Repo! The Genetic Opera is “not your parents’ opera”. It really isn’t the kind of film a mainstream cinema audience would like to see. However, the film still remains worth watching.
The film is set in the year 2056 – “the not so distant future”. It is a story of a world that, although just a few decades ahead of us, is much more bloodthirsty, commercialised and as the clichéd term goes, cutthroat (but in the literal sense). This is how the story goes.
People started dying in huge numbers after an organ failure epidemic. So many people were suffering and dying from the epidemic that there was no way left to obtain organ donors. Obviously, cadaver organ donation system eventually failed too as the number of corpses with healthy organs began dwindling.
Amidst this bedlam, “a saviour emerges”. A man named Rotti Largo founded a company called GeneCo that provided organ transplants to people. But there was a slight hitch. GeneCo provided new organs to people on what we call today ‘easy installments’. But just imagine this; if you miss a single payment, you’re dead. And I don’t mean that you’re merely in trouble. You are actually dead.
GeneCo sends out its Repo Men to ‘repossess’ organs from its defaulters. The repossession of organs entails cutting and slicing up the body to take the organs out. This means a definite death for the defaulter.
Amongst this ‘legal’ bloodshed, surgery becomes a fashion statement. People undergo various procedures just because it is a ‘fad’. More than that, surgery becomes an addiction. Surgery addicts exist in the same way like we have drug addicts today. GeneCo developed Zydrate, an expensive but addictive painkiller. The rising demand for it leads to its illegal extraction and sale. Zydrate is extracted by the graverobbers from the brains of corpses and sell it to Zydrate addicts on the streets.
GraveRobber is also the omniscient narrator of the film. He tells the entire story, starting from his narration of what actually the Repo Man is. His narration is interspersed combined with a short sequence of a Repo Man at his ‘repossession assignment’. So that entire sequence shows you what exactly the GraveRobber is talking about. He knows things about other characters and introduces us to them throughout the film. He is also a part of the plot as a whole so he obviously has had interactions with them.
Amber Sweet, the only daughter of Rotti Largo, is filthy rich and spoiled. She is, in GraveRobber’s words, “addicted to the knife” as well as to Zydrate. She is an aspiring singer like Blind Mag who is retiring from her job as the ‘Voice of GeneCo’. Amber considers Mag as her rival. This is characterised during their few meetings in the film where Amber behaves with outright hostility towards Mag. She has had many different surgeries where she altered her appearance.
Nathan Wallace is a complex character. He seems to suffer from multiple personality disorder (MPD). He is a father and the Repo Man. We see both during the film, often in extremely quick successions. Nate’s two identities have the same, single goal; keep his daughter Shilo safe from the world of GeneCo and Repo Man. However, there are certain differences. Nathan the father is gentle, kind-hearted yet strict and overprotective who couldn’t hurt a fly. Keeping Shilo safe is his only aim in life after Marni, his beloved wife dies. The Repo Man is a sadistic killer who takes immense pleasure in killing people. He grins in their terrified faces as he raises his scalpel to split up their insides. But there is one thing in common between them. Both are obsessed with Shilo’s safety. It’s interesting how quickly and rapidly Nathan switches between his two identities. To a layman like me, his MPD seems quite severe.
Repo! The Genetic Opera was conceived and written as a play by Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich and had been in the works for about a decade until it was made into a film in 2008. It started off as short 10-minute rock music operas, written and performed by Smith and Zdunich in clubs and theatres across Los Angeles, USA.
The catchy musical score of the film was expanded greatly over the years. Today, it is probably the only film with at least 64 tracks composed, the highest number of songs ever composed for a film. There are scenes with violence, gore and sexual content in the film, as well as profanity. These, along with the music, may seem like mere gimmicks at first but if you think about it, it all makes sense eventually.
The film was shot in the Gothic style, making it look grim and spooky. It works well with the overall context of the film because it brings out the element of decay that seems inherent in the post-apocalyptic world in Repo.
This film is one of the greatest read-in-between-the-lines treasures that I ever came across in the worlds of literature and film. A duration of 97 minutes is too short for a film as complex as Repo! The Genetic Opera as there is so much to understand. It needs one’s attention. Most of all, it needs time to grow on you before you can actually start to understand and enjoy the film.
So watch the film, listen to the soundtrack, Google it and read every last bit of trivia and information that you can find on it. This limited space and the film itself is too short to let me tell you exactly what makes Repo! The Genetic Opera the cult classic it has become.
Dawn.com is including a Cult Classics section to its Weekly Classics to bring to our readers the joys of the obscure.