Tudor Morality Plays in Modern Cinema: Central Character


An earlier post, entitled Set, Costumes, and Dance of Death, began a series of posts about the relationship between Tudor morality plays and modern cinema. I want to continue that series here addressing the central of lead character’s role in both morality plays and modern cinema. Throughout the series I have chosen to employ the film Repo Men as representative of modern cinema. If you are unfamiliar with the film, perhaps this article would be more meaningful after reading the plot summary linked above.

The central figure or series of figures in morality plays define the concept of what it means to be human. Ancillary characters, defined by their function, stand at the service of the plot, which is ritualized, dialectical, and inevitable.[1] The character roles provide for the standard plot arrangement, which necessarily includes that man, exists, he falls, but he is saved. This pattern is repeated in form for every morality play. Unlike the secular life cycle [man lives then dies with no eternal consequence], man is delivered by divine grace to gain salvation and eternal life. The plays remind the audience that “the end of human life is not ‘mere oblivion’ but regeneration: never death, always a rebirth.”[2] The offer of life fulfilled would have significance in the period of history where man found himself ensconced in significant disease, plague, and premature death.[3]

Remy portrays this humanness and the plot of Repo Men follows the arrangement of innocence, fall, and restoration found in morality plays. The two are interrelated in many ways. Remy’s humanness appears early in the film as the opening scenes have him at a typewriter without a shirt composing what he later terms as a cautionary tale.[4] The bareness of Remy, in the way he was famed in the shot at the typewriter, appearing almost naked delivered an image of innocence. However, the content of the typed message (and revealed later in the plot) narrated by Remy display the final movement of a play involving repentance. One way the plot progressed is by counting the time Remy was knocked unconscious. This act marks major milestones in his life. (1) He was knocked unconscious in Army training which enabled to him to qualify for tank duty. This was his first encounter with killing humans. Remy and Jake celebrated at tank rounds obliterated enemy vehicles. (2) While they celebrated in a bar upon return from the war, Remy was knocked unconscious. Remy recounts that “one night the war was over and we were all dressed up and nowhere to go….For us the war never ended it just changed venue”[5] Remy and Jake find a way to continue their killing through legal means with repossession jobs for the Union company. (3) While doing his final repossession before consenting with his wife’s desire for him to move to sales, Remy is knocked unconscious by the sabotaged defibrillator. At this point he received a heart transplant which placed him in the debt of the Union. More importantly, he realized the humanness of his victims. After returning to work, Remy attempted to continue to repossess organs, but cannot complete the task. While sitting in a bar with colleagues that were recounting stories of whimpering victims, Remy recounted to himself, “All I can think about is how that schmuck has a name, and a wife, and kids.”[6] This is an important turn in plot as Remy now begins his journey of redemption. He attempts to reunite with his wife and family but is spurned. This forced him to move in with Jake. (4) Because Remy is unable to repo, he took the sales job, but fell behind on his heart transplant payments. Jake drove him to a target rich area to help him get regain confidence. While there a potential victim knocked him out. When Remy awoke he encountered Beth, whom he heard singing earlier in a bar. He rescued Beth from drugs and ultimately from being repossessed as she had many transplants. Remy narrated, “The thing is I have an artificial heart, she has an artificial everything else; maybe we’re two parts of the same puzzle. Maybe it’s not just her I’m trying to save.”[7] Remy understood that through saving Beth he is saving him self. (5) The final knock out came by way of Jake in a confrontation with Remy and Beth in the underground. The movie leads the viewer to perceive that all ends well. Remy, Beth, and Jake team up to bring down the Union and escape to the tropics to live happily ever after, but this is a fantasy all in Remy’s neural mind plant. When Jake knocked out Remy in the underground, Remy suffered brain damage and does not regain consciousness. Instead he is implanted with a “M5 Neural Net” device that allows victims of brain damage to live out the rest of their natural lives as Frank advertised– “where they are always happy, always content, and always taken care of.”[8]Therefore Remy portrayed the major movements of the morality play: innocence, fall, and redemption. Each time Remy regained consciousness, he entered a new movement, ultimately entering “heaven” with the M5 Neural Net device supplied by Jake.


[1] Robert A. Potter, The English Morality Play: Origins, History, and Influence of a Dramatic Tradition (London; Boston: Routledge & K. Paul, 1975), 7.

[2] Ibid.,  10.

[3] Colin Platt, Medieval England: A Social History and Archaeology from the Conquest to 1600 A.D (London; New York: Routledge, 1994), 137.

[4] Sapochnik, “Repo Man,” 1:23-1:57:46.

[5] Ibid.,  32:05-32:11.

[6] Ibid.,  40:49-41:43.

[7] Ibid.,  57:35-57:56.

[8] Ibid.,  1:52:47-1:52:59.

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