Follow TV Tropes


Film / Surrogates

Go To

Surrogates is a 2009 film by Jonathan Mostow and based on the comic The Surrogates. Features Bruce Willis, Rosamund Pike, Ving Rhames, and James Cromwell.

Set 20 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. Not everyone agrees with this, as there is a movement, led by a mysterious and charismatic man known only as "The Prophet", that is opposed to surrogacy and considers it to be a perversion of human interaction, but for most of society, surrogacy provides guaranteed safety.

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, and forced into the real world... and in the process, he begins to question the society's way of life and how fulfilling it really is.

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:

  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: In the comic, Maggie commits suicide after her surrogate is destroyed. In the film, she and Tom just hug.
  • Anti-Escapism Aesop: In the world of the film, nobody interacts in-person anymore; instead, the robotic surrogates are used as a substitute. Using the surrogates, people can now step into their dream body and be completely safe from any real harm, doing everything in the comfort of their own home. The message of the film is about how this has rendered human interaction meaningless, and how we were not meant to live like this; instead, we should all get up off our collective duff and interact with people eyeball-to-eyeball. Protagonist Tom Greer, upon being disconnected from his surrogate, finds himself wanting to actually interact with people and not robots. The film ends with Tom allowing a virus to destroy all the surrogates to force everyone to go outside and be human again.
  • Anti-Villain: The Prophet/Lionel Cantor has some sympathetic qualities (putting aside his murder of the pregnant Jennifer); he despises how the Surrogates have completely replaced human interaction, regrets inventing the surrogates, and wants to free humanity from his mistake. Until at the end he decides to cause one billion completely avoidable deaths.
  • Apocalypse Wow: The film ends in a way with this, as all the surrogates just shut down, and as a result, cars start crashing en masse into buildings and each other, with all the destruction drawn out (though it is Bloodless Carnage since the surrogates are not human.
  • 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.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Zigzagged. Canter kills himself, believing his plan cannot be stopped, but Greer does get the means to stop the deaths of all the people connected to surrogates. However, he doesn't disable the virus that destroys them and allows it to happen, giving Carter exactly what he wanted.
  • Becoming the Mask: Maggie Greer.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: On one end is The Prophet/Lionel Canter, the leader of the anti-Surrogate movement and creator of the Surrogates who is angry at how society is misusing the technology he created and wants to destroy it, killing the billion users in the process. On the other end, Andrew "Andy" Stone is the one who hired Miles Strickland to assassinate Lionel to stop his plan and uphold the dystopian Surrogate society.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Subverted. The surrogates, being machines, usually do not shed blood when beaten up or penetrated; this is part of their appeal for the users. But they do seem to leak an awful lot of green hydraulic fluid when smashed.
  • Call a Human a "Meatbag": Odd human-to-human variant. There are two kinds of humans in the movie; those that use their animatronic counterparts, and those who don't. Those who do always refer to those who don't as "meatbags" as an insult because they refuse to openly embrace the cultural norm.
  • Captain Obvious
    Guard: You look terrible!
    Tom Greer: Thanks. You, too.
  • The Chessmaster: Lionel Canter.
  • Children Are Innocent: They can remind Greer of his own innocence by playing baseball.
    • Subverted in the prequel comic, where a teenage boy gets his hands on his fathers' surrogate and beats a homeless man to death with it For the Evulz.
  • Composite Character: The Prophet and Lionel are two different characters in the original comic and the former is actually killed by the latter, although they both agree that surrogacy is a bad thing.
  • 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.
  • Evil Luddite: The Dread rebels, who despise Surrogacy and want to destroy it, are portrayed as a bunch of redneck hicks. However, they are seen as having a point; as their charismatic leader, the Prophet, says, the widespread use of surrogates have cheapened human interaction. The protagonist's decision to allow surrogate technology to be destroyed is also treated fairly positively in the ending, despite current society relying on them.
  • Expendable Clone: Any surrogate not zapped by the superweapon, from the army to the annoying guy Greer punches out at his wife's party, is considered this since the actual person piloting the surrogate is completely safe. Notably, when Greer beats down the guy at the party, he and the others just laugh, knowing full well no one is in any real danger.
  • The Extremist Was Right: This seems implied of Canter.
  • Eye Scream: The weapon's effects. Also liquefies brains.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Peters' surrogate.
  • Fantastic Drug: "Jacking", essentially "electro-bong meets vibrator", is used by the surrogates to translate the feeling of a drug high to their operators.
  • Fantastic Racism: On both sides of the Surrogate divide.
    • In less than 10 years, everyone who doesn't use a Surrogate is looked down upon as being an uncultured luddite by the Surrogate 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 go offline to get off their own "meatbag" asses in order to eat or use the bathroom. It is possible that this is coming from a certain amount of projection since, judging by many of the main characters, many of those who use Surrogates tend to have plenty of self-loathing, neuroses and insecurities.
    • On the other hand, the "Dreads" are not much better, being able to rapidly organize a lynch-mob once they realize that Greer is a Surrogate. Not to mention, Surrogate or not, there is really no excuse for unloading a double-barreled shotgun into someone's face and still think you get to keep the moral high-ground afterwards. Even so, that's not half as bad as the things the Surrogates do to each other.
  • Fantastic Slurs: "Meatbag".
  • G.I.R.L.: Among the first victims of the OD, the operator of the seductive, female model surrogate at the nightclub that got fried, turns out to be an old, fat man. The characters don't treat this "revelation" as unusual or noteworthy in any way, implying this happens a lot.
  • Gone Horribly Right:
    • The surrogates themselves were developed by Lionel Canter to help disabled people like him move around with no limitations. It ended up becoming so popular that everyone began using them for things like getting a dream body, resulting in an agoraphobic society of shut-ins. Lionel himself regrets this so much that he creates a surrogate alter-ego, "The Prophet", and uses it to create an anti-surrogate resistance and formulate a plan to destroy surrogates for good.
    • The "OD" anti-Surrogate weapon. The US military invented it as a means to disable armies of Surrogates in one shot, which it does very well. What they didn't expect was that it disables the Surrogate operators just as permanently.
  • Grand Theft Me: Unique variant; the remote-controlled body of Greer's partner Jennifer Peters is hijacked by not one, but two different characters. Lionel Canter kills and impersonates her via her Surrogate to use her as The Mole, and then Greer himself hijacks the surrogate, from the dead Canter's chair no less, to stop the surrogate-shutdown from killing billions.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: VSI, the MegaCorp that creates the surrogates, has a stranglehold on society since everyone now relies on the surrogates, making them responsible for the dystopian world depicted in the film where agoraphobia is societally entrenched and human interaction is almost non-existent. They also created the super-weapon that the resistance is trying to steal. They never take direct action, though- of the two main antagonists, the Prophet/Lionel Canter is trying to bring down their dystopian society at great cost, while Andy Stone is working with them to uphold the society and kill anyone who opposes them.
  • 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!
  • It's All About Me: Canter has a point that his invention that he created to help the disabled and the enfeebled live normal lives has been capitalized on for profit by producing it for the masses. However, he feels he has the right to decide how the world is meant to use his technology, and intends to destroy all the surrogates and kill everyone using one.
  • Just in 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: Lionel Canter, the inventor of the surrogates, uses them much more than anyone else. In the film, he uses a handsome executive, a young teen boy, and a black hippie-ish man known as "The Prophet" as remote bodies, and his office shows that he has quite a few more.
  • May–December Romance: Tom and Maggie are an interesting subversion. Their actors have 24 years between them, and due to the surrogate technology, everyone appears as an idealized version of themselves, with Maggie's surrogate appearing as a woman in her late 20s or so, and Tom's as a well-kept 50-something. The relationship is portrayed as normal and not unusual. However, the reveal shows Maggie's Older Than They Look and her true body is shown to be that of a woman in her late-40s/early 50s.
  • MegaCorp: VSI, the company that makes the surrogates, has quite a bit of control on the US government now that all of society depends on surrogates to go outside. They are so powerful that they are even able to buy off a high-ranking FBI agent to assassinate their retired former CEO.
  • Misapplied Phlebotinum: In this film, the technology exists 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?
  • The Mole: Andrew Stone was the one who hired Strickland and wanted Canter dead on VSI orders.
  • Most Common Superpower: Notable among many female "surries".
  • Myself, My Avatar: The plot has this happen on a global scale in everyday life- everyone uses the titular robot bodies to go around, while their real bodies are kept inside their homes.
  • 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. Basically, the robot surrogates stand in for just about everything wrong about New Media and how's it preventing social interaction and true "humanity." The original comic book has this as well, particularly when the protagonist asks his wife to have dinner with him... and she immediately heads to her room to connect with her surrogate. When he tries to stop her and ask her to have dinner with him physically, she angrily tells him that he may be happy with his Real Life appearance, but she isn't. At the end of the story, after he lets all the surrogates be shut down, he comes home to find that she committed suicide.
  • 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 wide-scale devastation if interrupted.
  • Oh, Crap!: Stone's reaction right before he gets his brain fried via his surrogate.
  • 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.
  • Out-of-Character Alert: Tom Greer is tipped off that his partner's surrogate isn't being controlled by his actual partner when she refers to him by his last name. Everybody else in the movie does this, but she always called him Tom.
  • People Puppets: The surrogates are basically Second Life in real life, only the "avatars" are slightly overdone Uncanny Valley robots. Someone has found a way to kill the "users" when they kill the robots, which was previously impossible (there is a grizzled detective, but he's a long-time Surrogate user and probably not as technophobic as, say, Will Smith's character in I, Robot).
  • Pre-emptive Declaration: "I found Greer. He's been in an accident at Market and Hanover." And then Greer looks up and sees the street signs...
  • Rapid-Fire Typing: Tom Greer types this way in a scene, seemingly calling up dozens of files with each stroke.
  • Red Shirt: Six 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.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Lionel Canter.
  • Remote Body: The titular surrogates are robots that are remotely piloted by users in their homes, and have become ubiquitous in society, replacing human interaction entirely. The Prophet also turns out to be this for Lionel Canter.
  • Residual Self-Image: The film has this trope in spades given that literally anyone can carry out their everyday lives through a robot that looks exactly how they'd like it to. Age, race and gender are decided by the user.
  • The Reveal: Canter is The Prophet.
  • Ridiculously Human Robots: The Surrogates, although they still need maintenance and the human users still need to take care of their own human needs.
  • Robotic Assembly Lines: VSI has some that produce the surrogate bodies.
  • Robotic Reveal: The Prophet, the leader of the anti-surrogate movement, is revealed to be a surrogate controlled by Lionel Canter, the surrogates' inventor, when he is shot and we see circuitry inside his body.
  • Setting Update: The comic book was set in 2054 "Central Georgia Metropolis", while the movie is set in 2017 Boston.
  • Sex by Proxy: Some people willingly let others access their robotic avatars to feel the pleasure of living in a perfect body (and touching it).
  • Sexless Marriage: Tom and Maggie Greer.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: At the end of the original comic, Maggie Greer committed suicide after the Surrogates were all shut down. In the movie, she and her husband instead just face each other physically for the first time in years.
  • Tear Off Your Face: Done to some of the surrogates as part of surgical procedures.
  • Technophobia: There are "dread reservations" which consist of communities that strongly oppose the use of surrogate robots, which are used by the vast majority of the world's population to live their daily lives risk free. The "Dreads" consider the surrogates to be abominations and will attack surrogates if they come into their communities.
  • The Blank: Pictures from the movie (Second Life in Real Life via sexy androids) show the two leads inspecting android soldiers: their faces consist of two tiny camera lenses for eyes and vague brow/nose ridges.
  • The Most Dangerous Video Game: People feel safe when they only interact with the real world through the titular robotic avatars: if it is destroyed, it is merely inconvenient. The discovery that someone has been remotely killed "through" their surrogate shocks the police and kick-starts the plot.
  • There Are No Girls on the Internet: The first victim is an overweight male who operated a sexy female surrogate.
  • 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. He is only saved by the fact that he is operating a Remote Body.
  • Time Bomb: The virus upload.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The entire campaign for Surrogates was a spoiler: James Cromwell's character, Lionel Canter (who invented the surrogates), describes them as "an addiction", which makes him easy to guess as the killer, and every trailer and TV spot showed the surrogates shutting down and collapsing in the street, which is the ending to the movie.
  • Uncanny Valley: The film does this intentionally, as almost every surrogate is "too perfect." They have a shiny, overly made-up look and clearly aren't quite people. A number of the actors portraying surrogates appeared to take special care moving just a hair more stiffly, and to not look like they were breathing. And while certain surrogates are indistinguishable from real people, like the Prophet, the "life-like" appearance varied according to the quality and model of the surrogate. Cam's landlord, for instance, is using a cheap, temporary model. This is especially evident on Bruce Willis' character's surrogate, who has the worst toupee in the world, and a scary-smooth face, which makes him look super-creepy. The main character's wife is likewise scary, particularly something about her Michael Jackson-esque nose. To add a dash of creepy, she works in a "beauty salon" where she peels off customers' faces and cleans them. The fact that there is a whole planet of sad shut-ins living through these weird robots just digs that Valley deeper and adds another layer to a movie that's already dark. Given that the moral is that the surrogates' artificiality is destroying real human interaction, this was very much intentional to emphasize the message.
  • Unsettling Gender-Reveal: The beautiful lady surrogate that was killed alongside the inventor's son via feedback weapon, turns out to be an over-weight man. Considering that each person is usually allowed one Surrogate, it means this guy has been going around as a woman for quite some time.
  • Urban Segregation: The Prophet's enclave.
  • Villain Has a Point: The Prophet/Lionel Canter might be resorting to extreme measures to make his point about the 'need' to restore humanity to its roots rather than living virtually through remote-controlled robots, but at the end, protagonist Tom Greer acknowledges his point to the extent that he deliberately avoids taking action to save the surrogates from Canter's planned attack, even if he prevents Canter's plan from being fatal to all those connected to their surrogates while simply shutting down the controlling network. He just manages to go about Canter's plan in a less mass-murdery way.
  • You Are What You Hate: The Prophet, a man leading a group against the eponymous surrogates, is himself a surrogate, controlled by the inventions' creator at that.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: Originally people could operate remotely-controlled surrogate version of themselves without any risk — no damage done to the surrogate could have any lasting effect on the operator. Naturally, someone finds a way to subvert this rule, and this is when the problems (and the plot) start. This is different from the original graphic novel, where there is no way to kill a person via his or her surrogate.