Repo Men is a smorgasbord of absurdist futurism references, according to director Miguel Sapochnik. He showed us which science fiction classics he drew on, from Brazil to Clockwork Orange. But no, Repo! The Genetic Opera isn't on the list.
This film is just dripping with pop culture references, ads, sponsored images and things of that nature. Was it important for you to put a lot of ads in the film?
Absolutely. We shot a whole bunch of commercials before we shot the movie. I did a QVC — kind of a Home Shopping Network thing. I shot a whole bunch of news stuff. I explained to them the world, and that I wanted them to shoot a whole bunch of adverts for the Union, but I also wanted them to do deodorants and mattresses, all sorts of things in the world, so we could get across the sensibility of this place.
I thought it was important for people to understand that the reason that you could legally go out and rip someone's heart out in the middle of the street is because we as a culture have become completely desensitized to the idea of violence. It was all based on the idea that when the Iraq War first started, you'd see on the internet, "Three Killed in Iraq" and you'd click on it. And then two years later it would have to be at least 50 for me to click on it. That's terrible, we're just desensitized to violence. I think consumerism and escapism essentially — which becomes rife in times of war — was paramount to the story's believability. It was very much taking a page out of Paul Verhoeven's film, but also developing this idea that people will buy anything.
I don't know how late you stay up and watch those fucking infomercials, but it's amazing. Not only is it amazing that people will buy anything, but it's amazing that the people who are doing those commercials can do it with such absolute passion, conviction and zeal. The guy that came up with a special ball that you rub on your bum and it turns you into some kind of elephant, they spent years sitting in a workshop trying to work this stuff out. And they spent years because they believe people will buy anything. They're right in a way — we'll buy what we're told. We follow the pack. We were very, very keen on taking what exists currently, in terms of consumerism and marketing and taking it to the next level. Seeing how far we can go until people will call our bluff.
When they first sent me all of the scripts for the advertisements, some of them were very tongue-in-cheek. I told them, you've got to remove all of that. It's not tongue and cheek. Sell it like you mean it, because that's the way I see these things being sold to me. And that's what makes them crazy. It's the Family Heart Center in Robocop, "We make great hearts. You pick the heart, Yamaha, Suzuki. Remember, we care!" Fucking hell — no, you don't.
Robocop Family Heart Center:
Note: There's also a pretty blatant RoboCop reference in the film when main character Remy, Jude Law, gets a mechanical heart. He winds up looking very similar to this gentleman here, and more so later when his bandages start to bleed out.
What about A Clockwork Orange and Brazil? I felt like those films had great influence in Repo Men.
In A Clockwork Orange, Malcolm McDowell's character, Alex, influenced Jude Law's character Remy in Repo Men. That was a big part of it. It was also the general Kubrickian future that's presented in A Clockwork Orange. It's very garish and everyone is wearing really weird clothes. But it's not dark or post-apocalyptic, it's just kind of freaky.
It was a visual and it was a character influence. There was a tonal influence, as well, that also pertains to A Clockwork Orange and Brazil, which was a sense of humor and an irony that exists. That style which is utilized by both of those filmmakers is something that I just found [I related to]. I used to watch movies with my Dad, and I always knew something was good and crazy, but intellectually sound, when he'd would start laughing. We found a common ground when we both saw Robocop, because I loved these violent films, but was forced to watch these arthouse movies by him. And he loved arthouse movies, but was forced to watch violent films by me. But when we both saw Robocop, we both loved it because it's about something more in a very weird, very frightening, highly entertaining was. So you can be forgiven if it goes right over your head and all you do is enjoy yourself. And at the same time if you analyze that movie, it's quite a terrifying view of the future, particularly with the idea of consumerism. It's scary stuff.
Another major influence in this film was the absurdist humor of Monty Python. The Meaning of Life sketch below is prominently featured in one part of the film, but the balance between humor and darkness really slips into this film, although it never really got exceptionally light. Sapochnik remained that he wanted the feature to remain "colorful and brash and garish not fall into the trap of making everything dark and pessimistic." And referencing Monty Python is certainly a fantastic way to achieve this. In fact, when he was directing Forest Whitaker, the actor wanted to know just how humorous and satirical Sapochnki wanted him to take it, to which he responded to play it straight and let him do the tinkering with the tone in the end. One tool the director used rather frequently is juxtaposing pop music throughout gut-wrenching scenes, which actually worked quite well.
Still some members of Hollywood thought Sapochnik was overly influenced by their own work, like the creators of Repo! The Genetic Opera. We asked the director what he thought.
What about the director of Repo! The Genetic Opera? He had said a few choice words about the your film being influenced by his?
It's like pop fiction, versus the Rocky Horror Picture show. I mean they are just completely different points of view about a similar premise. He can say whatever he wants.
And finally, it's worth pointing out that Repo Men's cityscape is totally reminiscent of Blade Runner: