Bruce Willis returns to sci-fi for the first time in more than a decade with Surrogates!

In the near future, humans live in isolation and interact only through surrogate robots, which they operate by remote control without leaving the comfort and security of their homes. They see, hear and otherwise sense everything their mechanical doubles do, including not only everyday life but also the most intimate relations. All their fantasies can be indulged without the slightest risk . . .

This is the strikingly original concept behind Surrogates, a new science fiction production from Disney Studios directed by Jonathan Mostow (Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines) and based on a graphic novel of the same name. It also marks Bruce Willis’ return to sci-fi following the likes of Twelve Monkeys, Armageddon and The Fifth Element.

As for appearances, anything goes - even the most extravagant choices. Whereas some of the surrogates are simply idealized versions of the original “user” - younger, more beautiful, more athletic - others are fantastical characters, with blue skin or spiky skulls. A man may choose to be represented by a female surrogate, or vice versa. All the strongest sensations can be experienced via a surrogate without subjecting its proprietor to any loss of limb or life.

The first result of this surrogate service system was the near disappearance of crime because it is easy to locate and identify each robot and trace it to its owner within a matter of seconds. Behaviour such as smoking cigarettes or taking drugs no longer poses any physical risks. Sexual encounters with strangers also have no consequences. Fire-fighters no longer risk their lives fighting fires. Police officers also saw their professional risks eliminated overnight. Thanks to the surrogates, nobody grows old or ill, at least in public. This way of life by proxy seems to satisfy everyone . . .

"The quest for perfect physical appearance has become an almost pathological obsession!"

But everything suddenly changes one day: several people die when a masked assassin “kills” their surrogates. Shortly thereafter, the inventor of the surrogates, a brilliant young student, is also killed. The case thus takes a startling turn . . . The preservation of the status quo is in jeopardy. Political authorities panic at the idea of what might happen if the surrogate system were destabilized. The public must never learn that the use of surrogates may be dangerous or even fatal!

An FBI agent named Harvey Greer (Bruce Willis) decides to lead an investigation through his surrogate. But his curiosity and his deductions do not go unnoticed and his surrogate is quickly destroyed in retaliation. Unwilling to admit defeat, Greer decides to do something he hasn’t for years: he physically leaves his apartment despite his wife’s protestations. With help from his colleague Agent Peters (Rhada Mitchell), Greer continues his investigation in the outside world, despite the physical risks involved.

He first investigates the actions of the “prophet” Zaire Powell III (Ving Rhames), a religious radical who formerly led violent riots against the existence of surrogates and the idea of exchanging one’s humanity for an artificial life lived at a distance via machines. Since the riots Powell and his community have however signed a treaty of non-aggression with the authorities. They now live in a separate quarter surrounded by high walls. But the “prophet” has begun agitating again recently, promising hell to all who participate in the vice of surrogate living. Indifferent to threats, braving all dangers, Greer and Peters will unveil a vast conspiracy and discover the identity of the mysterious killer in the process . . .

Top Shelf Comix published the graphic novel The Surrogates, written by Robert Venditti and illustrated by Brett Weldele, one chapter at a time, from 2005-2006. It quickly became known as one of the best science fiction comics in recent years. The excellent concept developed by the authors is, like all good futurist fables, a sharply pertinent critique of the excesses of our present society.

The quest for perfect physical appearance has become an almost pathological obsession in the U.S. To appear “successful”, millions of people tan themselves in UV beds, bleach or cap their teeth, implant hair or undergo facelifts. Weight problems are solved with liposuction or risky “gastric bypass” surgeries that allow bodies to lose weight artificially and almost effortlessly.

Paradoxically, on American television, the inescapable ads for burgers, hotdogs and giant pizzas dripping with cheese are interrupted only by ads selling exercise or weight-lifting machines! Meanwhile, the fear of urban violence and the risks posed by the outside world have prompted many American families and retired couples to relocate to so-called “gated communities,” new housing developments encircled by high security fences which people enter only if they have been let through access gates that are guarded 24/7.

Finally, there is the growth of online videogames which allows millions of players to meet up in a fantasy universe under the guise of avatars they fabricate themselves. This too speaks to the fascination surrogates already have on the public imagination. Some players develop such an addiction to virtual adventures that they devour their real lives turning them slowly into “no lifers,” people who cut themselves off from real contact with others.


Next: "The great classics of science fiction are always situated in alternative worlds with elements that seem real to us."




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