Right and wrong. It’s a binary. It feels obvious. There is what’s right and there is what’s wrong.
But who decides? Who creates that definition? And what if they don’t get it right? These are the questions being presented by THE SURROGATE. The film deftly navigates the choppy waters of right and wrong while acknowledging that, in these sweeping discussions on morality, it’s the grey area that’s the hardest to talk about.
THE SURROGATE is directed by Jeremy Hersh and stars Jasmine Batchelor, Chris Perfetti, and Sullivan Jones. In THE SURROGATE Jess, an optimistic and progressive, young professional, is excited to be the surrogate and egg donor for her best friend Josh and his husband. Twelve weeks into her pregnancy, a prenatal test comes back with unexpected results. As the three friends consider these results, a moral dilemma arises that puts their friendship to the test and painstakingly dissects the grey area between right and wrong. The film had been set to premiere in the Narrative Feature category at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival, which was unfortunately cancelled due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
The heart and soul of THE SURROGATE is an acknowledgement that doing the right thing is very, very hard. The films social messaging is equal parts clear and murky because it relies on how impossible it is to make the perfect moral call. When you think about socially provocative films, the examples that come to mind (the To Kill a Mockingbird types) are very easy to rally to because they present a clear right and wrong. The hero is triumphing over on-its-face bigotry or a villain that leaves nothing up to interpretation.
THE SURROGATE is infinitely more effective and tragic because it’s more true to life. It’s tragic because there is no clear bad guy. Hell, it’s tragic because no one is in the wrong. THE SURROGATE is set in the world of “woke,” for better or for worse. It’s a story happening in a young, progressive city within the lives of young, progressives. It does everything right in terms of diversity and appealing to the more socially conscious crowd. Which is what makes it so upsetting when the drama begins.
When the bad guy of your movie is the Ku Klux Klan or any other obvious choice, your audience can safely pat themselves on the back and expect the triumph of certain good over certain evil. What the hell do you do when all certainty is out the window and every side of the conflict is making fair points? What do you do when all you have is the battle of conflicting ideas and point of views that are only slightly out of alignment?
On a broader social level, I have often said that the hard issues are the hard issues because every angle is founded in something sympathetic and reasonable. THE SURROGATE is exemplary in its illustration of this concept. The writing is superb, the language is delicately finessed for maximum impact, and every perspective is given equal weight and consideration. The film comes at you and lands like every difficult decision you’ve ever made and you feel the emotional weight of it. Well done.
Of course, what is writing without stellar performances? The cast does a spectacular job, bringing a grounded realism to the work and allowing the heavy emotions to wash over like a soft rain versus a bucket being dumped out. A crucial piece of craftsmanship for this sort of source material.
In terms of narrative structure, the film sort of wanders into nothingness. I do not consider that a negative. As with these everyday arguments and moral dilemmas, passions run high and you beg and plead your case but eventually you must decide how to move forward. Eventually, we realize that minds won’t change and we switch from vocal evangelist to passive acceptance of life experiences outside of our own. It’s uncomfortable and not very satisfying, but that’s the most realistic portrayal of the experience. Excellent filmmaking.
THE SURROGATE is a more than competent exercise in human emotion. It’s a masterclass on morality and narrative. Each of the elements come together beautifully, leaving a product that lingers. Don’t miss it.