Thoughts on “Repo Men”

I actually finished that ten pack of science fiction movies I had a while go — it ends with “Waterworld”, to give a preview of things to come — but obviously had other things to write about and so couldn’t fit talking about them into my schedule.  But I don’t have Persona 5 Royal or an MMO to talk about this week, so I’m going to talk about the next one in the pack, which is “Repo Men”.

The basic premise here is that in some indeterminate future there will be an industry built up around providing artificial organs to people — it isn’t clear at the outset that these are not donated organs but it is revealed later that for the most part, at least, they are artificial — at enormous prices.  When some people can’t afford to pay, the company sends the Repo Men to repossess the artificial organs, which of course ends up killing the patients most of the time.  The main character is one of these Repo Men, whose wife wants him to get out of the business and into something more ethical, like selling the things to people, while his partner wants him to stay.  After an accident puts the main character in the same position as the people whose organs he has been harvesting, he has to flee for his life while his own partner is trying to bring him — or his organs — back.

I’m going to talk in a lot of detail about the premise and about the twist, so if you don’t want to be spoiled you should probably stop reading now.

Anyway, what struck me while watching this movie was how ridiculous this premise actually was, both in its initial premise and in how the world was built out around it.  Early on in the movie I was looking at how the organs were repossessed and was thinking that doing it that way can’t be good for the organs, as they essentially rip them out after knocking the patients out.  Finding out later that the organs were artificial helps a bit, but it seems like building an entire force around individually or in pairs hunting these people down would be inefficient and cruel compared to, say, simply getting the police to find and arrest them.  You could argue that that can’t happen because they are hiding what they do from the authorities, but that isn’t the case because the main character, after knocking out his next victim, recites a standard and legally mandated question if the victim wants to have an ambulance standing by, which I at first thought was him being a bit of a bastard, but then realized that he did that because he was required by law to ask the question but the question was, in fact, utterly ridiculous:  if he was going to rip out an organ that the person needed to live because that person couldn’t pay for it, what was a hospital going to do?  They still wouldn’t be able to pay for the organ and still needed it to live, so they might as well just die here instead of later.  And what that does mean is that not only is this legally sanctioned, it’s legally sanctioned to the extent that it can have pointless and overly bureaucratic rules.  So they could have had official law enforcement go after them, which would also have avoided them having to try to keep the world’s worst kept secret.

But even worse is the fact that this sort of violent repossession doesn’t actually make sense from a business perspective.  Why rip these organs out to resell, presumably?  Are the components or something that rare that they really, really need to repossess them?  Because given the debt that the people have and that they have a wide range of skills, it would make more sense for them to do something like was done in “Ready Player One” and simply press them into indentured servitude.  Since the organs are artificial, they should be able to build more if they need them and getting official recognition for debt service would be far easier than for murdering people in violent ways, and they could seize property and even press their families into it if necessary.  And if some of those who couldn’t pay couldn’t provide legitimate labour, there’s always illegitimate labour like the sex trade or open slavery.  In fact, they could actually use that to make themselves look better by showing the legitimate workers being treated well and then pointing to any cases where someone was in the illegitimate trade and found as being people who tried to run away and avoid their debt, where their only option was these sorts of shady operations that never ended well for them.  So they wouldn’t have to hide the indentured servitude from the people and could even use that as a sign of their compassion:  they need to make their money back, but are trying to do it in the most compassionate way they could.  And they could use all the normal tricks to make it so that the people who are useful never pay their debts back.  This also makes more sense as a business because they’d want people to keep paying on their own bills or else work off their debt, and ripping out the organs to resell doesn’t really help them profit-wise.  At best, someone else keeps paying what they would have paid, and so they don’t really gain from the repossession model, whereas they very much could gain with an indentured servitude/manufacturing new organs model.

Now, this same theme was proposed in “Repo:  The Genetic Opera” and since they were using actual biological organs it made, well, about as little sense as it does here.  But that movie — based on the musical — built a complete crapsack world where the main villain was pretty much your typical sadistic and pointlessly evil villain and so we could believe that, for him, the suffering was worth it and that that was just how this world worked.  But in “Repo Men” the world is pretty similar to our own and a business wanting to and being able to legitimize sadism but not debt slavery makes no sense, and even more strongly works against the world here.  The world here is not so bad that this should have been allowed to happen, even if the business would have wanted things this way.

The other big thing about the movie is the twist.  Towards the end of the movie, the main character gets knocked out and when he wakes up he manages to overpower his former partner and head out on a quest to end the organ business entirely, with an assault on their main headquarters, which succeeds.  He then retires to some sort of tropical island with his partner — who had a last minute conversion — and the woman that he’s associated with in the movie and fallen in love with, as they talk about his book, which he has been narrating parts of in his head for a while.  And then it is revealed that … this is all in his head.  He was brain damaged after the hit to the head and his partner hooked him up to a previously mentioned new device that locks someone into a dream state when they are in that condition.  As it turns out, his partner was the one who caused the accident so that the main character wouldn’t stop partnering with him — they had been friends and partners from childhood — and so shows here that he really did care about the guy, keeping him alive — and presumably paying for it — so that he might be restored at some point.  Of course, he also kills the woman the guy loved so he’s not at all a nice guy.

What’s interesting about this is that there are indeed some subtle hints about this during the movie, and anything that you see in the ending that seems contrived or odd can be explained by being tailored to his fantasy and to seams in the system itself.  Such as the odd scene right at the end where he’s making out with the woman while they are tearing out each other’s artificial organs to get access to the main system to blow it up, for example.  Also, the scene where his son shocks his ex-wife, who left him when he got the artificial heart (if family members could be indentured as well, this would make more sense).  So this strikes me as a movie where you could at least rewatch the last part and get some new insights based on knowing that this is a fantasy and so being able to see what parts are hinting that it isn’t real.

Unfortunately, that part happens relatively late in the movie, and the early parts of the movie aren’t interesting enough to rewatch just to get to this point.  Still, the movie itself wasn’t bad and the performances were fairly good, even if the world building and plot were a bit lacking.  So this is a movie that I might rewatch at some point in the future, but am not likely to rewatch any time soon.


One Response to “Thoughts on “Repo Men””

  1. Thoughts on “Seventh Son” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] out I only watched and am only going to talk about nine of them, because the one in the pack after “Repo Men” is actually “Serenity”, which I have already watched and talked about.  So, obviously, […]

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