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Entry updated 3 January 2022. Tagged: Film.

Film (2009). Touchstone Pictures (see The Walt Disney Company) presents a Mandeville Films production. Directed by Jonathan Mostow. Written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris from the Comics series The Surrogates (5 issues 2005-2006; graph 2009) by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele. Cast includes James Cromwell, Ving Rhames and Bruce Willis. 89 minutes. Colour.

Surrogates are Androids similar to those used as indentured labour in Karel Čapek's R.U.R.: Rossum's Universal Robots (1920; trans 1923), here recast as the empty vessels through which users in Near Future North America walk and talk their daily lives via remote telepresence from the safety of their own homes. When his son is assassinated with a Weapon that exploits the Technology underpinning these Robots, progenitor Scientist Lionel Canter (Cromwell) begins to take action to reverse the effects of his own Conceptual Breakthrough.

FBI agent Tom Greer (Willis) quickly uncovers a trail from the death to "The Prophet" (Rhames), the leader of a community that disdains the use of surrogates, but who in short order reveals himself to be one of several identical surrogates controlled by Canter (see Postmodernism and SF for a breakdown of the interrelationship of sf and simulacra). The company that manufactures surrogates made the Ray Gun that killed Canter's son by overloading the safety protocols that protect the operator from what happens to their surrogate. Thus, as in the films Minority Report (2002) and I, Robot (2004), an apparently foolproof technology has not only failed to solve murder at a societal level but has also been used to commit a particular homicide: Canter's former allies in the United States military-industrial complex intended to assassinate Canter, not the son who was using one of his surrogates. Revealing himself as a Villain in the New Wave mould, Canter murders two of Greer's colleagues before uploading the overload-and-kill capability in virus form to the worldwide network of surrogates. He then takes cyanide. Greer successfully insulates the virus with the help of a system administrator but is faced with a choice: cancel the upload entirely or allow it to shut down the surrogates without harming their operators. The film ends with sun-starved, pyjama-clad people emerging alone and confused from their homes, ready to live again. Allegorical Paranoia about the infantilizing effect of the Internet is present throughout Surrogates, but the elasticity of its Comic book origins does not translate well to the rigidity of the Hollywood formula here. [MD]


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