One of my unofficial things I want to do in Doha before I leave is see a censored movie. I did that tonight, watching a slightly shorter version of “Repo Men.”
(The last 8 seconds of this clip were not present in the Doha version)
While my initial attraction was based solely on Jude Law’s presence on the poster, I slowly fell in love with this gory sci-fi/thriller/action movie. There is one penultimate scene which knocked my socks off, which I will not spoil. But it is visually incredible and I can’t believe the censors let it get by.
In trying to find a copy of that penultimate scene on YouTube, I came across another, superficially similar, movie: “Repo! The Genetic Opera”.
With a much lower budget trailer and more of my favorite performers (Buffy’s Anthony Stewart Head and musical diva Sarah Brightman for starters) it also deals with the life and times of an organ repossession agent. With a little more investigation, I found that these two films were created totally separately, and no matter the rumors of plagiarism, there was none.
This firm distinction, while legally important, disregards the memetic serendipity of these two films coming out within 2 years of each other. That two separate groups of authors would invent the same two dystopias is not out of the realm of the possible for me. Soaring health-care costs, home foreclosures, and advances in organ-replacement technology all point to this kind of world as a possible future. The place of the repo man, those charged with repossessing organs from “hosts” who fall behind in payments, in this kind of world is full of pathos: what is the ethical calculus of holding someone accountable to the usurious contract they signed, when forcing fulfillment may cause death. I think the commonalities between the worlds of these films are memes, those most public domain of free-floating worries and inspirations.
I believe neither movie was wholly original, because no story is. They are both playing in a world made up of memes–fear of financial insolvency, fear of the effects of advancing biotechnology on society, hope for a world with no sickness and no true death–and that world truly belongs to no one. The exact parameters of that world, the name of the organ company, the way the world got to that state, the stops along the journey the repo men must make, all come from the minds of the writers, directors, actors, designers, editors and fans.
Maybe this is me forcing everything I see into the fanfiction box because it’s a current research interest, but I see a good argument against inherent authorial originality in the similarities between “Repo Men” and “Repo! The Genetic Opera.”
“What a good thing Adam had. When he said a good thing he knew nobody had said it before.”–Mark Twain
“Repo Men” or “The Repossession Mambo” is, quite frankly, a better story. It takes a great science fiction concept and brings it beyond camp, into a nightmare world that makes a twisted kind of real world sense. And the ending, I mean, wow, the ending is just heartbreaking. …If it had had Anthony Stewart Head it would’ve been perfect.
Or, Anthony Stewart Head playing the wayward, waifish jazz-singer who the suddenly moral Remi learns to love. Together they fight their way into the Union, check their organs back in, and retire to the Maldives.