Surrogates

January 20, 2010

Wikipedia | Surrogates is a 2009 science fiction film, based on the 2005–2006 comic book series of the same name. Directed by Jonathan Mostow, it stars Bruce Willis, and Radha Mitchell.

The film revolves around the mysterious murder of a college student linked to the man who helped create a high-tech surrogate phenomenon that allows people to purchase unflawed robotic versions of themselves, being fit and good looking remotely controlled machines that ultimately assume their life roles, enabling people to experience life vicariously from the comfort and safety of their own homes. 

It’s an ideal world where crime, pain, fear and consequences don’t exist. When the first murder in years jolts this utopia, FBI agent Greer discovers a vast conspiracy behind the surrogate phenomenon and must abandon his own surrogate, risking his life to unravel the mystery.

Wikipedia plot details: warning, spoilers! | In 2017, people live in near-total isolation, rarely leaving the safety and comfort of their homes, thanks to the remotely-controlled robotic bodies that serve as “surrogates,” designed as better-looking versions of their human operators. Because people are safe all the time, and damage done to a surrogate is not felt by its owner, it is a peaceful world free from fear, pain, and crime.

Copyright © 2009 Touchstone Pictures

Tom Greer (Bruce Willis) is an FBI agent who, through the use of his own surrogate, investigates the first murder in years: Jarod Canter, a college student and the son of Dr. Lionel Canter (James Cromwell), the original inventor of surrogates. Jarod, who like his father used multiple surrogates, inexplicably died when his surrogate was destroyed.

The case grows more complicated, however, when several police officers are murdered when their surrogates are destroyed.

Greer’s investigation leads him to the Dreads, a group of people led by a mysterious man known only as The Prophet who is against the use of surrogates. Greer and his partner Jennifer Peters determine that the identity of the murderer is a Dread named Miles Strickland. Strickland used a unique weapon called an O.D. (Overload Device) to kill Jarod as well as five police officers tracking him. Greer himself barely escapes death by the weapon.

Suffering damages from the weapon, Greer is found in his apartment by his wife Maggie. She prefers interacting through her surrogate, even with her husband in the privacy of their home.

We learn that the couple is particularly distant from each other as they grieve over their young son who died in a car accident. (We see that, from the brief scenes in the film including the real Maggie, she is severely depressed and simultaneously takes many medications.) Greer is taken to the hospital and survives, although he is suspended and will not be provided with another surrogate while his actions are investigated.

Copyright © 2009 Touchstone Pictures

At the Dread Reservation, Strickland is approached by The Prophet who demands information about the weapon. Strickland is apparently killed by The Prophet or his followers. When Greer goes into the Reservation, he stumbles upon Strickland’s funeral and then approaches The Prophet, asking about the weapon Strickland used. As Greer leaves the Reservation, it is revealed that The Prophet has the weapon. Greer meets with Dr. Canter, again using one of his surrogates, who suggests the weapon was manufactured by the military. Greer meets with a member of the military and learns that the weapon sends a computer virus into the surrogates that shuts them down, but it also disables the fail-safe mechanisms which shield the operator from harm, thus killing them.

A mysterious surrogate goes to the home of Greer’s partner Peters and kills her, then transfers control of her surrogate to an unknown party who uses it to go through the financial records of the FBI. Peters’ surrogate learns that Andrew Stone, Peters and Greer’s boss, is apparently behind the death of Jarod, having been assigned by the company that creates the surrogates to kill Dr. Canter which he in turn assigned to Strickland. Jarod was using one of his father’s surrogates and as such was mistaken for him. At the Dread compound, The Prophet orders delivery of the weapon to Peters just before the military attacks. The Prophet and his men are killed, but The Prophet is revealed to be a surrogate of Doctor Canter. Peters’ surrogate tricks Greer into getting information about the weapon from Stone’s computer. Peters’ surrogate then flees from Greer, taking the information and the weapon. Greer chases her, but she escapes and goes to FBI headquarters where she takes a human system administrator (who does not use a surrogate) hostage and hooks the weapon up the surrogate network to kill all the surrogate operators.

Greer calls the system administrator who reveals that Peters has taken him hostage. Greer heads to Canter’s home and forces his way in. At the FBI building, Peters’ surrogate, now revealed to be controlled by Canter, confronts Stone’s surrogate. Stone confirms he did try to have Canter assassinated. Canter uses the weapon to destroy Stone’s surrogate and kill Stone for killing his son. He then returns to uploading the weapon’s virus to all the surrogates, which will destroy them and kill their operators. Greer makes his way through Canter’s mansion and finds Canter, who then reveals he wants to destroy the surrogates and the people who use them. Canter expresses anger and regret over the fact that his original purpose for inventing surrogates has been hijacked by VSI in the name of profit and by the masses for their own selfish reasons. Being a paraplegic, his vision was to give physically disabled individuals a chance at experiencing what they do not have. Canter has already started the destruction process through Peters’ surrogate, and then kills himself via a cyanide pill.

Greer takes control of Peters’ surrogate. With the assistance of the system administrator, Greer insulates the surrogate operators so they will survive even if the surrogates go down. He then realizes he has the choice of whether or not to save the surrogates. FBI agents storm the room as Greer decides not to cancel the transmission. The virus from the weapon uploads and permanently shuts down every surrogate worldwide, leaving their operators alive, but having to go back to using their real bodies again. Greer goes home and meets his wife in her real body. Media broadcasts reveal the surrogates are down worldwide and no one knows if they will ever be able to be reinstated.

NOTE | Also see “Surrogates vs. avatars“  and “The Surrogates: Know the Comic Before the Movie,” post by Jonathan Liu on Wired’s GeekDad Blog.

Link: official movie website