SURROGATES (Jonathan Mostow, 2009)
In the futuristic world of SURROGATES, most people stay at home and mentally control human-looking androids that they send out to work and play. Since it's rare for people to leave their private spheres, crime has plummeted.
If a surrogate is damaged in any way, the operator remains unharmed. Or at least that's always been the case until cop Tom Greer (Bruce Willis) discovers that two operators died when their surrogates were attacked and terminated. The possibility that users can be harmed through their surrogates threatens to upend civilization's current way of functioning.
SURROGATES establishes an intriguing premise for exploring a world in which virtual life trumps physical reality, but the thematic potential is squandered in favor of a by-the-numbers police procedural. Who's responsible for murdering people through their surrogates is much less interesting than thinking about technological innovations and the foreseen and unexpected social and ethical implications they can have on society.
In SURROGATES who one can be depends on the mechanical avatar chosen to represent oneself. But what are the costs of putting forth a false or idealized image and withdrawing from an existence outside one's home? SURROGATES is a movie that has a lot on its mind but chooses the least compelling aspect to focus on.
I've read nothing to suggest that the film was tampered with in the editing room, but SURROGATES has the marks of a movie that's been oversimplified due to a studio's lack of confidence in its complexity. Most noticeably, the surrogate resistance movement gets short shrift when it would seem to be critical to digging into the film's themes.
The sleek visual texture and rich thematic potential make director Jonathan Mostow's inability to corral the ideas all the more disappointing. Technology often moves faster than society can deal with the moral quandaries it creates. SURROGATES poses some provocative questions. If only it had debated them.