In Repo Men's dystopian future, health care has been so privatized, you can buy robotic organs on credit. But if you miss a payment, you're dead. So how much of this gory film is precautionary? Plenty, according to the cast.
The world of Repo Men, twenty years from now, is a fast-moving and epically violent place. The public has been thoroughly desensitized to violence. Which explains why the idea of a group of retired military types running around, legally ripping life-saving "artiforgs" out of defaulting clients isn't too much of a traffic-stopper for the masses. It's an obvious and apparent jab at the state of our health-care system today, but were the actors in on this as well? We asked each one at the Repo Men press conference.
First, and probably the most significant figure in the scenario, was Liev Schreiber's character, Frank. A manager of one wing of the giant autoforg-selling Credit Union. Frank's bottom line is the company's bottom line. And Schrieber plays him quite well, as a slimy used car salesman. We asked Schreiber about the morality of organ-repossessions.
In this movie, it seems like there is a very thin line between good guy and bad guy. It doesn't seem like there are a lot good guys at all, what do you think about your character?
Liev Schreiber: Frank stands firmly on the side of bad guy, in my opinion. I love the idea that, if you ask the question of what happens to health care if we continue to treat it like a privatized for-profit industry — the extreme extension of that question — the answer is Repo Men. The idea that at the head of something like The Union would be the equivalent of a used car salesman is particularly satisfying to me.
What do you think the film says about other issues in society that are extrapolated from the film, like returning soldiers coming back from extended tours in the military, predatory credit-card lenders and things of that nature?
Liev Schreiber: Clearly, it deals with the credit issue in a very dark way. And in terms of returning soldiers, the idea that they would become Repo Men that's a pretty harrowing thought as well. Those are the elements of the film that I liked. That they were trying to reference social and political issues in the 20-year projection of the future.
Do you think the audience will pick up on these themes? or that's something that those of us are a little more liberal minded will see? Do you think people will see it, and what do you think their reaction will be?
Liev Schreiber: I don't know, I think they will see it, because I think the people who like this sort of genre of film tend to be pretty wildly liberal. So I think they'll get it, you have to be, to some degree liberal, to watch organ transplants [on screen]. But I certainly hope they get it, because to me that's at the core of what it is. What's so chilling about it to me is that it's not that far from the truth. Not that I'm a slasher-movie fiend, or even extremely liberal. But the idea that people are dying in this country for health care is a reality. To take it to such an extreme conclusion is entertaining, and to some degree substantial.
What about the conservative side, do you think they will see themselves in this scenario?
Liev Schreiber: I hardly think any of them are really willing to empathize with a character like Frank, but you never know... I'm not sure. I think that part of the idea behind making this as ridiculous and as far-fetched as it is, is for those more tragic truths to come home. But again, this is about entertainment, for the most part. But I hope that people find some parallels in that, because that was certainly the intention of the filmmakers.
A lot of times when actors talk about playing bad guys, they talk about finding the humanity in the character. Did you go through that with this character? Where did you find it?
I think to a certain degree I had already developed the character for [Ricky Roma] the David Mamet play, and we were borrowing from him a little bit for Frank. Frank makes the mistake that I think a lot of us make: he becomes distracted and consumed by the bottom line. That at the end of the day all that matters is that he shows numbers. The cost of those numbers is something that he is incapable of being aware of. So I think that is a human fault, clearly, and something [that's] happening to this country. I'm sure there are many, many people who are making billions and billions of dollars in the pharmaceutical industry who have no idea of the impact that it's having on the country as a whole. I don't think that they hold themselves responsible for the deaths of the people that can't afford their products. And I think it works that way with Frank. And by taking him down a notch, making him sort of a simple used car salesman, it becomes more apparent. Whereas those guys are much more sophisticated in how they present themselves.
Was there a twinge of Midwestern accent in Frank?
That was borrowed from Ricky Roma, from the David Mamet play. It was important that Frank seemed like the salt of the Earth, that Frank seemed like blue collar, that Frank seemed like an everyman... But the idea of a used-car salesman, I really loved that idea, and when I think of a used-car salesman I think of these sort of Chicago guys that are just hustlers, and that's why I borrowed that accent.
Jude Law, meanwhile, plays the main character, a Repo Man who loses the will to slice and dice after an on-the-job accident leaves him with his own artiforg, a heart. He's the heart of the story, pun intended.
This movie touches on the health care debate. Your perspective?
Jude Law: I don't talk politics. [Waits for reaction then laughs.] First of all, lets talk about the film. What's always interesting about dystopian films — or rather, good dystopian films — [is that they] only reference current themes, they don't hit you over the head with them, they don't make it the source of the story... Don't forget, we made this film two and a half years ago. So it was an issue, but it wasn't as current as it is now. It's just very fortuitous that the world is as messed up as it is and played right into the hands of our movie. With what's going on here, I think everyone would agree that it's a side, it's an element of your society that needs addressing, the problem is that it's a Gordian knot, in that everyone approaches it with a very different need, a very different design, a very different background, and everyone has a right to have their voice heard in that argument, but equally, one can't hear all arguments and please all people all the time to reach a consent.
But as far as how it references England, I think the more interesting theme is in the film is how the company, how there can be corporations who can sell you stuff and it's bad for you, because they know they're the company that's going to sell you stuff that's good for you. That there's a sort of umbrella holding it all together... They'll cut off your nose with one hand and sell you a nose with another.