Do you know that Monty Python sketch about live organ transplants? In case you have not seen it or don’t recall it here it is:
The silly idea of repossessing live organs by force is essentially the whole idea behind Repo Men. Well, that minus the guy in the fridge singing about the universe.
It is 5 minutes into the future, and a mega-corporation known as The Union has cornered a market for artificial replacement organs. They are like Microsoft for bionics – they have zero completion and the government regulatory bodies wrapped around it’s little finger. The former lets them sell their organs at exuberant prices, with insane interest plans, the later lets them legally reposes their property if a patient defaults on a payment. Yes, if you don’t pay them a guy will come to your house, and cut out your artificial liver while you are still alive.
Jude Law plays a hard-core repo man working for the union. For all intents and purposes he is no less than a legal hit-man and enforcer. His job is to intimidate, threaten and if that does not work, extract the company owned organs from dead-beat clients. He is the sort of heartless bastard that is completely immune to begging, groveling and tears. He will put you down, and cut your organs out while humming his favorite song. This all changes when he has an unfortunate accident and ends up with an artificial heart made by his own company.
Now you would think that an evil corporation would hook it’s highly-trained, armed paramilitary enforcers with free replacement organs or at least sell it to them at production cost forgoing the insane profit margins and the payment plans with crazy interest. That sort of thing would build loyalty and prevent these dangerous men from going rogue and causing trouble. But since it is a movie, and it needs a deeply contrived conflict to push the plot along, Jude Law gets slammed with the same payment plan as everyone else. He could probably keep up with the payments if he worked overtime, but sadly the Union techs apparently gave him a vagina in addition to the mechanical heart. Um… Did I say vagina? I meant conscience. He suddenly realizes that his job is kinda evil, and refuses to do any more repo work acting like a big pussy and crying about it.
Unsurprisingly, when he falls behind on the payments the company sends its goons after him. Even less surprisingly he refuses to give up his heart, and retaliates by taking out repo-man after repo-man. Eventually he comes up with a brilliant plan of shutting down The Union forever by blowing up their main server. Cause, you know – a multi-national mega-corp would not have backups or anything… Actually, scratch that. That part is actually excusable considering how the movie ends. Law’s character with his tiny brain would totally think that this plan was foolproof. But I don’t want to spoil anything, so I won’t go into details.
Is this a good move? Oh god, no! It is not. It is typical action flick – lots of action, fight scenes, explosions and barely serviceable plot. But it really had some potential. I really like the central idea: what happens to your artificial organs if you can’t pay for them. As a futurist and trashumanist this is relevant to my interests. Soon this sort of thing will be possible – we will be able to buy artificial replacement organs or even whole replacement bodies. How will we determine their legal status? Will companies be able to reposes your non-essential artificial components?
What about uploads? What happens to dis-embodied entities who will reside in cyberspace if they are unable to pay for the hardware they run on? Would they be legally protected? Do human rights extend to uploads or would they be treated as software? Would a hosting company be legally allowed to shut you down, and freeze your mental processes until a payment is made? Could they delete you completely if you failed to pay storage fees?
These are very interesting questions that are worth exploring in depth. Sadly, Repo Men opts for a low brow approach for this topic, banking on sex, violence and explosions. And while my reptilian brain is enjoying the bloody carnage, the more cerebral, analytical prat of me groans and cringes due to all the inconsistencies and unanswered questions.
For example, why does the Union have so much power? I mean, wouldn’t the government be a little upset about this sort of thing? It would be nice if the movie even made an attempt to explain this. For example, they could mention how the most prominent politicians are their clients. Or how it is the future and the Union is the de-facto government. But they don’t even bother.
Secondly, why is there no competition? How come no one makes cheep knock-off organs? There seems to be a black-market for replacement organs, so why aren’t they buying or smuggling in stuff from China for example? For that matter, why all black-market parts have active Union tags on them? Especially when Jude Law illustrated that all you need to do to fool the scanners repo-men use is to scratch or otherwise damage the bar-code plate on the organ. That part made my brain hurt.
Or this: why is Alice Braga even in this movie? They seem to inject her into the movie halfway through, as if they suddenly realized they did not meet some “sex” quota and they had to hastily add some girl that could take part in the very bloody sex/surgery scene. Which also made my brain hurt. Can someone who has seen the movie please explain to me why did they need to scan all their implants? If all they wanted to do was to blow the server up, all they needed was to open one organ container.
We call this sort of thing fridge logic and most movie makers use it as a crutch to prop up their plot when they written themselves into a corner. In Repo Men fridge logic is not a crutch – is the main structural support beam.