Comic Book Movies 101: Surrogates

Now when I first saw Surrogates I compared it very much to the Arnold Schwarzenegger film The Sixth Day.  Both films were set in the future and involved people expanding their lifespan in some way.  Arnold’s world has the use of clones, Willis here uses a surrogate. Beyond that there is very little to compare apart from the fact that there’s a conspiracy going on and it’s to do with these hooks in the film.

On second viewing I was surprised just how deep Surrogates goes. It actually makes a pretty good commentary on people as consumers and how we face aging. It isn’t quite the “more human than human” of Blade Runner, but it‘s still a fresh way to look at the world. And it’s in the drama that this film finds its strengths – namely through the natural Bruce Willis (as opposed to his surrogate). He is forced to face the outside world and more importantly the relationship with his youth-obsessed wife (Rosamund Pike).

To back up, Willis plays a cop (uh huh) who’s trying to find out who’s destroying surrogates with a new weapon (which also fries the mind of the user). About a third of the way through in one of the film’s better action sequences (and it is the action that’s lacking in this film) his surrogate is destroyed which forces him to use his own body to go about his tasks.  He can buy himself a new body to use, but he finds himself (if uncomfortably) drawn back to his own limited human existence and not losing his soul through the common day vanity.

The action keeps turning over – but the suspense plot seems to become almost secondary to Willis’ plight. He confronts his wife on many occasions almost begging her to return to her real body and face the future together. But as she is mentally and physically scarred (and remains locked up in her room) she refutes almost anything he has to say to her – almost like a woman about to run off with another man.  The tension between the two reaches its zenith when he comes home to find her and some socialite friends at the house getting carried away. He responds to the scene by literally beating the flesh off one of the male surrogates.

By the end of the film the subject of using surrogates reaches its climax when Willis, having saved us from the bad guy, finds that the surrogate mainframe is about to shut down which will kill every user.  With the aid of a computer nerd Willis (now using his partner’s body?) shuts down the threat to the human users but then pauses on shutting down the threat to the surrogates. Instead, he decides not to comply and lets the world of surrogates shut down.  This is perhaps due to his own selfish needs – especially in wanting to have his real wife back.

Every surrogate does indeed shut down – and it seems we are saved from ourselves and our own vanity.  Still – I’m sure all the other people who actually use surrogates for practical purposes like saving on travel were probably a bit cross – imagine you live in the UK and you use a surrogate in Asia.  Saves a lot of travel time and expense!  Or even disabled people – I’m sure they won’t be too happy about having their surrogate taken away.  The film it seems only wants to make comment on surrogates as pleasure drones and how we’re ignoring who we are beneath the skin. Which, if you get onboard for that alone, is fair enough.

Willis does indeed get his wife back – but in the graphic novel there’s a much darker ending where she commits suicide, rather than live without her surrogate. A darker ending and perhaps one with more power than the film delivers. But the happy ending doesn’t seem forced.

I suspect Surrogates will in time mature more with audiences and they will see it as one of Willis’ better films. His performance is actually pretty good. The supporting cast is also good with Radha Mitchell taking on quite a complex role in Willis’ partner.  She has to play the human partner, the surrogate partner, the bad guy and Willis throughout the film, depending on who’s using her surrogate. Pike is also very convincing as the wife. James Cromwell and Ving Rhames may seem wasted, but their parts do actually reflect the material and the plot. You ain’t supposed to see them too often!

Steven Hurst

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