Repo Man (Alex Cox, 1984)

I’m only 22 years old.  And yet, I feel like I’m already a little too old to fully appreciate at least part of what Alex Cox was going for in “Repo Man.”  Clearly the point is to stick it to the man and criticize our homogenized, consumer-based culture.  Our hero, Otto (Emilio Estevez), is an angry and angsty punker-turned skeptical repo man, and his ever-cynical view of the bizarre things going on around him become our cynical, confused point of view.  He represents teen angst in its most obvious form, and in a way “Repo Man” represents teen angst in its most obvious form.  So much of that teen angst and how square the society around Otto is is, at times, addressed so directly that to call “Repo Man” a bizarre satire is an incredible understatement.  And this is why I said I might’ve been a little too old (or if not too old, at least too experienced as a film afficionado 😛 ) to fawn all over a movie like this, because that symbolism that’s so blatantly obvious (works some of the time, infuriating the rest of the time) is clearly geared toward that angsty teenager in the mold of Otto, who’s become so completely disillusioned with the world around him.  I gotta admit that as a recent college grad it’s basically become my job to become ‘re’-illusioned with that empty consumerist culture, but still, I’d say there was still enough of that angry teen in me to appreciate some extremely blatant, EXTREMELY bizarre 80s-style satire when I see it 🙂 .

Yes, a lot of the satire of “Repo Man” stares you right in the face, and sometimes that works and sometimes it’s overdoing it in trying to reach out to the lowest common denominator.  You see, for example, Otto’s parents, so completely hypnotized by a T.V. televangelist as they admit to Otto in monotone that they donated his potential college money to that religious nut…it’s a gag meant to show the mind-numbingness of media-based culture, but one I think doesn’t quite work (though I did like how the religious manifesto was called Diuretix 😆 ).  On the other hand, there’s the running gag of just about every consumer product having as generic a name and container design as possible.  People eat out of cans called “Food” or drink “Beer” or “Drink.”  This gag, I thought, was absolutely hysterical and I couldn’t get enough of it.  Yeah, it’s absolutely blatant symbolism of the emptiness of consumerism, but whaddya want, it was really, really funny, and not even overtly commented on, so it wasn’t overdone.  In that vain, I liked how that feel pretty much translated to the entire world of “Repo Man,” how it’s basically a more-or-less “accurate” (?) depiction of circa-1984 L.A., with a few things here and there that set it apart from the norm, but are taken at face value and (with a few exceptions) not overdone.  Things like the war between rival punkers and repo men, the strange function of the Feds, and the generic brand names are just there, with Alex Cox not going wink-wink whenever something strange shows up, so what you see is more or less believable (yes, that includes radioactive aliens in the trunk of a Chevy Malibu 😆 ).

And what a world Alex Cox created.  So much of it is a war of the rival gangs/punkers or rival repo men a la “The Warriors”, but the ultimate irony is that it is essentially an accurate L.A. (namely in the movie’s great portrayal of punk culture, from the outfits to the hair to the music), with a few bizarre bells and whistles added along the way.  Or, it’s at least an accurate L.A. as seen through the eyes of the disillusioned youth Otto, which is probably why such bizarre things like radioactive aliens and bumbling feds seem so commonplace.  So for that reason, it has its realism, but it’s also a completely unique world unto its own.  There’s the empty souls of the adults, like Otto’s parents, and then there’s the punkers, standing out appearance-wise and acting first as Otto’s allies and then his nemeses.  And then come the repo men, who’s function in the whole scheme of things I just found absolutely fascinating.  In a world where the line is so clearly defined between the lifeless adults and the essentially lawless punks, the repo men are like the heroic, vigilante cowboys of the fictional world of a Western.  They’re Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name – bounty hunters whose bounties aren’t outlaws, but cars with deadbeat owners.  They’re world-weary, incredibly cynical, don’t take shit from anybody, and seem like the only people in this world making their own destinies instead of falling into some stereotype.  Consider the relationship between the rookie Otto and the crusty veteran Bud (Harry Dean Stanton), Otto’s makeshift mentor.  Using that cowboy comparison, if Otto’s young Jeffrey Hunter in “The Searchers”, then Bud is the more experienced and cynical John Wayne (and ironically enough, our ragtag group of repo men have an argument over their Beer-brand beer over whether John Wayne was gay).  Replace their horses with a jalopy, tobacco with Speed and gritty conversations with, well, gritty conversations with a lot more “fucks” thrown in there, and these really are modern-day cowboys, or maybe even modern-day errant knights with their own Repo Man Code, whether their targets are deadbeats, meddlesome punkers, or their rival repo men, those dastardly Rodriguez brothers.

Yes, some of the gags in “Repo Man” work and some don’t, but I do have to say that as a whole it’s very consistent, and what it’s consistent in is being inconsistent.  Doesn’t make sense, I know, but then again, neither does “Repo Man,” and for once that’s a good thing.  This might be one of the most convention-defying  movies I’ve ever seen, and clearly it’s making every effort to do so to make a point.  There is not a single cliché, not one movie formula being followed.  Quite simply, it’s nothing you’d expect.  A punker spontaneously combusts upon opening the trunk of the Malibu.  If repo men are shot at on the job, well, they just shoot right back.  There’s a 3-way car chase between the repo men, the Rodriguez brothers, and a lobotomized mad scientist.  The Malibu eventually becomes radioactive enough to glow green, looking absolutely awful, and the movie’s that much better as a result 😆 .  Otto’s being chased by a potential love interest in a psycho conspiracy theorist and a Federal agent with a robotic hand.  One of the punkers, giving a near-Shakespearean dying speech (well, at least something you’d expect a Shakespearean clown to say), blames his predicament on, of course, society.  And that ending, where Otto, the repo men, the feds, men of the cloth, and a very radioactive Malibu converge?  Good god, I’m not giving that away, but let’s just say that according to IMDB, Alex Cox originally planned on giving the great Muhammad Ali a cameo in which he gets radioactively fried.  Our loss.  So much of the movie is just conversations between Otto and an odd assortment of characters he meets along his bizarre journey, covering a wide range of topics from religion to drugs to the downfall of society as we know it. None of these conversations make any sense, and like everything else that’s screwy about “Repo Man”, sometimes they work, sometimes not.  In a movie as bizarre as this, though, you get the feeling it really couldn’t go down any other way 😛 .

So just to sum up, we’ve got Emilio Estevez, roving bands of rival repo men and punkers, aliens, a radioactive Chevy Malibu with a $20,000 “bounty” on it driven by a lobotomy patient, a bloodbath amongst generic food brands, all in what’s otherwise everyday L.A.  It’s an uneven and absolutely ridiculous satire, but otherwise, this is the stuff that cult classics are made of 😀 .



2 comments so far

  1. Teli on

    Good post.

  2. Blackjack on

    The following time I read a weblog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as a lot as this one. I mean, I do know it was my option to read, however I really thought youd have one thing attention-grabbing to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about one thing that you possibly can repair if you werent too busy in search of attention.

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