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Film / Surrogates

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Surrogates is a 2009 film by Jonathan Mostow (Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines) 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. 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:

  • 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: 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 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.
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  • 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: Lionel Canter, the creator of the Surrogates who is angry at how society is misusing the technology he created and wants to destroy it.
  • Bloodless Carnage: The surrogates are machines. Except they do seem to leak an awful lot of green hydraulic fluid when smashed.
  • 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!
  • 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.
  • 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" 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 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 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. Even so, that's not half as bad as the things the Surrogates do to each other.
  • Fantastic Slurs: "Meatbag".
  • G.I.F.T.: People tend to use the no-consequence nature of Surrogates with abandon to behave in ways they couldn't in person.
  • 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.
  • Gone Horribly Right: 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: 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!
  • 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: Well, everyone. But specifically Lionel Cantor.
  • 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.
  • Mega-Corp: VSI.
  • 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: 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 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.
  • 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...
  • 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.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Lionel Canter.
  • Remote Body: The basic premise of the movie.
  • 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: Produce surrogate bodies.
  • Robotic Reveal: Done as a Tear Off Your Face.
  • Setting Update: the comic book was set in 2054 "Central Georgia Metropolis", while the movie is set in 2017 Boston.
  • 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: It's a robot!!
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Urban Segregation: The Prophet's enclave.
  • 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.


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