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Film: Surrogates

Surrogates is a film by Jonathan Mostow (Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines) based on the comic The Surrogates. Bruce Willis stars.

Set Twenty Minutes into the Future (2017), Surrogates gives us a world where everybody (or at least the USA) lives through robotic puppets known as Surrogates. The appeal of this lifestyle is obvious from the outset: Freedom to live life the way you want, looking how you want, without the downsides of pain and death. That is until FBI Agent Tom Greer comes across a victim somehow killed through their Surrogate.

Given how large a role Surrogates play in people's lives, Greer expectantly meets heavy resistance to the notion someone is able to target people through their mechanical avatars. And as it becomes more clear that there is someone attempting to destroy this way of life Tom soon finds himself outside the safety of his machine body.

The film primarily deals with identity problems and warns against the use of crutches for those who don't need them.


Surrogates provides examples of:

  • An Aesop: A rather Anvilicious one in the film about how we should all get up off our collective duff and interact with people eyeball-to-eyeball.
  • Anti-Villain: Lionel Cantor has some sympathetic qualities (putting aside the murdering pregnant women part); he regrets inventing the surrogates and wants to free humanity from his mistake. Until at the end in a case of What the Hell Anti-Villain? he decides to cause one billion completely avoidable deaths.
  • As You Know: Considering surrogates have been around for 11 years, Greer and Peters sure like telling each other about them.
  • The Atoner: Lionel Canter, who invented surrogates in the first place. He's also the one who dropped copious hints to Greer as if he wanted to be stopped. Or maybe he was just playing with him.
    • It's possible he would have liked there to be another way to reach his goal, but he was so deep in depression and grief that he couldn't find it.
  • Becoming the Mask: Maggie Greer.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Cantor.
  • Big Applesauce: Averted. The film was shot in Boston. the comic was set in Central Georgia Metropolis.
  • Bloodless Carnage: The surrogates are machines.
  • Captain Obvious
    Guard: You look terrible!
    Tom Greer: Thanks. You, too.
    • Not to mention that Peters remarks in amazement that Tom looks like his surrogate. While we see other surrogates can have different appearances to their operators and Peters may not have been partnered with Tom before Surrogates became common place, you'd think the FBI of all people, would keep photographic records of Agent's actual appearance in their personnel files.
  • The Chessmaster: Lionel Canter.
  • Children Are Innocent: They can remind Greer of his own innocence by playing baseball!
  • Deus ex Machina: Saunders suddenly changes the rules of the superweapon out of nowhere so it doesn't kill anyone.
  • Dynamic Entry: The fashion in which Tom enters Maggie's room, without even trying the door beforehand.
  • Expendable Clone: Any surrogate not zapped by the superweapon from the army to the annoying guy Greer punches out at his wife's party.
  • Eye Scream: The weapon's effects. Also liquefies brains.
  • Face-Heel Turn: Peters' surrogate.
  • Fantastic Drug: "Jacking" aka "electro-bong meets vibrator."
  • Fantastic Racism: In less than 10 years, everyone who doesn't use a Surrogate is looked down upon as being an uncultured luddite by the masses who call them "Meatbags" and "Dreads" and treat them as though they are sub-human. This despite the fact that they themselves have to routinely offline in order get off their own "meatbag" asses in order to eat or use the bathroom.
    • On the other hand, the "Dreads" are not much better, being able to rapidly organise a lynch-mob once they realise that Greer is a Surrogate. Not to mention, Surrogate or not, there is really no excuse for unloading a double-barrelled shotgun into someone's face and still think you get to keep the moral high-ground afterwards.
    • In fairness, that's not half as bad as the things the Surrogates do to each other.
  • Fantastic Slurs: "Meatbag".
  • GIFT and G.I.R.L.: Among the first victims of the OD is a hot female model surrogate that turns out to be an old, fat man, and people tend to use the no-consequence nature of Surrogates with abandon.
  • Grand Theft Me: Canter kills Greer's partner, and impersonates her via Surrogate.
    • And then Greer himself hijacks the surrogate, from the dead man's chair no less, to stop the surrogate-shutdown from killing billions.
  • Green Aesop: At least in the film, being "close to nature" (not just the abandonment of surrogates) is portrayed as being of a higher moral caliber.
  • Hell-Bent for Leather: It's the last act. Bruce Willis has reclaimed his humanity and is going to kick ass. Time to don a black leather jacket!
  • Hey, It's That Guy!: James Cromwell as a technological genius whose invention has revolutionized the world? Where have I seen this bit before?
  • Homage: Oh boy. Snow Crash, Blade Runner, Minority Report (in fact anything Philip K. Dick ever wrote), The Terminator, The Matrix, Mars Attacks!, Bicentennial Man, I, Robot, (and other works of Isaac Asimov), Alien, Doctor Who, Westworld, Battlestar Galactica, Ghost in the Shell.
  • It's All About Me: Canter and Greer feels entitled to decide that the world should be changed to fit their worldview. Canter especially, who feels entitled to dictate how people use the technology he invented, by mass murder if necessary.
  • Justin Time: The virus upload.
  • Lemming Cops: There's only one of them, but the sheer carnage that Tom wreaks in the chase scene qualifies.
  • Marionette Master: Well, everyone. But specifically Lionel Cantor.
  • May-December Romance: Tom and Maggie.
  • Mega Corp.: VSI.
  • Misapplied Phlebotinum: In this film exists the technology to control machines with your mind. Take a few minutes and think about what the world would really be like if we had that. For example, why control robot infantry that look human and are even wearing combat fatigues and helmets? Why not just control a tank?
    • Unless the human mind is unable to cope with controlling a non-human interface? Imagine the difficulty a surrogate might have if it was given control over seven fingers, instead of the usual five?
      • Studies of video games and prosthetics both have shown that our minds are highly adaptive to mapping existing motor functions to new action outputs.
  • The Mole: Strickland was working for Andrew Stone, who wanted Canter dead, possibly on VSI orders.
  • Most Common Superpower: Notable among many female "surries".
  • Myself My Avatar: The Surrogates.
  • New Media Are Evil: A world where everyone stays home all day and only interacts with each other via an avatar that only reflects what you want other people to see? Gee, that couldn't possibly be a metaphor for something, could it?
  • No Endor Holocaust: Justified in the big car pileup in the middle of the film since most people would be using surrogates. However it's played straight in the ending. We are told explicitly no humans died when surrogates went offline, despite the likelihood many were flying planes, performing surgery, driving and other tasks that could cause widescale devestation if interrupted.
    • And the excuse that "most people are surrogates anyway, so few would be hurt" doesn't wash. Even if a crashing plane's occupants were all surrogates, there's nothing stopping said plane from hitting a populated area, with hundreds of thousands unable to escape because they were plugged into their own surrogates and unaware of the danger. A surgeon working through a surrogate would still, presumably, be working on a flesh-and-blood patient, who might die if their surgeon, and possibly the entire operating room staff, were all surrogates who suddenly went offline in mid-operation. Etc., etc.
  • Only Sane Man: Tom Greer. Downplayed—he is the only sane man in the surrogate world. There are plenty of people that agree with him on the reservations.
  • Pre-emptive Declaration: "I found Greer. He's been in an accident at Market and Andover." And then Greer looks up and sees the street signs...
  • Red Shirt: Five armed cops cornering a fleeing suspect clutching a mysterious grey box? This isn't going to end well.
  • Red Shirt Army: The U.S. Army surrogates, called G.I. Joes. Hur hur.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Lionel Canter.
  • Remote Body: The basic premise of the movie.
  • The Reveal: Canter is The Prophet.
  • Revised Ending: In the comic, Maggie commits suicide after her surrogate is destroyed. In the film, she and Tom just hug.
  • Ridiculously Human Robots: Hmm Bruce Willis sure looks like Robot Bruce Willis, that could be confusing. Fortunately one has a beard and the other wears a wig!
  • Robotic Assembly Lines: Produce surrogate bodies.
  • Robotic Reveal: Done as a Tear Off Your Face.
  • Sexless Marriage: Tom and Maggie Greer.
  • Tear Off Your Face: It's a robot!!
  • This Is Gonna Suck: Greer laying there staring down one of the Dreads' double-barrel shotgun after already being blasted in the chest by it.
  • Time Bomb: The virus upload.
  • The Extremist Was Right: This seems implied of Canter.
  • Urban Segregation: The Prophet's enclave.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: No less than three times.
    • The absolute control the FBI has over all surrogates (which are used by ~99% of the world—even third-world countries). Oh, and no one knows they can play God, either.
    • Except for Canter who intends to use it to destroy every surrogate everywhere, and every user.
    • Except that he gets stopped, and Tom is the one who ultimately does the deed, destroying the surrogates but only after ensuring that no one would die.
  • Villain Has a Point: And Greer ultimately seems to agree with it in the end judging by his actions (or lack thereof in the particulars). He just manages to go about Canter's plan in a less mass-murdery way.
  • What You Are in the Dark: I can be anything I want without anyone ever finding out, and the worst thing that can happen to me is that I have to order a new robot? What could possibly go wrong here?

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