Bruce Willis Searches for Reality

Jan. 15, 2010
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Hollywood genre movies often tell us more about our world and its direction than the big prestige pictures. Witness Surrogates, the most recent Bruce Willis movie (out Jan. 26 on Blu-ray and DVD), directed by Jonathan Mostow (U-571). For all its limitations, this science-fiction action thriller shows deep insight into the increasingly rapid, unexpected results of technological change. Who will need Facebook when you can experience life through a surrogate, a perfectly groomed and configured android representation of yourself? A surrogate allows you “to live your life without limitations and be whoever you want to be—from the comfort of your home,” purrs the reassuring ad from VSI, the corporate giant behind the surrogate revolution. It’s a Phillip K. Dick kind of future.

Living through their androids, surrogate owners tend to stay home, plugged into sensors allowing them to control their “surries.” Their real selves often go to pot from never leaving the house, yet the surrie experience can be an addictive high.

FBI Special Agent Greer (Willis) cuts a fine figure as a surrogate, with a full head of hair crowning an airbrushed face. And yet the bald, real Greer is experiencing surrogate remorse, especially when he realizes that his wife is no longer interested in the real him, but only his more youthful simulation. Greer is forced to sort out his feelings while investigating several murders conducted through destroying surrogates and their owners with some sort of device. It’s not supposed to work that way. VSI promises invulnerability for the user, even when their surries take a pounding. After all, like the Internet, surrogates were originally a military brainchild. The survivalist members of the Human Coalition formed to oppose surrogacy have carved out ghetto-like “reservations” where they are free to live without the androids. Greer suspects the Coalition’s leader, a dreadlocked black revolutionary preacher, might be behind the murders. But, of course, there are twists within twists leading to a larger conspiracy.

The human ghetto doesn’t look very inviting, but at least it’s more alive than the society fashioned around surrogates, which resembles the glossy polish of Vogue spreads come to life in three dimensions. Perhaps, the movie seems to say, our society isn’t far from the one it depicts, with millions of intellectually and emotionally shallow robots working and partying, partying and working. The movie’s CGI setting makes perfect sense, representing a world of surface appearances where nothing is really real.

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