Friday Follies [n., pl.] postings on Fridays about fashion and food in film from guest bloggers with impeccable taste.
From the neon-edged downpours of Blade Runner to the absolutist cynophilia of Must Love Dogs, American cinema does not lack for brutally dystopian versions of Los Angeles. But few films conjure up a Southland-gone-wrong like the 1984 masterpiece Repo Man (release 25 years ago this month) in which food is used as a metaphor for social control, a Jungian allegory and a moderately messy weapon. What food could be so versatile? Only Generic Food. Because in this film, all food is so generic that the cans it comes in are simply labeled “Food.” Beer is labeled “Beer.” Nonalcoholic drink is “Drink.” The dominant visual motif of the film’s oft-robbed commercial spaces is a sea of bland white and blue packaging in which the viewer sees not a single brand name.
This chilling generic tableaux apparently arose more by accident than by design, as the film’s producers found themselves unable to generate product placement opportunities with dialogue like “Look at ’em, ordinary fucking people. I hate ’em.”
Indeed, the film’s central tension is between protagonist Otto (brilliantly underplayed by Emilio Estevez*) and the conformist society that surrounds him. Otto begins the film by severely beating a co-worker for continuous singing of the “7-Up” jingle. Shortly thereafter, he displays contempt for his new employers by pouring out a generic “Beer” on their floor.
*Yeah, that’s right. I said it.
When Otto finally becomes hungry enough to actually open one of the ubiquitous cans of generic “Food,” the very act of eating serves to measure the distance between him and his zombified parents. As Otto plates his “food” (and by “plates” I mean he plops the gelantinous mass onto his plate where it lies, still faintly embossed with can markings, like a cylindrically-ribbed turd) his mother offers the following advice in monotone: “Put it on a plate, son. You’ll enjoy it more.” To which Otto sarcastically responds, “Couldn’t enjoy it any more, Mom. Mm, mm, mmm.” Babette’s Feast, this is not.
The rest of the film is replete with gastronomical references. Four of the film’s characters (Bud, Miller, Lite & Oly) are named after brands of beer, and when challenged to devise a crime spree, a hardened gang leader says “Yeah. Let’s go get sushi and not pay.”
Miller, the film’s wisest character, even uses the phrase “plate o’ shrimp” as an example of the Jungian concept of synchronicity. However, Miller also posits that time spent driving is inverse to intelligence and uses a slur to suggest screen legend John Wayne was a voyeuristic homosexual, a theory that, while unproven, nevertheless inspired someone to scrawl the exact line from the movie in this sidewalk.
Ultimately, Otto is trapped in a nightmarish hellscape lacking in flavor, a world where literally generic food and/or beer has robbed all but a transgressive few of the pleasures of taste. Yes, there may be alien corpses in the trunk of a 1964 Chevy Malibu, the “gypsy-dildo-punk” Rodriguez Brothers are a constant annoyance, and Otto’s girlfriend develops a serious torture fetish, but in my opinion Otto’s true struggle remains against the conformist mindset best epitomized by a character who, while dreaming of employment at a fast-food restaurant, says in reverent awe, “There’s fuckin’ room to move as a fry cook. I could be manager in two years. King. God.” —Ted Mulkerin
Ted Mulkerin is Head Writer of the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, but years ago he worked as a Repo Man.
For the previous FRIDAY FOLLIES, click HERE.