Arthur Hamilton is a middle-aged banker who is restless with his job and his marriage. One day, he gets contacted by an old friend of his (whom he thought was dead), and this friend urges Hamilton to contact an organization simply known as the Company. Mr. Ruby, the representative he meets, presents Hamilton an offer; they will fake his death, and in return, give him a complete surgical makeover - removing his fingerprints, changing his face, teeth and voice, making him look younger - and offer him a chance to make a fresh start with his life. Eventually, Hamilton agrees to it, and he becomes Tony Wilson, a painter. However, he soon discovers it's not all that it's cracked up to be.
This was a flop when it was first released, but has since become a cult hit. No relation to the comic book.
This film provides examples of:
- An Aesop: Life is not a video game which you can just reboot. You have to work to make your life better instead of wishing for a magical solution.
- Be Careful What You Wish For: You don't say...
- Blackmail: When Hamilton hesitates about signing up, Mr. Ruby shows film of Hamilton roughing up a prostitute, which he did after being drugged by the Company, and Ruby implies the footage will be released unless Hamilton agrees to sign on.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: At the bacchanal grape scene, when Tony finally loosens up and dances with Nora, it plays like a sex scene.
- Downer Ending: Hamilton decides he doesn't want to live his new life, but is ultimately killed to serve as the body of a new client.
- Face Cam: One of the many great camera effects in the movie.
- Faux Affably Evil: The Old Man, to a tee. Many of the other employees of the Company count as well.
- Genre-Busting: It's an avant-garde/psychological drama/thriller/mystery/mid-life crisis film with a science fiction twist.
- I Did What I Had to Do: The Old Man, during his bedside conversation with Tony, tells him that he believes the Company provides an important service, and that it's important enough for him to have made compromises in order to keep it going. We soon learn one of the compromises is having Tony murdered.
- Karma Houdini: The Old Man and his corporation don't receive any comeuppance.
- Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Nora, whose first eccentric appearance after meeting Tony is to run into the sea and talk to it, then later invites him to a hippie wine festival. All just an act to get him to enjoy his new second life, as she's really a company employee.
- No Name Given: Will Geer's character is simply known as "Old Man".
- Non-Indicative Name: The movie title, while taken over from the novel, has multiple meanings and connotations.
- Punch-Clock Villain: The surgeon who transformed Arthur into Tony tells him, "You were my best work," and apologizes just before killing Tony with a cranial drill.
- Sleeping Single: Arthur Hamilton and his wife sleep in single beds, underpinning their loveless marriage.
- Smug Snake: The Old Man, who never loses his slimy, reptilian countenance even as he sends Wilson to his death.