Sunday, January 2, 2011

Amber Sweet Character Examination

TW: Swearing and discussion of a rather gory movie, with a very sexual character. Also drugs.
SW: Spoilers for the movie.
Images from Repo! The Genetic Opera

"I'll let you fuck my soul for a little of the glow."

In Repo! The Genetic Opera, Paris Hilton plays Amber Sweet, the daughter of a powerful CEO, who's addicted to the painkiller Zydrate and surgery. Her father's company, Geneco, sells organs and surgery to people, and if those customers don't keep up on their payments, those same organs are repossessed, in a delightfully gory way. 

In short, Amber Sweet shares a few similarities with Paris Hilton, both heiresses, both drug-users, and both have very similar public images. Amber Sweet though, is a bit darker, constantly changing her appearance through the advanced surgery of her time, using street Zydrate (presumably to hide from her father just how much she uses, or because she thinks it's more 'edgy,' it's not explicitly stated), sleeping with her dealer for more Zydrate (well, it is Graverobber, the Zydrate might just be an excuse) and wins a fight with her murderous brother. 

People have different opinions on Paris in this role, and I kind of adore the casting choice. She fits the role so well, and turns in a very good performance. That last smirk she gives the camera after the credits has me convinced that she'd inherited more of her father's personality then she ever shows during the movie, especially in how she clearly has her brothers under her thumb, something only her father had been able to do previously.

Throughout the movie, Amber Sweet makes the interesting transition from a scandal-ridden scalpel slut (a colloquial expression for a person addicted to surgery in the repo!verse) to the new owner of GeneCo. Including a symbolic auction of her fallen face to charity, meant to symbolize how the company will change, while her brothers prove they aren't changing, Luigi murdering the top three bidders and Pavi winning the auction. What's perfect about that though, is that they have changed, and their usual nasty behaviour is centring around their sister, and there being no example of her falling to her own old ways. She even pushed Pavi away when he tries to touch her face, illustrating her new position of power and superiority. Luigi screams at the audience to applaud louder for her, threatening to kill them. And she just smiles at the camera. It's a lovely little scene, showing just how she's changing, and how she's presenting herself to the world she now has a perfect opportunity to manipulate.

This change is all the better when compared to the scene in Zydrate Anatomy, when the Graverobber whistles a bit of a tune and she reacts with almost vicious anger, neatly reacting just as the Graverobber seemed to want. (Literally, he whistles a strain of a song that Blind Mag sings, a singer Amber is very jealous of and wishes to supplant.) Her manipulation of her father in Happiness is Not a Warm Scalpel is petty, shallow manipulation, that wouldn't be so effective if she hadn't had a pitiful appearance to pair with her whiny behaviour.

A huge part of Amber Sweet's character, I think, is a thirst for power. For most of the movie, she seems convinced that there is only one way to get it, through fame and attractiveness. One could, and some have argued that her fascination with surgery stems from severe body issues, and I would link that to her attempt to be able to control men with her body. It is clear that women do not have too much power in the Repo!verse, likely only because the man with the most power is Rotti Largo, and he doesn't like to share it.  Every character that would appear to her to have 'power' is a man, and the only one with any power over them is women, and that only in a small, sexual way. So she tries to get that same kind of power through her own appearance.

Her hatred for Blind Mag probably stems from this issue. While Mag is subordinate to Rotti, she is famous, successful, respected, and admired, and the strongest woman Amber would know about. Rotti's guards, while strong and intimidating, speak very rarely, are skilled fighters, and are bodyguards and therefore she would see them as employees. Genterns and female Surgens, while skilled at their work, would also be employees and below her automatically. For a woman that craved some form of power, the only option that seemed to be open to her is the one she takes-trying to be as gorgeous as she could, and to supplant Blind Mag's role.

We see her will to be more powerful several times, though it's portrayed as her willfulness, her cruelty, her capriciousness. But her wearing dominatrix gear is a clue, and the sparkles the outfit has hint even more strongly at her lack of belief in her ability to be truly powerful as a woman. How she punches Luigi in the stomach is a mark of her domineering gift, and the lick of his ear and reinforcement of that power through the way she's most familiar of controlling men. When she and her brothers harass Mag, and her brothers gang up on her, telling her to shut up, she gets even more angry with Mag, calling her a bitch when she hadn't before, clearly reacting in her need to win. And still, while they quarrel over which of them should inherit GeneCo, she doesn't claim it should be her, only saying it would happen in Luigi's dreams. Despite her fury, she lashes out at Mag first, and doesn't try and argue for her right to inherit Geneco, a very telling difference between her and her brothers.

And the cut scene, where she sleeps with Graverobber in exchange for Zydrate, is clearly about so much more then just Zydrate. She is rich, yet she doesn't have the money on her at the moment? 'Can't Get It Up When The Girls Not Breathing' is  great for the hints towards this hidden thirst for real power, she boxes Graverobber into the alley, has a whip, demands Zydrate, and insults him. And as it moves into 'Come Up and Try My New Parts' she simultaneously insults him and debases herself, seems submissive and domineering, as her learned behaviour and instincts battle. She crawls towards him, but when he tries to leave, she shoves him into a wall. She lets him choke her, and kicks him so hard he falls down. And the seduction herself, when successful, is her getting that edge over him, proving she has at least one kind of hold on him that she didn't before.

And then she gets the control of the company, and has the potential to take that power-and she shows no more sign of wanting to sing, and learns how to manipulate her brothers and her audience, partially through the skills she's worked on for seduction, and partially through natural talent.

So, in short, I enjoy Paris Hilton as Amber Sweet, and I like Amber Sweet as a character, despite how shallow she can be, because she has a lot of inner contradiction, because she's power-hungry, and because when you think about her, she's quite the interesting characters.

One last thing I'd like to leave you all with, since I just noticed it on my last viewing of Repo! The Genetic Opera, is the great metaphor of the epilogue. As Amber walks out of the opera house, on either side of the door, her burly guards lie, dead. And her new guardians are the tough tuxedo'd guards of her father, symbolizing her inheritance, her newfound female power, and the strength that she's just unlocked in herself, and will use to get just as much of an iron grip on her world then her father had.

"I look like a crime scene death."

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