I've just watched the 2010 film Repo Men. Before I watched it, I thought it might be a good idea to watch the 2008 film adaptation of Repo! The Genetic Opera, so I did (despite referencing it in another WU, I had never seen it in its entirety). My reason for doing so was that I honestly expected Repo Men to be some sort of adaptation of the earlier rock-musical. Turns out, it isn't. Or it claims it isn't.
Now, I will say this. If you look at the two films based solely on what occurs in them, there really is only one similarity. But it's a big one. People with failing organs can pay a company for replacements. The payment is usually a sort of long term financing plan, and if the payments are not kept current the organ can be (violently) repossessed. So while the actual stories do have significant differences, every time you watch a Repo Man knock someone out, cut them open, and pull something with a bar-code out you can't help but feel like you've seen this movie before.
So which really came first? Repo! was written just before the turn of the century from songs that authors Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich had been performing in cafes. It had 6 or 7 years of stage performances before it was made into the 2008 film with a modest budget directed by Darren Lynn Bousman. Repo Men however is based on a book by Eric Garcia titled The Repossession Mamba (a line used by the protagonist to describe the twitching of a person having their organs removed). The book was officially published in 2009, just a year before the release of the film version. The screenplay was apparently based on earlier versions of his manuscript. Garcia has stated that he had completed a draft of the story by 2001.
This is the part that bothers me. The entire reason that Universal Studios was allowed to release a movie with such a similar premise to an earlier work is that concepts like organ payment plans can't be copyrighted. So then, why does Garcia go to such lengths to convince us that this is an entirely original work? He goes so far as to say the concept first came to him when he wrote a short story in 1997 titled The Telltale Pancreas. Is that supposed to be a joke? An insult to Poe? It sounds like one. In the story a "Repo Man" is betrayed and forced to accept an artificial heart, which he then cannot pay for. It's not at all that I don't believe him, he's posted the story online, I just think it might not have been smart to admit to writing something with such a stupid title.
Even if both parties were, in the late nineties, independently having an idea for a story about a near future where organs can be repossessed; how can you not acknowledge that by the time the second of the two films came out there was unavoidable contamination due simply to the prior film's existence? The creators of Repo! have expressed frustration at this, but urge fans to spread word of The Genetic Opera rather than mindlessly bash the new film as a ripoff. And honestly, the film doesn't deserve very much bashing. Aside from brutally maiming the "Schrodinger's Cat" thought experiment and using Volkswagen Touaregs and Smart Cars as the only vehicles in the entire movie, it really isn't that bad. And that brings me to:
In the universe of Repo! The Genetic Opera, a plague has ravaged mankind causing widespread organ failure. A corporation called GeneCo, run by one Rotti Largo, miraculously develops a way to mass produce replacement organs. It's never quite clear where these come from. I think we are to assume they are manufactured, as some organs (like Meg's eyes) are clearly artificial and capable of more than the standard human equivalent. For the most part however, the organs are indistinguishable from original parts aside from their bar-codes.
Repo! is set in a city surrounded by ruins. This may indicate that plague survivors have consolidated themselves into this single city to be within reach of GeneCo.
Repo Men's setting does not involve a plague or a ruined city. The corporation(s?) that provide artificial organs is/are seemingly widespread, employing a large number of repo men. The face of the corporation is limited to Remy's supervisor, who is also a salesman of artificial organs. The organs in this film are purely mechanical.
SUPER SPOILERS!!! POSSIBLY EXCESSIVE SUMMARY!
The story of Repo! is one of a 17 year family drama drawn to a conclusion in only a few days. Rotti used to have a lover, Marni. He was to wed Marni, but she eloped with a doctor under his employ. The couple swiftly had a child on the way, but Marni fell ill with a blood disease. The doctor Nathan, brilliant as he was, believed he had found a cure. But Rotti, seeing a chance for revenge, had the serum switched with a deadly poison. The poison caused Marni to hemorrhage dramatically, forcing Nathan to deliver their daughter Shilo by cesarian section before Marni died. Rotti used Nathan's guilt to force him into becoming his "Repo Man," a job which he was quite proficient at. This clearly left Nathan all kinds of fucked up, as he begins to exhibit "Munchausen syndrome by proxy." He tells Shilo that she has inherited her mother's disease, and must take medicine regularly until he finds a cure. In reality, the drug he is giving her simulates the disease with its withdrawal effects -- if she were to stop taking it she would be healthy after a rather painful detox.
Shilo has a habit of sneaking out to visit her mother's grave. One night while chasing an insect outside of Marni's tomb, she meets a graverobber searching for bodies from which to harvest an addictive painkiller called Zydrate. Zydrate is a glowing blue substance that can apparently be extracted by sticking a long needle up the nose of a corpse. I will say, Repo! is a little less scientifically accurate than I generally prefer. The graverobber begins to show Shilo aspects of the world outside her bedroom before she is eventually contacted directly by a deathly ill Rotti Largo.
Rotti has three children, all disappointments. One son has a dangerous temper, frequently killing GeneCo employees when upset. His other son is obsessed with beauty and shows it by wearing the faces of beautiful people. What's left of his own face (kind of a lot of it, really) is equipped with hooks that hold another face over it as a mask. His daughter is addicted to the knife in the most extreme way, often appearing to be a different person from month to month. Rotti, "The Man Who Saved Humanity," is dying, and he doesn't want to leave his company in the hands of any of his children. So he chooses Shilo.
At one of the city's regularly scheduled operas, Shilo is called by Rotti to a room where she views a film telling her that she has been chosen as bait to capture the renegade repo man, after which she will be provided with her "cure." Her father Nathan shows up and they confront each other, before a door opens leading to the opera stage. The late Marni's best friend, the singer Blind Meg, has already been killed by being dropped from a wire onto the spikes of a wrought iron fence on the set after admitting her plight and tearing out her artificial eyes at the end of her song. Shilo and Nathan enter to Rotti arguing with his sons. Rotti tells the audience he is dying, and tells his sons they will not inherit GeneCo, but Shilo will. All she has to do is shoot her father dead. She does not do it, and eventually Rotti shoots him himself. Shilo is now withdrawing from her father's drug, a process which seems to take only minutes. She is soon able rise from the gore splattered stage floor and express that she still loves her father, who returns the sentiment before dying. Dramatically, Rotti also dies, and importantly, before signing his will which would transfer GeneCo to Shilo. In what passes for a conclusion, Shilo leaves to lead her own life while Rotti's daughter gains control of the company.
In my opinion, Rotti is not the antagonist everyone makes him out to be. He created a business model that is keeping humanity in existence. He recognizes that it isn't perfect -- it's not capable of curing his disease, and it leads to abuse and dependence as evidenced by his offspring. He knows they are far too cruel to be trusted with GeneCo, and searched for an alternative. Sure, he poisoned his ex lover and framed her husband for it, essentially breaking Nathan's mind and forcing him into a life of servitude (as he did Meg). But Nathan's actions are still his own. Broken as he is, 17 years of poisoning his daughter is inexcusable. Shilo is free of him, and that is the happiest ending we can get in a world like that of Repo! The Genetic Opera.
Remy is one of many Repo Men. He works with his partner, Jake, who tried to beat him up in third grade. Jake and Remy served together in the military as part of a tank crew. Jake is insistent that Remy keep doing repos with him, even though Remy's wife despises the job and repeatedly requests that he ask for a transfer to sales. Jake is so obsessed with keeping Remy as a partner that comes up with a plan to sabotage his defibrillator unit. When Remy tries to use it to deactivate an artificial heart, it gives him a strong enough shock that his own heart is irreparably damaged. In the hospital, Remy's supervisor tries to sell him an artificial heart using the same lines Remy has heard him use on every customer he talks to. Remy actually tries to walk away, tearing the bypass hoses out of his chest (eww) before collapsing in a hospital hallway. Eventually, he takes the artificial heart.
Remy has been in a coma for weeks. He tries to see his wife and son, but she's changed the locks. She tells him she needed him to make a choice, and he did so when he performed the job that led to his accident. Of course this only adds to Remy's emotional burden. He finds he can't do his job anymore. Having an artificial organ himself, he feels too much sympathy for his targets. Jake tries to get him his nerve back by bringing him to a slum where many vagrants with past due accounts congregate. He is still unable to do it, and get's knocked out by one of the two people Jake tazed and left for him. When he wakes up, he notices a singer that he's frequently seen at a bar, Beth. It turns out most of her body is artificial, her account is hundreds of days past due, and she's addicted to the painkiller/anti-rejection drug "Q" (A little bit like "Z"? Yeah okay I'm done with that). Remy takes her to a motel where he spends the last 2 of his three days before the possibility of repossession waiting for her to detox. He attempts to break into the organ storage where he works and close Beth's account by scanning in already repo'd organs that he scratched the bar-code off of. He is caught by Jake and forced to leave before finishing, or getting to his own heart. After a failed attempt to leave by plane, they find refuge with a number of others with past due accounts.
However, Jake finds them here. Jake, who's plan to make Remy dependent on the extra money repo men get over salesmen by forcing him to get an artificial heart has backfired so utterly and completely that he has now become Remy's repo man. Jake and Remy fight, and in movie world it looks like Remy won. In reality, Jake has had Remy hooked up to an advanced form of virtual reality. In Remy's dream he and Beth infiltrate his work once more and discover that due to his bar-code scratching trick all organs are now being scanned at headquarters. So he has the plan to break into headquarters and delete the records on everyone, Tyler Durden style. When he and Beth finally fight their way in they find there is no database, simply a table with a number of bar-code scanners and a drawer for deposit. Remy has a quick change of plans and decides now is a good time to cut themselves open and start scanning. After a bit of Q, Beth scans his heart, reaching up though an incision below his ribs. After scanning Beth's eyes, ears, and voice box he cuts her open as well. But Beth has 15 artificial organs. When Remy is almost finished, Jake and his supervisor enter the room. After seeing what Remy is doing, his supervisor calls him pathetic and directs Jake to finish the job. Jake stabs the supervisor in the neck and helps Remy finish the operation, giving him an epi-pen to revive Beth and closing a pair of grenades in the collection drawer. Then they all move to the tropics.
Except that everyone is still in a ruined building and Remy is wired up to the fantasy machine. A technician comments that someone has to pay for the equipment, and Jake refers to the refugees sprawled around the building. "There's fifty commissions in here..." He indicates that he intends to pay for Remy's heart and the virtual reality system from his proceeds on this bust. An that's where the movie ends, just about as substantial a conclusion as in Repo!, if not less.
So which movie is better? I've been thinking about that while writing the above summaries. I'm pretty convinced now that I preferred the lower budget 2008 film. Not that I didn't enjoy Repo Men, and it counts as a lot in my book that the science was closer to being believable, but the actual plot points don't seem to follow as well. It seems like Remy let go of his wife too easily, though it is implied that he always had a bit of a thing for Beth. The conclusion also seemed underwhelming. Will Remy stay on the virtual reality machine forever? The last clip in the movie is Remy's supervisor promoting the system for those with serious brain injuries. Throughout the movie, Remy is counting how many times he gets knocked out, getting up to 5 by his fight with Jake. Maybe it is a permanent thing? But why does his fantasy involve having to shove a bar-code scanner into his and Beth's bodies? Couldn't it have gone as expected, with a computer he could just type "delete all" into? This is his fantasy!
But there are still more holes. Immediately before the accident, Jake and Remy take out a "nest" of past due accounts hiding out in a ship. You would think, with the money that Remy has been making as a repo man and the extra payout from that bust, he could afford the heart in full. Early in the film it is stated: "We don't make money if they pay in full." A very familiar credit philosophy, but it reveals that many could save up and pay in full if they get scared by the possibility of repossession. Why is this not available to Remy? Why can't he sell his Volkswagon Touareg?
Overall, a rather fun movie to watch, but don't think too hard about it. The psychological dilemma Remy faces after receiving an artificial organ himself is about as deep as the film gets. Whereas Repo! stands the test of heavy consideration.