Viking Night: Repo Man
By Bruce Hall
September 14, 2010
Most consumers have no problem loving a huge budget blockbuster. Movies that are meant to appeal to the widest possible audience usually do just that. But some films have a narrower vision, or simply contain more complex meaning than meets the eye. They aren't always art, and they aren't always even very successful. But for a devoted and eccentric few, they're the best entertainment money can buy. Once, beginning with Erik the Viking, a group of dedicated irregulars gathered weekly in a dingy dorm room to watch these films and discuss how what pleases the few might also appeal to the many. Time has separated the others in those discussions so that I alone remain to ponder the wider significance of cult cinema. But while the room is cleaner and I no longer have to skip class to do it, I still think of my far off friends whenever I hold Viking Night.
Sometimes a film attains legendary status because it manages to present an unconventional or uncommon point of view on a controversial subject. This sometimes frightens or confuses mainstream moviegoers but such films usually earn themselves a devoted following among fans of the avant-garde. Other projects cultivate an underground base of fans simply by virtue of being offbeat. They’re not necessarily illuminating or informative; some movies are just quirky, original and good old fashioned fun to watch. The joy is in the experience itself and not so much in what you take from it, because there probably isn’t much you can take from it. So it is with Repo Man, director Alex Cox’s nihilistic post punk cocktail of satire, violence and apocalyptic cynicism. Repo Man is one of those films that nearly everyone you know has heard of, relatively few have seen and even fewer remember well if they have. But despite its low profile, it is an iconic remnant of an age gone by, and representative of a most peculiar sociological phenomenon. Repo Man is the cinematic embodiment of the punk rock ethos: the more successful others become, the more disenfranchised the least motivated of us tend to feel. Aimlessness and anarchy are dressed up to resemble innovation and independence, and next thing you know you’ve got a “movement”. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with activism, but a radical without a cause is often just a lazy person who thinks that anger is the same thing as ability. So if you’re apathetic, bitter, envious, paranoid and desperately in need of a job, there might be a place for you at the Helping Hand Acceptance Corporation.
This is exactly where a disaffected teenager named Otto (Emilio Estevez) finds himself after the worst night of his life leaves him wandering the back streets of Los Angeles, waiting for something…anything to happen to him. After walking out on his job in a fit of protest, Otto seeks comfort in the arms of his girlfriend, only to discover that she’s been seeing another man – and having a jolly good time doing it. Despondent yet still determined, Otto returns home, looking to dip into his college fund and start his life over again. Unfortunately he finds his parents well on their way to getting themselves completely stoned, after which they casually inform him that his savings has been donated to a popular televangelist, and that charity is its own reward. Feeling anything but generous, Otto takes to the streets, where he inadvertently lends a hand to a grizzled, veteran repo man named Bud (Harry Dean Stanton). Despite his aversion to gainful employment, Otto is seduced by the lure of money, drugs and fellowship with other misfits. Bud takes the young recruit under his wing and shows him the ropes – the ins, the outs, the Repo Code and the Rodriguez Brothers, a ruthless rival repo crew. But the real fun starts when a mysterious bank issues a contract on a decrepit old Chevy driven by a demented scientist carrying a lethal cargo of possibly extraterrestrial origin. Bud, Otto, the Rodriguez boys, a gang of punks led by Otto’s ex and a mysterious government agent in a Michael Jackson glove dive headlong into a race against time to find the missing car before its deadly contents lay waste to the city.