Repo Man
Bob Cantor Presents
everything you ever wanted to know about Repo Man.
"If it isn't here, it doesn't exist."

"Oh no you don't. I'm nipping this in the bud right now" - Arthur Pakman

What makes Repo Man such an awesome film? Repo Man is a movie created to wake you from the slumber of everyday routine and leave you looking at the world a little differently then you had before. Repo Man is also the only film which I can watch over and over again yet never find even a single moment of it to have become mundane or tedious through the repetition. But having to try to describe what makes Repo Man so good, or even what it's really about, is extremely difficult because the things it does can only be done through the medium of film - and this, of course, is part of what makes it such an outstanding accomplishment.

Otto is a high school drop-out living in a slightly twisted depiction of 1980's Los Angeles. The most positive things you can say about him is that he's brighter than his goofy friend Kevin, not as completely sociopathic as the punks he hangs out with, and he seems reasonably well groomed. Otto drifts aimlessly from one menial job to another until he happens to drift into the job of repossessing cars. His new coworkers teach him a craft and a code to live by, while the new job lands him right in the middle of a government conspiracy to cover-up the existence of aliens.

The repo men he works with are cowboys, rugged individualists with a code of honor. They work hard and they play harder. The desolate landscape they ride in is not the open plains and mountains of a sparsely inhabited American West, but a modern society which has been completely dumbed down by the irresistible lure of the lowest common denominator. Stores are filled with nothing but generic products, all of the news comes from the tabloids, and their entire world is paved. Ordinary people, like Otto's parents who sit mesmerized in front of their favorite televangelist, are just inanimate objects in the landscape. The repo men are a vanishing breed in a world increasingly dedicated to instant gratification and mass consumption. Or perhaps they're the pioneers of a new frontier, inventing a new culture and new rules for surviving in this harsh new landscape.

Put simply, Repo Man is a post-modern urban-setting western. You can try to strip away the surface layer of our lives to find meaning underneath, but all you'll find is another layer just as complex and confusing as the original surface. Rather than creating a positive reason for existence, the film's characters deal with the lack of meaning in their lives by resorting to acts of defiance and denial such as religion, the repo code, alien belief, authoritarianism, consumerism and punk rebellion. Cultural conditioning makes them blind to the inadequate and superficial nature of their choices, but Alex Cox opens our eyes to this conditioning and he does it with a story that lacking any underlying structure or reason is itself only held together by a complex web of surface relationships.

Much like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (the book, not the movie), Repo Man entertains us by exposing the absurdities of the great American quest for the mythical American Dream. Both of these works, in their own unique ways, show us just how ludicrous that dream is when based on the contradictory aspirations of mass consumption, rugged individualism, and Calvinistic morals (ie. the Protestant work ethic).

All of this is made possible because the film achieves such a high level of excellence in all aspects of film-making. The landscape, so important a part of any Western, is brilliantly depicted through the integration of sight, sound, music, and action. Attention and creativity are lavished on even the smallest details. The actors seem to truly live their roles, the script is nearly flawless, and the soundtrack is among the best ever.

Don't be fooled by the comfort of having a code to live by. The honor and integrity of these cowboys is just a shallow illusion. You're missing the point if you believe that salvation lies with the repo men or in a whacked-out homeless man developing a special rapport with aliens. There is no salvation; all you can do is stay awake and try as best you can to see things for what they really are.

"This looks like my car. Are there pecan pies in the back seat?" - J. Frank Parnell

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Copyright 2010 by Robert Cantor