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Repeaters

Repeaters is directed by rising Canadian director Carl Bessai. It tells the story of three drug addicts - Kyle, Sonia and Mike - who have become friends in the drug rehab. As part of the rehabilitation process they are granted their first day out in the community to "make amends" with loved ones, only to experience failure. Kyle has a young sister who refuses to talk to him. Sonia fails to reconcile with her father lying on the death bed in hospital. Mike is rebuffed by his father in jail. Next morning they wake up to find the day is repeating itself. Everything happening exactly as it was the previous day. And this cycle continues going forward.


The film is essentially an exploration of how the three respond to their predicament. On the first two repeats, after satisfying themselves that the repeats are genuine, they  indulge in carefree experiences! Their new immortality or externally inconsequential existence becomes a license to take drugs, rob people and basically become lawless. After all its all going to be reset in the morning! On subsequent days, this turns into troublemaking, extreme vandalism and even more risky behaviour. Indeed, they find that even death cannot hold them - resurrection is guaranteed in the morning.

And yet there are differences among them - Kyle and Sonia increasingly seek to become "better" and help one another in their journey to make amends. On one repeat day they even do some public duties like helping stop someone about to commit suicide. Mike on the other hand gets progressively worse. In the past he was bullied by  fellow druggies, now his new daily "re-birth" is a means to exert control on everyone who does not see things his way. He sees the day repeats as a “gift" that allows him to have a daylong advantage over others. The difference between the two camps is effectively the conflict on which the movie rests. Which of course raises the immediate question - why are these two camps different? Why does Kyle wish to become better and Mike doesn't? 

The movie does not answer this question directly, but we are given some clues. It is partly random, Kyle and Sonia just happen to “get it” that though they repeat the day and nothing changes, they do actually change. Their personalities change and they don’t like what they may become. In Mike they see an alternative self they don’t desire to be. It is also partly a desire to “live on”. They want to break free from this daily reincarnation. They regard the repeated cycles as non-progressive. They are prisoners in a world where though attractive in its inconsequentialism to a point, non-progressiveness and boredom are problematic for them. They want their choices to matter not just to them but to others. But Kyle and Sonia are also different from Mike because they have somehow figured out that their predicament may be due to the unresolved moral issues in their lives. Becoming good people is therefore necessary for them to be set free from this non-progressive predicament, regardless of whether they value goodness as an end in itself. 

But there may be another difference. Mike is alone and estranged from his father. No love interest of any sort in his life from the opposite sex. Kyle and Sonia on the other hand are presented as friends from the beginning who like each.  It is instructive to note that as the movie progresses Kyle encourages Sonia to face a tragic past involving her relationship with the father. He becomes her moral compass. Similarly Sonia helps Kyle repair the relationship with his sister by becoming his advocate. And of course predictably they eventually fall in love. Their love it seems powers them to seek ways of "breaking free" but also keeps them on the straight and narrow. "Love" in the movie really does “love conquers all”, never mind the form in which it comes. 

Taken together the overall message of the movie appears to be that not only that the bad things which happen to us in the course of our earthly existence can be overcome by personal effort, we are better placed to face the unexpected challenges of love if we are in loving relationships. What matters is "love". If we can fall in love we can face any mountain. This view of course is a far cry from the biblical worldview at many levels. The movie starts off with a quote from Albert Camus, “Don't wait for the last judgment - it takes place every day”. But if such judgement exists it cannot be avoided by individual acts of redemption. We are not able to really make amends on our own because our acts of depravity do not only harm those around us but violates the moral law of God. The Christian message is that we are not able bring about good, so God moves first and meets us at our point of need. It is a message of grace we need not a message of striving to become better.

But there’s more, until we repair our relationship with God we cannot genuinely makes amends. Any such moves would be hollow. We cannot be horizontally at peace with others until we are vertically at peace with God. There’s a moving scene in the movie when Sonia approaches her sick father. The pain inside her is too overpowering to bring her to look at him as he lies on the hospital bed, but she knows she must tell him that he is forgiven, so she says to him : “You gonna die tonight. Don’t ask me how I know, but it’s true. I have thought about what I wanted to say to you so many times. I don’t hate you anymore. I don’t. But I have to move on from this. I have to or else nothing is gonna change for any of us”. She then immediately gets up and walks out. It is reconciliation without loving. Of course she has not really forgiven him because he has not repented. She does not allow him to repent. She does not really want him to repent. So there no words from him. But she has done her bit. It is a hollow reconciliation, but one allegedly that earns her the ticket out of the time limbo. A far cry from Christian teaching which shows that when God changes our hearts we are able to wash the feet of our abusers who are undeserving and write heartfelt letters to prison officers who brutalised us. It is not about liking them, but it is genuinely seeing them through the eyes of a God who died for us – while we were yet sinners.

There are other interesting moral issues that discerning viewers will spot in the movie. For example, there are some interesting questions about the nature of reality. In the movie each one has their own reality. Only in this case by a “freak of nature”, the three share a reality that now repeats itself until amends are made. It is an interesting variant on “parallel universes”, with a moral twist. Related to that is the extent to which days in previously repeating cycle constitute reality. In the movie the actions in repeated do not seem to matter to others, but the days appear to matter to you – in your “universe” everyone restarts (so no one really dies – though people change character by your interaction with them) - but the day does matter to you. You still carry the memories of previous loops. Which raises interesting questions about whether the pain caused to them is real? When Mike goes on a killing spree is he doing wrong when the victims live again in his world or is the real moral damage to himself? 

Despite these interesting angles the movie does suffer from an incomplete plot – some of the story lines, especially in relation to Mike are not well developed. Crucially, we are not told why time repeats itself based on moral considerations. God is assumed – or is he? Though the acting is generally okay, as the movie progresses it becomes quite predictable what will happen next. In general, the movie can’t seem to make up its mind on whether it is a supernatural thriller or a pure sci-fi flick. It is a shame because the movie could have been much better. Nevertheless it still contains enough issues to spark thoughts and discussions about God, free will, determinism, grace, reincarnation and parallel universes.

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