who remains locked away from the real world.

The early part of the movie shows how the surrogate technology was developed over time. The time is greatly compressed, of course. The kind of surrogate technology on display in this movie is a long way off, farther off than the film would have you believe. For one thing, what about the pleasure of eating at fine restaurant? How can a surrogate body be equipped to accurately taste food? What about sex? How does a robot experience sexual pleasure? How does that sexual pleasure translate when a man is running a female surrogate? How about time delays in reactions when you've got relativistic signal delays from satellite feeds? That level of technology has got to be more than a decade away.

Once you accept the technology, however, the social implications are staggering. Bruce Willis stars as FBI agent Tom Greer, who is investigating some deaths. In these deaths, surrogates are destroyed and somehow the operators of those surrogates die in a similar manner simultaneously. Greer begins to suspect that some kind of advanced weapon is at work, a weapon that can destroy a surrogate and kill the operator through its remote connection at the same time. His investigation leads him to one of the enclaves of people who don't allow surrogates into their community. It leads him to the inventor of surrogates, Canter (James Cromwell of “The Queen”).

As he proceeds with his investigation, Greer becomes more and more fed up with his own experience using a surrogate. After his own surrogate body is destroyed, he decides to continue the investigation “in the flesh.” The surrogates call him a “meatbag.” He begins to realize both he and his wife, Maggie (Rosamund Pike of “Pride and Prejudice”) have been hiding in their surrogates, avoiding the pain of facing reality, and the death of their son in an auto accident. Greer finds he has a profound connection with Canter, whose son was recently killed. The two share some of the same feelings toward surrogates. In one scene Greer beats up a surrogate, who laughs at him because the operator feels no pain. In another scene, he is beaten up by other people in the human enclave. One of them, noting Greer's pain, says it feels different feeling things “in the flesh,” instead of by proxy through a surrogate.

As events roll toward a cataclysmic conclusion involving the fate of billions of people, Greer winds up being in a position to decide the fate of those billions of people. His decision is a bit reminiscent of a similar choice once made by a character named Snake Plissken. This movie does what science fiction is supposed to do, but seldom does anymore, it makes a comment about today's society by taking current trends and carrying them to a profound technological conclusion. There are no surrogates now, but people are using technology to hide behind their computers and mobile phones. They interact through computer avatars and pretend to be different than they really are. This film takes that trend and advances it to its logical conclusion. It rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2009 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)