SUB-GENRES: Comedy / Drama
DIRECTED BY: Alex Cox
WRITTEN BY: Alex Cox
PEW PEW: A few shots fired later on. Some car chases. Nothing terribly intense.
CAT FOOD: The film captures the cynical nature of youth in the eighties, and the punk rock underbelly is well exposed.
It’s dangerous territory when one views a cult classic film from the outside looking in. These movies are hurtled into cult classic territory by a niche audience that the film’s situations speak to, not because they are easy to understand for a regular audience. As an outsider looking in, I have had to put myself in different shoes for my review of 1984’s punk rock black comedy Repo Man. I really have no fucking idea what really happens in the film, it’s far from exciting, and the majority of the characters and situations appear to simply be throwaways, but Repo Man is a solid film nonetheless. I’m now going to try my damnedest to explain why.
The film centres on two separate figures. The most obvious is Otto, a dejected punker youth who’s lost his job, his girl, and money promised to him by his hippie parents if he finished school. And then there’s this old Chevy Malibu, whose trunk is occupied by the decomposing bodies of dead aliens that are so irradiated they are able to completely vaporise anyone who opens the trunk.
When Otto takes a job as a repo man for a small, extremely greasy auto repossession firm, he and the Malibu, which is being pursued by mysterious government agents, draw ever closer to merging their stories. The film largely details Otto’s training and sordid adventures that occur on the job. The story of the alien car weaves in and out of the main one and really only seems to serve as an absurd ex machina that underscores the anarchic nature of the film’s humour.
So what’s so good about Repo Man? While nothing powerful really happens from a narrative standpoint, Repo Man stands out as a strong example of anti-literature. It’s incredibly watchable mostly because it dares to forsake the traditional storytelling vehicle for a more immediate, situation-based engine. It’s really just a chain of events that would be crazy as a yarn from a real life acquaintance, but is really rather mundane when compared to your average film scenario. I liken it in this way to the seventies film Car Wash, which features an above-averagely eventful day on the job at an otherwise mundane car wash. Kevin Smith’s original Clerks is another fine example.
That being said, Otto’s quirky story is insanely interesting and quite ludacrous, with Emilio Estevez and Harry Dean Stanton in fine form as the two main characters. Both give incredibly real performances that go a long way to explaining why they are two of the coolest actors from the era. The chemistry is fantastic between them.
Really, the most incredible thing about Repo Man is its depiction of the era’s cynical punk rock scene. While normally routinely exploited in film as a standard stereotype, the punk underbelly is used in Repo Man as an ubiquitous normal, much the same as Seattle’s rock scene was depicted in Singles. As best as my stretched understanding can be related, the brilliant soundtrack and the heavy self-parody satirises the outside world’s view of the scene itself. This is the vibe I get, and it impresses the hell out of me.
Of final note is the film’s warped sense of humour. Repo Man is comedy in the same sense that seventies exploitation flicks are. There are a few outright funny jokes that had me in stitches, but for the most part, the humour is in the absurdity of the otherwise normal situations. As it is a black comedy, Repo Man slips jokes in wherever it can, even when blood has been shed. One scene in which Otto purposefully misleads his coworkers into laying a beat down on his old supermarket boss had me giggling maniacally.
All of these things add up to make Repo Man a very entertaining, if completely fucked little movie, inspite of its dubious point and nonsensical ending. If you’re confused as to what to expect from the film or, worse yet, you’ve seen the thing and don’t understand what in the fuck happened, remember this line:
“The life of a repo man is always intense.”
That one line sums up the film’s plot, point, and message quite neatly. If that’s all you go in expecting, you should have no problem enjoying this very interesting cult classic.