“I respect a movie that kicks me in the balls.”
This comment was how I summed up my initial feelings after watching Repo Men. It’s a Jude Law near-future picture about special ops guys who go after people and rip out their cyborg organs, since they’re 90 days delinquent on payments. I listed it as a potential review for this Friday’s IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! in the poll to your right. By the way, shameless plug: Have you voted yet? If not, go ahead and do so. I’ll wait.
All good? Cool. Let’s move on.
Repo Men (by the way? Better than Repo! The Genetic Opera. By far.) caught me a bit off-guard in what it did, which is something I will not spoil here. But it ties into something I’ve been thinking about. I like movies that make me think, but I especially enjoy films that pull a fast one on me. Quite a few make the attempt to execute a clever or shocking reveal, but only a handful manage to pull it off well. They break through our perception or cynicism, a virtual breaking and entering of our minds.
Say what you want about the sequels that followed it, and I’d say quite a bit, but the original Matrix gave us a slow burn to a pretty neat reveal. As much as I don’t buy into the whole “we’re plugged into machines” rhetoric of some post-modern philosophers (Baudrillard coined “The TV watches you” after all) the idea of machines rising up not to exterminate us, but to use us was something unique in movies and was presented in a way that was both interesting and exciting. As much as the second and third movies took a serious nosedive, the concept remains fresh for some and its originality permeates most entries in the Animatrix.
The Usual Suspects
This film revolves around a central question. We’re drawn into the maelstrom as we’re introduced to the titular suspects, but eventually we, like the detectives, are asking “Who is Keyser Söze?” One of the greatest triumphs of the film is only seen in retrospect. Everything we need to answer that question is right in front of us, practically from the beginning. After the initial shock of the answer wears off, we are compelled to watch the movie again, looking for the clues we missed. If that’s not a successful film, I don’t know what is.
It really doesn’t take much to make a film’s meaning or answers obscure. It takes quite a vision, however, to turn the entire course of a narrative on its head. Memento‘s timelines are in opposition to each other, one moving forwards as the other moves back through time, yet they work in perfect harmony and keep us just off-balance enough to be uncertain of what comes next. Or what came before. In any event, it’s a damn good movie and fantastic food for the brain.
These movies challenge us. They dare us to follow them and sort them out. The most powerful example of this in recent memory is Inception. From its exploration of the nature of dreams to the construction of its plot and primary caper, the movie is both a daring exercise in screenwriting and direction as well as the sort of challenge movie-goers tend not to expect. Not everybody chose to take up its gauntlet, seeing it just as a flashy, slick caper flick in the vein of Ocean’s Eleven, but others went deeper, teasing out layers of meaning and finding just as many questions as answers.
If I get to reviewing Repo Men at full, I’ll let you know if it joins this pantheon of movies that perpetuate mind crimes.