This film review is going to be heavy on spoilers. Move along if you’re not into that sort of thing. I will warn you to start with, I am a nit-picker of films. I will latch on to something and unravel it, and try and understand how the world of a film works. This often makes it look like I hate a film, or at least think too much. Sci-fi films set 10 minutes into the future are perfect for this – a lot of things can be assumed about the way the world works now with that one big difference.
To sum it up right here, I enjoyed this film. It’s a fun action flick, Bruce Willis is good as usual, and the style and appearance of everything in the film helps to sell the story. When people act as their surrogates, they are slightly off, but not entirely ‘uncanny valley’, if that’s even appropriate. The ‘cheaper models’ shown in the film are definitely sitting in the uncanny valley but everyone appears to have the equivalent of a Ferrari, as far as I could tell.
It does, however, suffer from a few rather wacky assumptions and simplifications. In no particular order:
“Surrogate technology became cheap enough that 98% of the world’s population have surrogates.”
Really? 98%? Half the world can’t afford to feed itself, let alone buy a complex robotic device with two-way high speed permanently active (and highly reliable, since it’s their whole life being lived) broadband connection. By world, I think that they meant to say ‘Western world’ and quite possibly ‘USA’ only, since that’s all we see.
It appears common knowledge in the film that the FBI watches through the eyes of every surrogate. Privacy advocates aren’t shown in the film, but I can imagine a vocal minority refusing to use surrogates (but also refusing to move to the primitive ‘low-tech’ reservations) simply because they don’t want the government – or anyone, for that matter – looking at whatever they look at, whenever they want to. I can’t say I’d be thrilled about it. I would also be fairly confident that the UK government would be a little wary of Americans watching what every British person is up to, and that’s a shadow of what the French would feel!
The moral and ethical problems of using disposable soldiers are quite huge – war would be won and lost on a financial basis. “Oh, we lost more surries? Best call up the factory.” There isn’t such a downside to declaring war, if all you need to do is send thousands of surrogates into your neighbour and shoot everything that moves. You don’t lose men, you only lose tax money – and since surrogates are so cheap, there’s not even a lot of that lost.
The other major military implication is that if surrogates are used to fight wars, why would they be exported from the country? Any of the more advanced models could be reverse-engineered to create the more basic (cheaper) military version, giving other countries equal footing on the military basis.
Are they Communist now?
The economic clue in the ‘cheap’ surrogates makes corporations seem less realistic. All surrogates are on the same network but not everybody in the world is on the same internet service. Likewise, if everyone can afford this extremely expensive piece of equipment (and the requisite maintenance, energy cost, etc) are iPhones treated like confetti? There’s obviously a demand for surrogates – a huge demand, since they apparently make things safer and solve society’s ills – so any capitalist corporation would sell for whatever they could get, especially in a market that seems devoid of competition.
In addition, inequality has been solved. Crime is much lower now everyone’s using surrogates. Surely, violence against surrogates will increase because the consequences are less severe? Early in the film, a surrogate is destroyed by a car and it’s written as ‘criminal damage’ (possibly vandalism, I don’t quite remember). A human would be classed as ‘hit-and-run’ or ‘attempted murder’. Perhaps that’s how crime is reduced… all crime is declassified.
I don’t remember exactly, but I believe the film is set 15-25 years in the future. And people seem to have become allergic to people, some even go as far as to call the real humans ‘meatbags’. The anxiety of being out without your surrogate and the slightly concerned, off-kilter reaction from surrogates to humans is good, but people using surrogates calling others ‘meatbags’ I just don’t understand. I can grudgingly admit that violence against humans would happen just for being without a surrogate, because people will find any excuse to hurt each other, but the actual revulsion shown is… well, stupid. Sooner or later their meatbag is going to have to meet someone else’s meatbag and mix their meat together to have a family. Maybe they put a bag over each other’s heads and make tiny motor noises.
Space in the future
Families might even be getting smaller in the future – buying a new surrogate when your kid grows out of theirs? Wow. That’s going to suck. Plus, since no more unprotected sex (unless your surrogate is really basic), the birth rate will drop dramatically. With people not getting out of the house, obesity will rise… And of course the surrogate control beds. They’re enormous! We have, I think, a good sized house for three people. We could easily squeeze another child, maybe two in here. But in the world of surrogates, we would need to convert the loft into a surrogate room or else lose our dining room to put up two of those beds. Any kids will have to move out young so they can have a place to put their own surrogate bed. Houses will need to be a lot bigger, and I don’t know that their price will come down in line with surrogate prices.
Taking these points into consideration, the end of the film makes things look very interesting. No surrogates connected to the FBI network… but every other country presumably still has theirs. Would military surrogates even be connected to the FBI? Perhaps. Are other countries military surrogates? Hell no! America is at war with someone, they’re almost definitely going to lose it now thanks to Bruce. Unfortunately, his brave new world of human connection doesn’t get past the fact that the world was apparently safer, with less crime, and there’s all this infrastructure set up to build, sell, modify and run surrogates just lying around… Plus the fact that the engineers know how to improve on the old system, and the dangerous terrorist leader leading the anti-surrogate movement is dead (and soon to be exposed as a surrogate himself). It’s not going to be too long before people slip back to their happy network beds and plug in again.
To summarise, the premise could have been a little more realistic or thought out (a lot of it just by cutting scenes showing military surrogates!) but it’s an interesting idea and a good plot overall.
On my own personal meter, I would watch this film again (probably with friends and beer) but I doubt I’ll actually get it on DVD.