Real Men Love Repo ManBy Anthony Burch on May 14, 2008 - 9:00 am |
It's the ultimate experiment in surreal 1980's post-modernism. It's got no plot, no developed characters, and can't decide what genre of film it belongs to. It's the ultimate "style over substance" movie. It's Repo Man, and Real Men Love it.
The multi-genre “plot”
It's kind of a stretch to say Repo Man has any plot at all, but what's there is undoubtedly a kooky mishmash of contrasting tones and genres. On the one hand, you've got the story of a white, suburban punk who becomes a repo man to pay the bills, and all the dangers that go with it. You'll gasp as he gets shot at as he tries to steal a car from a maniac, and learn about the genuinely interesting morality of men who are essentially professional thieves. This is a coming-of-age story centering around an unusually amoral profession.
On the other hand, you've got a kooky comedy revolving around the missing corpse of an alien from outer space and the myriad of totally different, completely idiotic groups trying to get it back. It's a self-referential parody of sci-fi action movies.
On yet another hand -- Repo Man is a creature with an inhuman amount of limbs -- the film is an existential meditation on the universal subconscious and the interconnectedness of life. But with sex jokes.
Now, this is usually the part where I'd make some sort of hyperbolic statement like, "director Alex Cox manages to fit these totally contrasting genres together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle into one cohesive, awe-inspiring masterpiece," but I can't do that. Repo Man's genres contrast and bounce off one another and completely fail to fit into any legitimate shape, and as a result the film is weird as hell to actually sit and watch. But that was probably intentional, so maybe it is a masterpiece. I dunno.
The Punk atmosphere
All these weird-ass genres are connected, of course, by a really loud, equally confusing and audacious 80's punk soundtrack. With a theme song performed by Iggy Pop and numerous scenes either infused with a distinctly counter-culture vibe (Otto's parents, zoned out to the point of being zombies, watch a televangelist and give him all their cash) or depictions of the punk lifestyle (Otto, seen above, sort of jumps around and "dances" to punk music), Repo Man -- were it not for the really absurd sci-fi stuff -- would be the ultimate punk movie.
Lord knows Alex Cox loves those wacky punks.
Generically-labeled consumer goods
In what may be the film's most awesome aesthetic touch, none of the edible goods in the film, from corn flakes to beer to pretzels, are adorned with any sort of decorative packaging. Featuring a totally white label with a minimalist word stating the contents, characters will buy large amounts of products adorned with unceremonious labels like "drink" or "potato chips" without thinking twice about it.
I'm sure Alex Cox is trying to make some sort of comment about the empty consumerism which plagues American life, and the essential lack of difference between consumer brands, but the whole thing works because the packages just plain look cool. When Otto grabs a spoon and starts eating out of a huge can reading "FOOD," it makes for a surreal, yet really badass sort of moment (especially when he mutters "mmm mmm MMM, this is swell").
Existentialism and plates of shrimp
No action-comedy-sci-fi-surrealist-comedy-coming-of-age-story is complete without a weird, wiseman hobo character: that's where Miller, played by Tracy Walter, comes in. Miller is given the greatest monologue in the entire film about halfway through concerning the interconnectedness of life through seafood. I cannot possibly do it justice through summary, so I'll just transcribe the whole thing:
"A lot o' people don't realize what's really going on. They view life as a bunch o' unconnected incidents 'n things. They don't realize that there's this, like, lattice o' coincidence that lays on top o' everything. Give you an example; show you what I mean: suppose you're thinkin' about a plate o' shrimp. Suddenly someone'll say, like, plate, or shrimp, or plate o' shrimp out of the blue, no explanation. No point in lookin' for one, either. It's all part of a cosmic unconsciousness."
Miller's monologue is so great and memorable not only because it's weird and delivered with pitch-perfection by Tracy Walter, but because it doesn't make a single lick of fucking sense. Has anyone ever actually said "plate" or "shrimp" or "plate o' shrimp" seemingly without prompting? Does that stuff ever happen in life? I mean, Cox may be making some sort of point about the weirdness of existence, but, if so, he's going about it in an incredibly roundabout way. Miller ends up being proven right in all his beliefs by the time the end of the film rolls around, so assumedly we all should be saying really weird, random shit everyday due to our position in the cosmic unconsciousness.
This whole monologue is weird enough to be entertaining, yet totally distancing and unconvincing -- it's enough to make you remember it for a long, long time after you've seen the film. And maybe, one day, without explanation, you'll say something like "crab legs," and have no idea why...
Parnell the lobotomized
In addition to the crazy wiseman epitomized by Miller, every wacky cult classic needs an insane tertiary character who seems important but really isn't; Escape from New York had Romero, The Road Warrior had that one really flamboyant biker villain, and Repo Man has Parnell.
Parnell spends most of the movie driving around the Chevy Malibu with an alien in the trunk, tricking anyone who fucks with him into opening the trunk and getting zapped by the creature inside. He has essentially no impact on the plot other than serving as a means to give Otto the fated Malibu, but he's still got the second-best monologue in the flick (again, reproduced because, why bother summarizing it). Parnell mentions that he elected for a lobotomy, and when Otto asks if lobotomies are just for loonies, Parnell replies:
"Not at all. Friend of mine had one. Designer of the neutron bomb. You ever hear of the neutron bomb? Destroys people - leaves buildings standing. Fits in a suitcase. It's so small, no one knows it's there until - BLAMMO. Eyes melt, skin explodes, everybody dead. So immoral, working on the thing can drive you mad. That's what happened to this friend of mine. So he had a lobotomy. Now he's well again."
In any other context, this would be an incredibly disturbing, moving monologue. The idea that a man might be better off removing parts of his brain to deal with the horrors of existence is an incredibly clever, terrifying comment on not only nuclear power, but man's inhumanity to man in general.
Since the monologue is in Repo Man, however, it's just one more weird, clever, funny, confusing thing in a movie full of weird, clever, funny, confusing things.
I dunno how they made the alien car glow like this at the end of the film, but hell if it isn't impressive. It's probably a hellishly simple special effects technique -- paint the car in a special fluorescent paint, then draw onto the film in postproduction or something -- but the image of the glowing car pushes the film into its absolutely absurd climax, which will be discussed in detail in a moment.
For now, though, it's simply worth mentioning that the glowing car itself looks really badass, in an impossible-to-recreate-using-CGI sort of way that most movies highlighted in the Real Men Love series are known for.
“I blame society"
Less confusing, but more hilarious, is Duke's death scene. Duke, one of Otto's old "friends" from his pre-repo man days, coincidentally robs nearly every location Otto visits either just before or moments after Otto shows up. Near the end of the film, Duke and his girlfriend, Debbie, finally rob a convenience store while Otto is inside, and, thanks to a trigger-happy security guard, a gunfight breaks out and everyone but Debbie and Otto are shot.
As he bleeds out on the floor, Duke -- whose most intelligent line thus far in the film was, "Let's go get sushi, and not pay!" -- suddenly decides to become a social commentator. The punk scumbag idiot who robs random people and sleeps with Otto's quasi-girlfriend coughs up some blood, and grunts, "I blame society. I know a life of crime has led me to this sorry fate, and yet, I blame society. Society made me what I am."
This little diversion into pseudo-social commentary is quickly deflated when Otto points out that Duke is a hypocritical white suburbanite, and Duke can only retort by having one of the single grossest, most protracted death gurgles in the history of cinema.
Seriously, it goes on for like twenty seconds.
So, once the Chevy Malibu starts glowing, pretty much every single character in the film converges on its location. The FBI agents headed by a mysterious woman with a metal hand appear, as do the UFO-loving mercenaries led by Otto's sort-of girlfriend, as do all the repo men we've come to know and tolerate.
As a glowing alien car tends to inspire curiosity amongst governmental types, several of the the white HAZMAT suit-wearing FBI goons approach the Malibu, now crackling with electricity. One particularly enterprising HAZMAT guy reaches out, touches the Malibu...
...And spectacularly bursts into flames. Now, I'm not one to delight in the horrible pain of others, but it looks awfully cool to see the plastic HAZMAT suit the poor sod is wearing slowly crinkle inward and melt as he screams and flails about wildly.
Don't judge me. Real men are allowed to indulge in schadenfreude.
"The life of a repo man is always intense."
After the poor HAZMAT guy goes up in flames, Miller the shrimp-obsessed savant casually walks up to the Malibu, opens the door, sits down, and beckons Otto to come forth. The green light of alien knowledge shining on his face, Otto gets up to head off to infinity with Miller.
Suddenly, Leila, a chick whom might have been Otto's girlfriend had it not been for the fact that they only had (totally random and uncalled-for) sex once, and that she tortured him a few scenes earlier, protests. "What about our relationship?!," she cries. An asshole punk to the end, Otto effortlessly replies, "Fuck that," and heads off to time travel with Miller.
That is how a man acts; it's as if Alex Cox summarized the entire question of having a relationship versus achieving your personal goals in a single dialogue exchange (note that after Otto says "fuck that," Leila yells back "you shithead, I'm glad I tortured you"), and also managed to include aliens and existentialism into the mix. All in all, not a bad ending to as crazy and random a film as this.