Twenty years from now, in a high-rise-ridden, video-centric American city, life is harsh. The federal government is bankrupt. There's a global recession. Disastrous international wars have killed thousands and disillusioned millions.
In other words, things aren't too much different from today.
There's one massive exception: Many people in this future live with at least one artificial organ. "Artiforgs" are booming business, and The Union—the field's monopolizing company—sells manufactured body parts like car dealers sell carburetors. Don't worry about the six-figure price tag, though. "Easy financing" to "fit your lifestyle" is readily available.
Running low on cash? Have to miss a payment? No problem. Miss a couple of payments? You're going to get a few nasty letters detailing your delinquency. Skip out on your obligations for 90 days? Well, then, you're going to get a little visit from a repo man.
Remy, one of The Union's best, informs us that just as a bank repossesses a vehicle when payments are overdue, his company repossesses livers … and hearts and eyes and ears and kidneys. The only difference is how much blood gets shed in the process.
And you thought Chapter 13 was painful.
Remy and his lifelong friend Jake track folks down, shock them into submission (they're rendered unconscious by stun guns) and then whip out large knives to extract the organs. Their moral simplicity allows for clear consciences as they routinely kill people who are in debt to The Union. A job's a job, they say. And their past-due "clients" have reneged on their end of the deal. Rules must be followed.
Remy's callous disregard for human life softens after he himself needs a new heart. Predictably, he falls behind on his payments and soon realizes that the business he's built his life on is in fact cold-blooded and outrageously immoral. His ethical awakening naturally strains his relationship with Jake, and in the end, both have to grapple with what side of the line they're on.
[Spoiler Warning] Remy decides to fight back, desperately trying to bring The Union's horrible business to an end. He hopes he can spare the lives of countless thousands in doing so.
The resolution for Jake is a bit more complicated—mainly by the insertion of an alternate mental reality—but it appears as though he cares enough about his friend to make sure he doesn't suffer and die.
Not paying one's debts is wrong. I'll clearly say that here. And Remy, along with scores of others, don't pay theirs. But the story's ethos is so obviously absurd that it's impossible to condemn its defaulters for running away or fighting back against a monolithic company that will hunt you down and kill you to reclaim its biotech property.
Thus, it's somewhat inspiring to watch Remy and Beth (a fellow organ recipient who can't pay) risk their lives to protect each other. She shows him the ropes of living outside the system. And other debtors also offer one another shelter and support as they seek freedom.
Remy's wife, Carol, properly gives him an ultimatum: Stop killing or get lost. And Remy—for a short time at least—tries to convince her he's changed after he gets his artificial heart. He adores his little boy and tells him he hopes that they will be reunited.
It doesn't take long for Remy to get sexual with Beth after he and Carol separate. It's apparent that the two have had sex as they kiss on a bare mattress. And in a sexually charged and even bizarrely sadomasochistic-feeling scene, Remy and Beth kiss, undress and grope as they slice into each other's bodies to shove a scanner (and their hands) inside to find their artiforgs.
While Remy and Jake are in a strip club, the camera pans across several women's bare breasts and g-string-clad backsides. A lap dance briefly gets screen time at the club. Then, as a welcome-back gift, Remy's colleagues hire a stripper who wears a bra and panties. She also gives him a lap dance. Cops are shown soliciting prostitutes.
Women wear lingerie, bikinis, low-cut tops and dresses that reveal cleavage and leg. Carol's back is bare while in bed, as is part of Beth's breast. Remy's upper body is visible in the shower. Oral sex is (visually) alluded to.
In a business like organ reclamation, blood is merely a necessary byproduct. Repo Men's makers must feel the same way about movies. The red stuff pools, drips, spurts and oozes in innumerably gruesome ways.
I'll note that some of the following may or may not "actually happen" since there are machine-induced alternate mental realities at play. But I'll insist that the impact on the viewer isn't altered:
The already referenced sexualized scene shared by Remy and Beth produces gallons of gore all by itself. And Remy and Jake ruthlessly pursue debtors, hunting them down like game. (They joke and laugh about the whimpers and pleas they hear for mercy.) Then the slicing begins. The camera seems to be literally stuck on graphic surgical-style scenes in which torsos and knees are splayed open to reveal organs or joints.
Repos go about their work of carving bodies as if they were cutting fruit, not flesh. Remy's so hardened to it that he even listens to upbeat music and puts a bloody scalpel in his mouth during a job. He rips bloody tubes from his own chest in an attempt to free himself from his artificial heart.
Frequent fighting involves punching, getting clocked by pipes and other heavy objects, kicking, and countless stabbings and shootings. Knives impale hands to desks or feet to floors. Remy kills a phalanx of security guards and employees while breaking into The Union, shooting at least one of them in the mouth and severing jugulars with a hacksaw. All of this is done in viscerally bloody fashion. If he's not using the saw, he's pummeling faces with a hammer or dropping a heavy typewriter onto a man's head, crushing his skull—with squirting sound effects included.
Jake stabs a man through the throat. Remy and Jake fight, practically to the death. Jake knocks his partner out with a hook attached to a large chain. Stun guns are commonly used to incapacitate people. Remy's knocked unconscious several times.
And finally, in what may be the most inexcusable played-for-laughs act of violence I've seen this year, Remy's young son shoots his mom with a stun gun, knocking her out to shut her up.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Several bars and a strip club ensure that characters consume alcohol in various scenes. Remy finds Beth strung out on the street and nurses her through her withdrawal. We see several people use and abuse a narcotic by spreading it on their lips.
Basing it on his novel Repossession Mambo, Eric Garcia wrote the screenplay for this sci-fi actioner/black comedy. He says of the script, "We were able to keep the story very subversive, sick and twisted, but in a fun way. It was never a horror film."
If that's the case, then both the science fiction world and the comedy world have both tilted on their axes. This movie has as much blood and violence as any run-of-the-mill horror film. In fact, it's more slasher gore-fest than anything else. I winced. I cringed. I never once chuckled as people's throats got sliced, heads got crushed and bodies got impaled.
So, what to do with the layered messages that lurk behind Repo Men's acerbic aesthetics? They are: 1) Capitalist companies shouldn't be given complete control over biotech. 2) What you do shapes who you are. 3) Take care of yourself and eat more salad or you'll end up owing The Union. 4) We've all got to choose to live.
The fourth point requires a bit of unpacking. The movie opens with Remy reflecting on an anecdote that's baffled him for years: A scientist once put a cat in a box equipped with a machine that blew poisonous gas. The scientist didn't know when the machine would turn on, or whether—at any given point—the cat would be alive or dead. So he came to believe that the cat could be both simultaneously.
Remy doesn't understand this until he learns that people, too, are dead and alive. We simply must make a choice: We can complacently succumb to bad circumstances and die, or we can scratch and claw our way out and live.
"What's new in you?" The Union's futuristic billboards read. It's a good question, because beyond his artificial heart, what's new—and even admirable—in Remy is his fresh appreciation for life. And not just his own.
But I still can't muster any such appreciation for this movie.