Director: Miguel Sapochnik
Screenplay: Eric Garcia & Garrett Lerner
Based On: The Repossession Mambo (now retitled Repo Men) by Eric Garcia
Cast: Jude Law, Forest Whitaker, Carice Van Houten, Alice Braga, Liev Schreiber
Blade Runner of the Twenty-First Century.
That is how film professors will refer to director Miguel Sapochnik’s sci-fi action film Repo Men someday. Except for the lucky few, the students to whom the professor speaks will fail to recognize the magnitude of the statement, however, never having seen Blade Runner and therefore failing to comprehend the reference to Ridley Scott’s epic 1982 sci-fi film. Whether Repo Men will ignite the same fury of critical analysis and cult following is uncertain; however, a case certainly can be made for unofficially terming the film “Blade Runner of the Twenty-First Century.”
In a not-too-distant dystopian future dominated by private corporations and capitalism, a company known as The Union provides those in need with artificial organs — everything from eyes and ears to livers, knees and hearts. The role of healthcare in the process is unclear at best (and might have gone overlooked if it were not for the current controversy over President Obama’s healthcare bill); however, Repo Men does make clear the fact that those individuals that opt to use these synthetic organs, or “artifices” as they’re called, are responsible for the exorbitant amount of money charged for even the smallest organ. Artifices are catalogued with serial numbers that are connected to each client account — much the same way they are today — however, in a world domineered by The Union, organ repossession is not only legal, but happens on a regular basis.
That’s where men like Remy (Jude Law) and Jake (Forest Whitaker) enter the equation. The Union is in the business of artificial organs — artificial organs and the debt created by the 19% interest rate they provide with all artifice financing plans (ironically, a lower interest rate than is offered on many corporate credit cards available today). When clients can’t pay for their organs, their accounts are labeled as past due and they become targets for men like Remy and Jake, guys known as “Repo Men.” Repo Men travel the urban landscape looking for clients with past due accounts, apprehending them, and then repossessing whatever artifices are overdue — whether or not the artificial organs are necessary for keeping a client alive.
The urban landscape that Jake and Remy traverse in Repo Men plays an important part in the film, and the methods used to construct this landscape bear an uncanny resemblance to the way that the urban landscape and society at large are constructed in Blade Runner. While Repo Men is not set as “far” in the future as Blade Runner (although that film’s action takes place in 2019, Blade Runner was filmed in the early 1980s and the differences between society as it existed in 1982 and as it is depicted in 2019 are vast, to say the least), and the similarities between society today and the urban landscape depicted in Sapochnik’s film are significant, the message remains the same.
In a society where technological advances allow for the mass production of highly sophisticated machines capable of replacing organic body parts, the same companies and corporations that make such technology readily available are, through that very process, imposing a widely accepted structure of oppression based on fear and economic debt. Visually, the urban landscape of Repo Men is constructed using the same type of establishing shots as Blade Runner, shots that place emphasis on the proliferation of advertisements — so prevalent that even Remy’s son’s school bears corporate branding — and mass media, which is present from the moment an individual wakes up, even following them into the shower as they prepare to enter the workforce each morning.
The contrast established between the “haves” like Remy and his family and the “have nots” in Repo Men is a stark one: for agents of The Union like Remy and Jake, transportation, healthcare, food and other basic resources are readily available and even taken for granted. For those on the run from the Repo Men, scrounging junkyards for basic necessities like clothing is a daily occurrence. As in Blade Runner, Repo Men‘s stance on the proliferation of technology and the subsequent societal structure and oppression is that it only widens the ever-present schism between the rich and the poor (represented in Ridley Scott’s film by physical distance between those on the surface and those with the resources to ascend to the luxury of the outer colonies). Interestingly, it is only after Remy abandons the luxuries afforded him by his role as a Repo Man — as an agent of the system — that he stands a chance of surviving the system, but at the same time the film makes it very clear what is at stake for those who choose to exist outside the order established by corporations like The Union: extreme squalor, constant fear and ultimately death.
Gender also plays a very interesting role in Repo Men. Not only are all but one of the Repo Men actually men, rather than women, virtually every other employee of The Union that appears in the film is also male. The majority (if not all) of the individuals from which Remy repossesses artifices throughout the course of the film are men, and all four of the main female characters depicted in Repo Men, including Remy’s wife, Carol (Carice van Houten), his alternate love interest, Beth (Alice Braga), and the two women who help Beth to repair one of her damaged artifices, Alva (Liza Lapira) and Little Alva (Tiffany Espensen), are constructed either as representations of the breakdown of the nuclear family or threats to the order established by The Union, the order that Jake evokes when describing the importance of the Repo Men’s jobs enforcing the contracts that people agree to and sign. In fact, several of these women blatantly embody the threat posed to The Union’s established order — specifically, Alva and Little Alva, women that literally employ The Union’s technology outside of the system, providing black market artifice services. Even more humiliating is Little Alva’s involvement with black market artifice service: not only are the specialized (and highly expensive) surgeons and equipment used by The Union not necessary for the artificial organs to work, but the process is so simple that not only a woman, but a child can perform the necessary surgeries.
Although they might seem at odds, the breakdown of the nuclear family and the order established by The Union — and judging by the proliferation of advertisements and branding, the order maintained by other corporations (such as Bacardi and Coca-Cola) as well — work hand-in-hand in Repo Men. The film ultimately holds Remy’s wife, Carol, responsible for the breakdown of Remy’s family when she places extreme pressure on Remy to leave his position as a Repo Man — to castrate himself, as his partner Jake might say, by leaving a job that he was meant to do — and move into a more “stable” position in The Union’s sales department, regardless of how unfulfilling it might be for her husband. Similarly, Carol is also held responsible for Remy’s wandering eyes when he first notices his alternate love interest, Beth, singing at a local bar. Driven away by the pressure Carol places on him, Remy first notices Beth and then later becomes romantically involved with her, something justified by the extreme actions that Carol takes after Remy’s on-the-job accident.
Although Repo Men may not translate into a box office sensation or the phenomenon that was Blade Runner after its 1982 release, it is a multifaceted film released at a particularly poignant moment in our socioeconomic and political climate. Repo Men is director Miguel Sapochnik’s third film, and only his first feature since the 2001 release of his second film, Changing Faces: The Best of Louise, but Sapochnik is already hard at work on the pre-production for his next film, The Contortionist’s Handbook, an adaptation of a novel by author Craig Clevenger currently set for release sometime in 2011. Given his success in creating what is sure to become a science fiction classic, it will be particularly interesting to see what Sapochnik’s The Contortionist’s Handbook will look like when it is released next year. Until then, we certainly have our hands full with Repo Men.
Rating: 4 / 5 Stars