Surrogates: Slow Cooked Boston Baked Beans

Year Released: 2009
Directed by: Jonathan Mostow
Starring: Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike
(PG-13, 104 min.)

"I don’t try to describe the future. I try to prevent it." Ray Bradbury

Maybe your mother was right when she said to be careful what you wish for. You might just end up as a slovenly couch potato holed up in a dank bedroom while the perfect robot version of yourself gets all the fun. 

Sure, in the world of Surrogates you experience all the pleasure and none of the pain, vicariously, of course. And there is no risk, either. If the robo-you bites the dust, you just have to reprogram another to take its place.

Crime is nonexistent; wars are waged by mechanical soldiers, and everyone is safe and secure in his own little hovel.

Ironically, however, the humans, who are wired to their virtual reality in a cross between the dentist’s chair and a strato-lounger, seem to be the automatons, while their robot selves not only look perfect, but are capable of profound athletic grace as well.

Oddly enough, there is a not treasonous bone in their robotic cores – no unctuous HAL’s here to plot mutinous takeovers. And the humans seem perfectly content to live their vicarious existence tucked away behind doors in dark corridors. No, the fly in the ointment is a malfunction that causes not only the robot to more or less vaporize, but its human controller to sizzle as well, frying its brains quite efficiently, thank you.

Agent Thomas Greer , Bruce Willis with a Beatles mop of hair and a peaches a cream complexion, is called in to investigate, along with fellow agent Peters, blond and beautiful Radha Mitchell. Later on we see the real Greer – his robot form is in for repairs – and it is refreshing to see the bald and grizzled Willis we know and love. Somehow, I cannot think that the real Agent Greer would choose to look like his Ken doll robotic stooge any more than the real Bruce Willis would, who, unlike his ex-wife, seems to relish every well-earned line and wrinkle.

A few dissent, however. A band of humans who call themselves dreads, live in a scrubby part of the city where they grow their own food and listen to the sermons of the Prophet (Ving Rhames), appropriately dreadlocked himself. Kind of a sixties reprise of communes without the free love, at least as far as I could tell, but with the same grubby existence and quasi-religious zeal.

The scientist who invented the technology has turned against it as well. His initial research was to allow those with disabilities to regain their mobility. He, himself, when we finally get to see the wizard behind the curtain, is a paraplegic, but he is not too happy when his ideas hit the mass market and become everyman’s iPod.

Even Agent Greer would like to return to his own bag of bones -- maybe you would too, given the John Edwards mop his robo-self sports. But alas, Greer’s wife Maggie (Rosamund Pike), prefers her virtual life in the shadowed bedroom.

The film raises several issues, though I agree with many critics that it fails to explore any in depth. We have nods, at least, to Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray, where the portrait of the protagonist reflects his dissolute and villainous life while his human form retains its youthful, idealistic vigor. The inverse occurs here, where the humans are content to live through their fantasies as perfect specimens and soon abandon most pretenses of hygiene and fitness in their real life.

The audience is also reminded of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, where the addiction to technology is mind numbing as well. In Bradbury’s novel, Mildred Montag’s life centers on her television, which in her case takes up three walls of the living room. She longs for the fourth wall to complete the immersion with the television family she regards as more real than her own. In Surrogates Maggie Greer rejects her husband’s plea to go away on a trip together, just as themselves, without their surrogate selves. That is out of her comfort zone.

Do these issues ring true today? Well, we now have centers for internet addiction. Many spend more time on Facebook and chat rooms than in really interacting in the flesh. We plug in our earpieces when we go for a run, choosing a digital soundtrack rather than the music of the wind, the birds, or even the real rumble of traffic.

We tone our abs, or at least try to, invest in countless potions for flawless skin, whiter teeth, shinier hair, and fresher breath, don’t we? As for toning our minds or souls, not so much.

These issues have been raised before, probably with more finesse, in such films as The Matrix or Blade Runner, but it’s still worthwhile to see how things play out in Surrogates. And the alternate reality it projects seems ever so much closer now than it ever did before.

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

I’ll have to admit I was stumped for a while trying to come up with a recipe for a film about robots who don’t eat but merely plug in for a recharge. Of course, the humans probably do eat, but most of the time we only glimpse them in their zombie-like existence as virtual reality addicts.

I had a breakthrough, though, when I learned that Beantown (Boston) was the location for the film. Fall is here with football season, tailgate parties, and the beginning of cool nights (not quite yet down here in Texas). What better recipe than Slow Cooked Boston Beans? This one is geared to a Crockpot, a nice touch so you don’t have to be minding the stove.

Rich and delicious with salt pork and molasses. Forget the food police and enjoy every bite.

Slow Cooked Boston Baked Beans 

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dry great Northern beans
  • 8 cups water
  • 4 ounces diced salt pork
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions

The night before, combine the Great Northern Beans and water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, and cook for 1 1/2 hours. Pour beans and their liquid into a bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight.
In the morning, drain off the liquid, reserving 1 cup. Pour beans and the reserved liquid into the crock of a slow cooker. Stir in the salt pork, onion, molasses, brown sugar, mustard and pepper. Cover, and cook on Low for 12 to 14 hours. Stir before serving.

Recipe Source: allrecipes.com