Surrogates

surrogates cover

Surrogates - Cover

Surrogates is a rather thought provoking science fiction film that I wanted to watch for a while. It is a bit heavy on the action side, but you ought to expect that from any movie that features Bruce Willis. What I was really excited about wast the topic matter. Surrogates asks a very interesting question: how would our society change if we all could purchase a robotic stand-in body in which we would experience the outside world, from the safety and comfort of our bedroom?

The movie takes place in a near future where advances in biology and neurology coincided to allow creation of a seamless brain wave operated user interface that allowed a user to control prosthetic body parts with his or her mind. Eventually the technology culminated in creating a concept of surrogacy. Why replace a lost body part if you could build yourself a whole new body. One that is stronger, more handsome and that will never age. You could just sit at home all day, and experience the world through your idealized robotic body. As you can imagine, surrogates end up selling better than the iPhone and soon enough everyone is using them. Surrogates become as ubiquitous as cars – everyone owns at least one regardless of income and social status.

surrogate bed thing

This is how it works. You lie on the bed, put the thing on your head and you are good to go.

How does it change the way we live? Surprisingly the new technology has wide reaching social effects. I often say that trying to solve social problems using technology is like using a fish to repair a bicycle. It makes no sense. For example, piracy is becoming more prevalent every year despite thousands of man hours sunk into developing effective copy protection mechanisms. It just doesn’t work. Surrogacy is different though. It completely revolutionizes human interaction in unprecedented ways just like the internet did for us.

The great revolution of human communication is probably the most concisely summarized by the Peter Steiner cartoon published in the New Yorker in 1993 titled: “On the internet, nobody knows you are a dog”. The new electronic communication medium gave us a brand new way of exchanging pure ideas – completely detached from their authors race, gender, ethnicity, religion or thousands of other factors. It allowed people to be public while hiding their identity at the same time. It allowed us to put ideas first, and prejudice and stereotypes second. Surrogacy does the exact same thing for face-to-face communication.

flesh wound

This? This is just a flesh wound!

Your surrogate can look any way you want it to look. Things like race, gender and ethnicity become largely irrelevant since anyone can be a gorgeous blue eyed, blond girl or a handsome tall black man. Physical appearance becomes purely a matter of preference and aesthetics. In a world where everyone wears perfectly proportioned, beautiful plastic bodies there is no place for things like racism or sexism. It’s actually quite ironic if you think about it. Only after we all exchange our flesh for silicon, men start to be judged based on their personality, intellect and skill rather than on how they look and what genetic stock do they hail from. But this profound social change is only the tip of the iceberg, as there are some other far reaching implications.

Surrogacy also helps to prevent human tragedy by removing the element of danger from risky jobs such as police work. It also allows American soldiers to fight for their country without risking their lives. The price of war is now paid in cash rather than in human lives. It also helps to eradicate most of the known infectious diseases and STD’s since people no longer gather in large groups but stay at home most of the time.

soldiers have no faces

Surrogate soldiers get standard issue bodies with rudimentary faces as seen here.

Oh, and you don’t need condoms anymore. Apparently having sex via the surrogate body is just as good, if not better than the real thing. And even if it’s not exactly as good its safer and more convenient, since a remotely controlled robot can’t catch a nasty disease or get pregnant, but it can get you off.

It sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Are there any downsides to this great technology? There are.

Some people have problems letting go of their idealized surrogates leading to some marital/family issues. For example, Tom Greer (Bruce Willis) haven’t seen his wife in flesh in several years. She prefers to interact with him via her youthful, attractive surrogate rather than him to see her aging body. While surrogacy revolutionizes our public interactions, it seems to have a stunting effects on peoples private lives. Surrogate users become shut ins, avoid real human contact, develop germo-phobias and personal space issues. Families are less closely knit, and often fall apart. It is clear that this trend will only increase in strength, as new generations of surrogate users won’t even remember a world without them.

In 10 or 20 years the world portrayed in the movie would probably morph into something akin to the Solarian society in Isaac Asimov’s novel The Naked Sun. People would likely completely cease to interact “in the flesh”, live alone and reproduce via artificial insemination. They would still have colorful social lives, have sex and form long term relationships but via surrogates. Is this type of society we want to have, is a different question altogether. Greer seems to instinctively pick up on this idea, and so he tries to maintain a healthy balance between use of surrogates and personal life. He can see what ability to live via idealized robotic bodies does to people psychologically, and he does not like it.

Yippee-Ki-Yay

Sir, I guess what I'm trying to say here is Yippee-Ki-Yay motherfucker. So yeah... Get on with that.

Sadly, the movie doesn’t dwell on this interesting problem as much as it should. Instead it uses time for action and suspense as it turns out that someone has devised a weapon that can fry surrogate operators brain via the robot link. It’s some sort of a fancy guy that looks like a flashlight. You shine it in the face of a robot adversary and the operator dies instantly. There is some hand waving going on to describe how it works, and it’s all rather silly. I didn’t like this idea at all, but alas – they wanted tension and suspense. So naturally, the dangerous weapon falls into the hands of a radical ant-surrogacy, pro-flesh religious movement and Greer (an FBI agent) must recover it before the group can do some real damage.

And so we get treated to bunch of car chases, action scenes, surrogate bodies blowing up from inside out and a mandatory plot twist and an utterly pointless and stupid ending. The movie had great potential and could have been a quite profound science fiction picture if it didn’t try so hard to be an action flick. The two genres usually mix fairly well, but Surrogates came out rather bland on both fronts. I’d still recommend seeing it, if only for the interesting setting and the social commentary.

The next few paragraphs will be me ranting about the stupidity of the last act, so please skip it if you are planning to watch the film. MJOR SPOILERS LURK BELOW.

I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t comment on one ridiculous aspect of the surrogate technology. Apparently all the surrogates in the world are produced by a single company. Furthermore that company seems to route the wireless signals through the network they own, and the American police has a complete unrestricted access to that network. They can tap into visual feed of any surrogate user in the world without a court warrant – and seem to do it on a daily basis. There is a scene in the movie during which a surveillance team notices a domestic abuse scenario by observing the feed of a surrogate user who is assaulting a female who is present in the flesh. The main operator then seems to “email” a judge to obtain a court warrant in order to forcefully disconnect the assailant.

This literally made me rage at the screen, because it is so blatantly stupid. First of all, this sort of open invigilation would never fly. There is no way any global communication network would give the police such a free reign over very private transmissions. The company would get sued into oblivion and be forced to encrypt their transmissions, only allowing law enforcement to listen in if they already have a warrant. I would also expect other countries to be fairly upset that the surrogates of their heads of states can be freely spied on by American law dogs. It’s so stupid that it’s aggravating! How can a movie be so insightful about impact of surrogacy on human life, and so damn ignorant about this.

Of course this setup was necessary to allow Greer to blow up all surrogates in the final scene of the movie. You see, the bad guy attaches the surrogate-killing gun to the stalker console and tries to kill every surrogate user by transmitting the deadly signal all over the world. Greer stops him just in the nick of time, and manages to disable the signal. However it turns out that the second wave of the signal will fuck up all the robots connected to the system. Greer hesitates for few seconds, and then allows the signal to be sent, permanently disabling every robotic body in the whole world.

For the LULZ

LOL! Look GUISE I destroyed all the surrogates for the LULZ!

Then he goes home and finally hugs his wife, for the first time in years. Agggghghfgkjdgf! WHAT THE FUCK?! I literally face palmed at that point. The movie makes a really strong case for the surrogacy. It shows how it revolutionized human interaction, how it eliminated hate crimes, wars and made life safe and comfortable. It briefly portrays Greer’s marital problems as a unfortunate side effect of this revolution. Then it has Greer destroy this way of life and tries to pass him off as some sort of a hero. Fuck this. What Greer did in the final scene was selfish and stupid. He saved his marriage at the cost of destroying millions of dollars of private property, possibly fucking up crucial military operations and possibly killing god knows how many people.

I mean, as far as we know there might have been people being operated on by surrogate surgeons. Real flesh people could have been flying on plans piloted by surrogates. Traffic helicopters could have crashed into apartment buildings killing hundreds of people. This was not just pulling a plug on bunch of remote controlled robots. This stunt would have a staggering body count of unfortunate innocent victims. Not to mention it would wreck worldwide economy that heavily relied on surrogacy. Greer wouldn’t even get a chance to reconnect with his wife. He would instantly become a public enemy #1 and the most dangerous terrorist in the history of the world. He would be hunted down put away for a very long time. No one can destroy a global communication network, sabotage millions of dollars worth of hardware causing millions of deaths (let’s face it, it would be millions – he fucked up the whole surrogacy grid) in the process and just walk away. Not unless it is a stupid move.

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5 Responses to Surrogates

  1. Zeke UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    sounds good to me. hahaha. although i do agree with you on the fact that the law enforcement had unrestricted access and could remotely disable ones surrogate. i will have to see the movie to know more about it.

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  2. copperfish Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    Watched the movie after you commented on it. I thought it was a pretty decent science fiction film. I like the fact that they paid attention to certain things like the need to charge your surrogates because I’ve seen far too many films that just assume something like “micro fusion generator” and ignore reality.

    Your network comment is fair, but the angle the movie takes is not entirely implausible. Take the iPhone ecosystem or the Kindle ecosystem and the control Apple or Amazon has over each and extrapolate that into the future.

    The robot killing bit was like any “humanity against technology” plot I’ve seen over the years. I agree that the likelihood of no human casualties is zero. That just wasn’t plausible. As for whether his actions were selfish? I suppose they were, but given the saviour angle and the stated fact that no humans died I think we were supposed to look past it. I was comfortable to have everyone lose their barbie doll alter egos and have to face the real world.

    A much more effective plotline would have been:

    1. Multiple companies and networks exist in the surrogate market.
    2. Greer destroys the surrogates of one of the networks he has access to.
    3. Planes crash, humans die.
    4. People begin to doubt the promised safety of surrogates.
    5. Human backups are required for jobs like flying planes.
    6. Surrogates are still used, but become less popular as you can die if you use them just like in real life.
    7. Greer still resolves his relationship with his wife and goes into hiding.
    8. The world moves on and is wiser.

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  3. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    @ copperfish:

    You know, they should hire some of us interenet people to review and edit movie scripts before they are made. :)

    On an unrelated (or semi-related note) have you seen the new TV commercials they have been showing to promote the DVD release in US? It’s like a whole different movie they are selling.

    It pretty much goes like this:

    1. A quick “In a world…” opening
    2. Narrator says something about a new terrible weapon
    3. Shot to Bruce Willing saying something like “We are all in danger”
    4. Cut to shots of the Surrogates switching off from the end of the movie
    5. Narrator says that Bruce is the only man who can stop it
    6. Car chase, explosion, explosion, helicopter crash, boom, boom, boom
    7. Surrogates – buy today on DVD

    They are pretty much selling it as an action flick in which Bruce is fighting terrorists with some futuristic weapon of mass destruction that makes people fall over or something. It’s so misleading it’s hilarious.

    Look it up on youtube if you haven’t seen it yet. Me and my brother have been looking at these TV spots since the DVD premiere and they have been progressively re-cutting them to seem more like Die Hard and less like SF every week. Its actually pretty funny to see this process in action.

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  4. Just want to point out; plot and motives are better in the comic it is based on. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Surrogates )

    Just like with 300, Watchmen, and the three in a pac Marvel ones.

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  5. Ken UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    I agree completely with your complaints about the ending — I was ranting after the movie about how many people would have just been killed.

    Although, I’m thinking that the fact he just saved a billion people might mitigate the punishment for causing (by inaction) the death of probably thousands.

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