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Surrogates (2009)

I saw Surrogates today.  I read a bad review and wasn't expecting much, but the premise intrigued me.  I love anything with consensual unreality: eXistenZ is one of my all-time favorites.  I also liked Strange Days.

I was more than pleasantly surprised.  I had no trouble suspending disbelief.  The story is worthy of Philip K. Dick.  Everyone is sitting at home in a little pod, living remotely through a robotic surrogate.  They're all perfect-looking, of course, so the world looks like it's populated by models.  Next to them, real people look pasty and grubby, especially since they spend all their time slumped in chairs in houseclothes.

There are a lot of other things they could have done with the premise, but I think they made the right choice in zeroing in on the emotional and psychological effects: addiction and a degradation of relationship.  It feels like they've tapped into something fundamental about they way we live now.

There's a great scene where Bruce Willis, the cop, ventures out into the street in his own body for the first time in years.  He's the only real person in the street.  His partner has never seen him before.  He's freaked out by the raw nature of the sensations that overwhelm him.  He's just emerged from the hospital and his partner says, "I can't believe they didn't give you something for the anxiety."

There are robot-free zones called reservations where followers of a dreadlocked prophet live in squalor.  Another great scene is when Willis has to go in there--no robots allowed--and he sees some kids playing ball.  They're dirty and real-looking and they aren't all that great at throwing and catching.

Over the credits there was a rock song by a band I've never heard before: Breaking Benjamin.  As a studio nerd, I noticed production trends that most people don't.  The time was obviously midi-mapped and the vocal was very subtly auto-tuned.  Musicians are doing a lot of virtual polishing, creating aural surrogates of themselves that are more perfect but less human.  Listen to a Tom Waits song and hear how radical it sounds now.  He uses instruments that aren't perfectly in tune and the rhythms are full of the tiny drags and rushes that happen when people have a good time beating on trash can lids and wooden tables.  Because of my interest in music, I'm keenly aware of the trend toward synthetic perfection in that area.  In my opinion, it's sucking the life out it.

Driving home, I mused on how eerily familiar the idea of robotic surrogacy felt.  The obvious one is online, but our cars are surrogates, shell identities, maybe even more than our facebook personae.

Best Hollywood science fiction film I've seen in years.  It's disquieting.  I expect some people will have a negative reaction to it because it makes them uncomfortable.  I liked it better than District 9, more intelligent and thought-provoking, less hamfisted.





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