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Repo Man (1984): The Analysis


Balance of Morality (a.k.a. Fight Club: Prototype Version)

You read that right. I consider this as a prototype for David Fincher’s Fight Club. I always think about Fight Club as a movie that teaches us how to balance life. After all, we have to balance the boring mediocre life and danger-but-thought-provoking side of life as well, otherwise, it will fuck you up in the end. So what do we have here? We have Bud, a repo guy who follows the rule and still has the Amercian Dream attitude. Basically, he’s a generic guy in 80’s. Take a look at these quotes…

“Never broke into a car. Never hot-wired a car. Kid. I never broke into a trunk. I shall not cause harm to any vehicle nor the personal contents thereof. Nor through inaction let that vehicle or the personal contents thereof come to harm. That’s what I call the repo code, kid. Don’t forget it, etch it in your brain. Not many people got a code to live by anymore.”

“Guys who make it are the guys who get into their cars at any time. Get in at three A.M.get up at four. That’s why there ain’t a repo man I know that don’t take speed.”

“I don’t want any commies in my car. No Christians either.”

And then we have Lite, a rebellious guy who does anything but follows the rule. He loves to prank an innocent girl by throwing rats into her car, he usually steals the car (instead of repossessing it), he kills everyone who stands in his way, and he’s a book worm as well. These behaviors remind me of Tyler Durden in Fight Club. In Repo Man, both Bud and Lite have both good side and dark side, it’s time for us to balance “Bud” and “Lite” in our mind and do what’s right.

Speaking of morality, there’s a memorable quote from Duke, one of Otto’s friends who become criminals just to make themselves look cool and rebellious. Remember the quote “Let’s go get Sushi and not pay.”?. He’s the one who says it! And in the end, he gets killed after failed robbery. Here’s what he says before he dies…

“The lights are growing dim. I know a life of crime led me to this sorry fate. And yet I, I blame society. Society made me what I am.”


What do we learn from it? Well, it tells us that poverty and social issues may drive people to be bad guys, but that’s not the reason to break the law. As I said, there are lots of hobos out there probably due to economical problems or personal issues, but that’s not and excuse to rob the bank at all. It emphasizes us that one of the most important thing we have to do and learn in our life is personal responsibility. This is the reason why I said that Repo Man is NOT anti-Conservative film. It shows us the important of morality and personal responsibility. Although economy is in tough crap, we are actually the ones who can choose which way to go.

Another example about this topic is the whole “car chasing” plot. There are people who decide to chase an old Chevy car just because of money. They have no idea what’s inside the trunk of that car at all or, at least, they don’t know why the car’s price is skyrocketing, yet they believe that they are the ones who worth it. It tells us the danger of being greed and doing whatever to get the money. In the end, we have to find a way to stop an economic burden and being responsible for what we are going to do. It’s the duty of government and us.


The Definition of Happiness In Our Life

There are many people who still wonder what does the final scene suppose to tell us and what does Miller, a hippie mechanic, tries to tell us throughout the film. Well, besides the fact that this whole dialogue from Miller is really true to me….

“A lot of people don’t realize what’s really going on. They view life as a bunch of unconnected incidences and things. They don’t realize that there’s this like lattice of coincidence that lays on top of everything. I’ll give you an example, show you what I mean. Suppose you’re thinking about a plate of shrimp. Suddenly somebody will say like plate or shrimp or plate of shrimp out of the blue no explanation. No point in looking for one either. It’s all part of a cosmic unconsciousness.”

In the end, he’s one of two guys who can drive glowing Chevy Malibu without hurting themselves. Why? I think another thing the film tries to ask us that “What’s the meaning of happiness?”. Look at Otto, any teenage audience can relate to him since he has lots of trouble in his life: from his family who gets indoctrinated by televangelist, to his cheating girlfriend, to his annoying friend, and to his terrible day job. One day, he accidentally takes the repo man job that he doesn’t want to do in its first place, but he has no choice. Later on, he gets a new girlfriend, a new gang of people to hang out, a new car to be possessed, and money which he gets from doing the job. But as story goes by, we learn that these things give us happiness for only short period of time. The reason why Otto and Miller are only two guys who can “spin the wheel” in the end is because of their attitude. They realize that, in the end, they don’t want a truckload full of money, they don’t want hot chicks, they don’t want fast cars, or anything else. They just want to be happy and have an intense life. To quote Bud, “Only an asshole gets killed over a car.”

It sounds like hippie Buddhism bullshit, but at least it makes sense to me.


What’s in the trunk of the car?

Finally, this is the million dollar question that everyone keeps asking. According to the director, Alex Cox, himself, he gives a hint about that mysterious thing.

“[The film is about] Nuclear War. Of course. What else could it be about? And the demented society that contemplated the possibility thereof. Repoing people’s cars and hating alien ideologies were only the tip of the iceberg. The iceberg itself was the maniac culture which had elected so-called “leaders” named Reagan and Thatcher, who were prepared to sacrifice everything — all life on earth — to a gamble based on the longevity of the Soviet military, and the whims of their corporate masters. J. Frank Parnell – the fictitious inventor of the Neutron Bomb – was the central character for me.”

So if that thing in the trunk is the bomb, how can it flies in the end? Why do some people believe it’s an alien in the trunk? What is it?  To answer these questions: let’s take a look at another important character in this film: J. Frank Parnell, a maniac who drives the mysterious car for the most part in this film. Why do I say he’s a maniac? Let’s look at what he says…

“I go to Utah every year. Friend of mine, was a designer of the MX missile race track basing mode. A hundred thousand miles of railroad track on a big loop through Utah, Arizona, and Nevada. Bombs were going to hide in locomotive sheds. That way the red team would never know exactly where they were. I still go out to Utah, just to think about the way things might have been.”


“Radiation, yes indeed! You hear the most outrageous lies about it. Half-baked goggle-boxed do-gooders telling everybody it’s bad for you. Pernicious nonsense! Everybody could stand a hundred chest X-rays a year. They ought to have ’em too. When they canceled the project it almost did me in. One day my mind was literally a-burst. The next day nothing. Swept away… But I’ll show them. I had a lobotomy in the end.”


“A friend of mine had one. Designer of the neutron bomb. Ever hear of the neutron bomb? Destroys people. Leaves buildings standing. It fits in a suit case. It’s so small no one knows it’s there until blammo. Eyes melt skin explodes everybody dead. It’s so immoral working on the thing can drive you mad. That’s what happened to this friend of mine. So he had a lobotomy. Now he’s well again.”


The first dialog comes from TV cuts of the film. Although most of scenes that were shots specifically for TV cuts are unnecessary, this is one of few dialog that’s totally worth hearing since it gives dimension of character. As you can see, he’s a scientist who believes that nuclear has no impact on human life AT ALL. It reflects the heated Cold War at the time pretty well.

In the end, that thing in the truck could be either aliens or a bomb, but there’s one thing we know for sure: J. Frank Parnell is another example of scientists who spends time researching on how to make the most destructive bomb in the history of mankind instead of creating a medicine to make us live longer, or ,at least, researching on the new type of sustainable energy. That sounds scary. Doesn’t it?


So here it is. My interpretation of Repo Man. The more you watch it, the more topic you can learn from. Feel free to discuss below if you have any interesting topic that you learn from this cult classic.

About The Author
Nuttawut Permphithak
Nuttawut Permphithak
A student who's studying in marketing. He usually spends his free-time on watching movies, listening to music, reading books, and creating things you're probably reading/listening right now.
  • Black Doug
    April 22, 2015 at 9:52 pm

    Repo Man should be more widely hailed as a classic.

    Also, John Wayne was a fag. “The hell he was!” (Notice how that scene is probably the only time many of the characters actually get along.)

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