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The Existential Crisis of Renting Bad Movies


I took a look at my list of Netflix rentals, and streamed
videos, and I’ve been watching a lot of Science Fiction lately. I’ve checked
out a few episodes of the Original Start Trek Series, a lot of Dr. Who (most
excellent), and its spin off Torchwood. I followed Heroes for a bit, and a
friend put me onto Red Dwarf, which was great. There was Dollhouse, which I’ve
written about here before and for a while I got caught up in a really terrible
series called Farscape. In Film, there was Sleep Dealers, Moon, City of Ember,
and I re-watched 12 Monkeys and Children of Men. I will spare you my rants on
the 3D nonsense that was Avatar. A lot of this was really great to watch, but I
am quickly running out of smart, interesting, well-made, well-written stories.


Just this past weekend I rented Surrogates, (from that
redbox machine in front of the Walgreens across the street from me), starring
Bruce Willis, which uses a similar story device as Avatar, where people can
inhabit artificial forms and experience the world from hi tech barcaloungers,
but with a slightly better premise. As a concept there was much to offer, but
it descended, pretty quickly, into a typical bland Hollywood construction. Of
all the Films and TV Shows I mentioned above, Surrogates had the most unrealized
potential. Sci-Fi is a great vehicle to ask big questions. It can examine the
nature of Man, his place in the cosmos, our relationship with technology, and
our fears about death and God. And the best films do this with some level of
realism. Surrogates had many of these dark alleys to explore and steered well
clear from almost all of them. Its’ not just that it was a bad movie. But more,
it was half-assed like a lot of Popular Action/Sci-Fi offerings. So why do I
(WE) continue to watch these things? For me I think it’s like an addiction. I’m
still hoping for that great high.


There’s a news montage in the beginning of the film that
explains the introduction of robotic surrogates. They are lifelike, human-looking machines, originally intended to help physically impaired people live
“normal” lives. They are electronically synced to the users brain
patterns and controlled by remote and most offer the added sensations of smell,
touch and sexual stimulation. Their use quickly spreads to the general public
and become ubiquitous. 99% of the (Worlds?) population now use surrogates to
live work and play, and everyone is beautiful. I found this an amazing thing to
think about. It borders a common Sci-Fi narrative of machines as the next step
in Human evolution.
This is really fertile ground for storytelling but the
movie fails to delve into any of the interesting ideas available. I assumed it
was all an allegory about our present virtual experiments with identity. If you
are living your life through a custom designed version of yourself then I fully
expect a mass of blue-eyed blonds walking around, but where were all the freaks
and half animal people
? I found myself trying to decipher everything except the
mildly, mysterious murder plot the film offered. How is it that everyone can
afford a surrogate? Is there a government subsidy involved? What did it do to
expressions of gender? Race? Identity is already crazy in this country. What if
you really could switch?
Not to mention that your surrogate was super strong,
agile, and nigh indestructible. Do people still play football? They hinted at
these notions a bit, but never in any meaningful way. I think that’s where the
real story was. Instead they went with Cop smells a rat, gets thrown off the
case, keeps investigating despite warnings from his black sergeant, chase
scene, Cop shuts down computer that somehow saves the world.



So, Surrogates dropped the ball. Where does that leave me
and my appetite for good science fiction? Fundamentally, I think my consumption
of Sci-fi films and TV, and my ultimate disappointment in so many of them is
more about my own existential angst, particularly as my religious faith has
wavered. I have sought some sort of solace in science, and Science fiction can
often feel like its theological arm. You can get the same wild interpretations
and zealots
. Popular opinion is that we are looking for an escapist vehicle in
these films, and I don’t knock that idea, but I am also looking for some sense
of understanding about the universe I live in. I know we are not supposed to
look to pop culture for those answers but I have found myself in many
philosophical quandaries after reading some far out Marvel Comics. At its core
the story of the X-men is about racism and discrimination. Their villainy of
their primary antagonist, Magneto, is never clear-cut. He is a mutant, just as
the X-men are, but chose a more aggressive, violent response to some of the
atrocities committed against his fellow mutants, and maybe he’s right. This
mirrors the divide between many resistance factions like the Civil Rights
Movement, and the Black Power Movement. These stories cover many of the same
arguments, with the added fun of mutant powers, starships, and time travel. I
think that’s what I’m looking for, a marrying of really insight and
philosophical engagements, with the excitement of how science and technology
fits in our lives. It imagines the many ways science can be put into practice
and when its really good it challenges our moral centers and asks us to decide
which side of the force we will stand on.

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7 Responses

  1. FulCare AtusHi

    This post got me thinking about the series Kings

    It has that same type of “create a alternate real world to deal with sensitive issues that are fundamental to the nation.”
    It also approaches out wavering religions views by reinventing the story of David and Goliath.

    Care to offer more thoughts?

  2. Asshole

    I’ve seen some of The Wire and Breaking Bad will get to the totality soon. If that’s it then definitely Dexter.

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