Tudor Morality Plays and Modern Cinema: Forgiveness, Repentance, and the Four Last Things

Morality Figures

This is a series of posts on Tudor Morality Plays and Modern Cinema (Set, Costumes, and Dance of Death; Central Character, Ritual in morality plays and Repo Men; Forgiveness of Sins). It might benefit one to read the previous posts prior to this one.

Forgiveness sins are a vital component of the morality play. Potter suggests, “In demonstrating first the necessity for repentance, and then the fact of its efficacy, the morality playwright seeks the participation of his audience in a ritual verification of the whole concept of the forgiveness of sins.”[1] The forgiveness of sins must first begin with the introduction of mankind into the state of sin. In the plays man found immediate pleasure in sin and the act of sinning is virtually unavoidable. Therefore the state of innocence previous to sin understated or portrayed as theoretical.[2] During the fall from innocence, “the sexual seduction of Mankind into sin is dramatized, either in a literal seduction scene (as with Mankind and Lechery in Perseverance) or by inference, with lemans, wenches, and brothels indicated just offstage.”[3]

Repo Man also delivered the vice of greed sensually. The immediate pleasure of sin revealed itself in the acts of greed. For Remy, the pleasures were found in a dream of house in the suburbs, wife, and child. Remy initially and Jake throughout the film, find pleasure in identification with their profession. Both liked being respected and feared as repo men. A scene where they scan a large man (which enables them to identify transplanted part information) and bet if he is overdue best illustrates this. When the scan reveals the man has two days left, they let him know they will be calling on him in two days.[4] Throughout the film, both choose to enter through the front door of the Union building, at which time Frank admonished them because they are scaring the customers.[5] Literally, Repo Men has it share of sexuality throughout the film that supports the vice of greed. The first customer encountered by Remy in the film has brought home a prostitute for the night.[6] This suggests his greed for all of life overrules responsibility in paying his debts. Remy’s paperwork contract for his heart is delivered to him in the workplace by an exotic dancer.[7] Throughout film the job and the life that the job provides identified with sensual pleasures.

Once man has sinned in the play there comes a call to repentance. No two calls to repentance in morality plays are identical however in all of them repentance is the climatic theatrical event. In most of the medieval plays an attempt is made to dramatize this transformation in the specific terms of the sacrament of penance.[8] Potter concludes, “Thus the traditional morality play is not a battle between virtues and vices, but a didactic ritual drama about the forgiveness of sins. Its theatrical intentions are to imitate and evoke that forgiveness.”[9]

Remy explicitly claimed in narration that he was not seeking forgiveness for all the wrongs he had done. However when contemplating his role with Beth, he mused that he is saving himself along with her. In a sense when he reclaimed all the organs, from Beth and himself he was getting forgiveness for his actions. The question might remain, who is granting the forgiveness. On one hand, it could be Union as it scanned the parts back into inventory. However, on the other hand, it could be Jake. Since the pink door scene is a neural implant and not reality, it is Jake granting forgiveness to Remy by allowing the neural memory to exist.

Highlight on forgiveness does not suggest the vices and virtues are not significant in morality plays. In a real sense virtues and vices play a role in bring mankind to the point of repentance. This contest between Virtue and Vice is ultimately for the possession of man’s soul. Because it battled for man’s soul, it focused on what Holzknecht calls “the Four Last Things.” He suggests that, “Death, Judgment, the pains of Purgatory or Hell, and, alternately, the joys of Heaven, which were to be had if a man remembered the first three and refrained from sin or repented in time.”[10] In interacting with the virtues and vices the audience is presented with the choice of life in repentance or death in rejection of faith.

This focus on the four last things was a common topic outside morality plays which allowed for an easy transition into the plays. The cult of death was prominent in England and “traditional literary forms were the treatise on the ‘art of dying well,’ including detailed instructions and formulas for preparing for the inevitable hour; and ‘the four last things,’ a sounding of the meaning of death, judgment, heaven, and hell.”[11]

The entire story of Repo Men reacted to the art of dying well. Clients came to the Union company for organs and are willing to giving anything to avoid death. However, for those who financed their organs, it will still lead to death as they can never afford the financial terms. Neither Frank nor Jake have prepared for the “inevitable hour.” Frank, who is without any compassion whatsoever, dies in Remy’s neural dream without redemption. In reality, he continued to exist as a cold-hearted manager looking to keep sales up for Union company.  Jake found complete redemption and is ready for the inevitable hour, at least in Remy’s neural dream. However, even reality, it appeared he has made progress toward that goal. He paid the cost Remy’s transplant debt and provided for Remy’s future well being. These acts signified that, at some level, he gained awareness that greed must be restrained. At the end of the movie, Beth remained alive, with her fate in the hands of Jake. He must make of choice to recover her overdue organs or set her free. Jake’s decision is not revealed in the movie. To Beth, in the end it does not appear to matter, she has found redemption through her relationship with Remy. Throughout the film Remy took care of her in spite of her faults, caring for her over himself. Beth too gave of herself to Remy. Both had freed themselves from greed ready to give their lives for each other. Remy, in both reality and neurologically though the implant, found redemption and clearly prepared for the final hour. In doing so, he avoided (at least temporarily) death and gained heaven (neurologically).

[1] Potter, The English Morality Play: Origins, History, and Influence of a Dramatic Tradition, 47-48.

[2] Ibid.,  48.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Sapochnik, “Repo Man,” 12:56.

[5] Ibid.,  9:45.

[6] Ibid.,  2:21.

[7] Ibid.,  38:40.

[8] Potter, The English Morality Play: Origins, History, and Influence of a Dramatic Tradition, 49.

[9] Ibid.,  57.

[10] Karl J. Holzknecht, The Backgrounds of Shakespeare’s Plays (New York: American Book Co., 1950), 322-323.

[11] Williams, The Drama of Medieval England, 147.


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