Written 25 November, 2009
Sweetie and I recently watched the Jonathan Mostow film Surrogates, starring Bruce Willis.
In the near future, most people operate in the world by the use of robotic surrogates which they control from cocoons in their bedrooms. The surrogates live their lives, working, flirting, playing-- and even solving crimes (not that there's much crime).
Willis plays an FBI agent named Greer who, no surprise, uses a surrogate to do his job.
The plot devolves into the usual big-budget conspiracy drama-- but I don't want to talk about the plot.
I want to talk about the use of surrogates in the picture.
Imagine Honda's righteously named Asimo robot overlaid with skin and hair and controlled remotely by the user and there you have it. (Check out this to see real-world progress on this front.)
Surrogates' surrogates can do just about anything their human controllers can do, and save their humans from the risk of automobile accidents, falls, communicable disease, and random acts of violence. The surrogates are, no surprise, young-looking and thin and attractive, unlike, often, their humans, who may be fat and old or of a different sex.
No surprise here. But the surrogates in Surrogates are uniformly young and pretty, virtual Barbies and Kens.
Not that Barbie and Ken aren't the Second Life norm, but here you find furries and vampires and giant dragons and tiny bears and robots and bag ladies and hypersexualized shiny-skinned dominatrixes and overmuscled, overtattooed triangle-shaped men. All those are lacking in Surrogate.
In Alex Rivera's 2008 film much less romanticized Sleep Dealer (which we also recently watched), the Mexico/US border has been closed and Mexican workers are hired to do jobs in the U.S. via surrogates. These surrogates, however, look like robots, and their controllers must do physical actions to control them.
I vividly remember a scene in Robert A. Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, in which Manny, the protagonist, who has lost a limb, detaches his "social" hand and replaces it with a series of hands specialized for various mechanical tasks. I was taken aback for a moment, then realized there was absolutely no reason to construct a prosthetic device with the same limitations as hands made of flesh-- at least where there's work to be done. So for me the surrogates in the low-budget Sleep Dealer show a lot more imagination than the big-budget Surrogates.
I mean, jeez, if I were a surrogate FBI agent I would have x-ray vision, an antenna that revolved on the top of my head and built-in heavy armament and shielding. Why not?
Still, I guess, Surrogates is worth a watch. But take a look at Sleep Dealer, too. It's a surprising movie.