Surrogates: When Sci-Fi Hits Close to Reality

Posted: September 27, 2009 in Movies & TV
Tags: , , , , ,

Warning: includes spoilers!

I just came back from watching the movie Surrogates, starring Bruce Willis. Even though it was a bit short, it was very entertaining and engaging (at least for me). The events take place in a future where people can use robots to do whatever they want to do in real life. The intention was originally for people with disabilities or injuries to be able to carry on with their lives by connecting to these robots (called Surrogates), and controlling these surrogates with just their minds without leaving their bed. In essence, when someone is connected to a surrogate, it is like having the person’s brain in a brand new functional body that can do whatever the person wants to do. However, Surrogates became more than just an aid for people in need. It became a commercial tool where most people just stay in their rooms connected to their surrogates, while the surrogates are the ones that go out, go to work, fight wars, play sports, solve crimes, enforce laws, interact with each other… all under the control of their owner’s minds only. The manufacturers claim that this has made life much better and safer since the humans are safe at home, whereas the surrogates can take a lot of damage with no harm coming to their owners. However, when incidents involving surrogates result in human deaths, this claim comes into question, and this is where the movie starts.

I’m not going to write a review about the movie itself, or any aspect of the cinematography, the acting, the action, or the plot. What interested me the most is the concept. Even though the idea might seem pure sci-fi, to me it seemed very close to something already existing in reality. Online chat rooms, role-playing games, cyber-communities, and the like are all representations of the same concept: people building a customized character according to their liking, and using this character (sometimes called an Avatar) to interact with other characters within cyberspace (be it in a chat room, or in the setting of an RPG, or in some application like Second Life) without leaving their desks. The movie uses many examples to make it clear that it plays on that concept. For example: the overweight man whose surrogate was a young hot girl (a well-known stereotype for some online chatting practices), the man who uses many different surrogates for different purposes and situations (just like using different accounts with differently-designed avatars), etc.

The movie also does a good job of showing what happens when such technology is taken so far: People feel more comfortable and “safe” interacting with each other through a “virtual” world without their real identity being exposed — comfortable to the extent of ridiculing anyone who dares to disconnect from their surrogate and venture into the real world in person. As one of the movie characters said: “Surrogates are an addiction”, which is very similar to what happens to some people today who get addicted to online chatting or playing online games. They build their online persona and invest so much time in it that this online reality becomes their world, and it helps them escape from any tragedies or hardships in their real lives.

But what happens if this virtual world is lost? In this day and age, when an online game server crashes or goes down for a while, some people take that as a chance to take a break and do something productive in real life, while some hardcore gamers just feel lost and can’t wait to get back online, since this has more-or-less become their life. This was evident in the movie when the Surrogate servers were disconnected, and the actual humans finally left their rooms, not knowing what happened or what to do. However, maybe that was the only way to cure the addiction.

Overall, I think it was a well-played concept, and I highly recommend it. If you have any comments, I would love to hear them.

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