Total Recall (1990)


Sure “Total Recall” is an ultraviolent and action filled adaptation of the original “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” from Phillip K. Dick, there’s a rhyme and reason for everything that unfolds in the film, right down to the prostitute with the trio of breasts. The inherent lunacy reflects the mind set of our main hero Douglas Quaid and acts as a platform for the idea that perhaps he’s living a fantasy or is really this vicious secret spy. Paul Verhoeven’s version of the original story packs a real sense of intellect and brilliant ambiguity beneath the seemingly surface science fiction action tale of a man named Quaid, who is struggling to battle the government and fight for a group of underground mutants. When we meet Quaid he’s a man who is comfortable at home living in a well furnished apartment and is married to an insanely sexy woman. He wants more though, especially with developments involving the government exploring Mars, and perhaps using it as a means of travel for local tourists.

He dreams about a mysterious woman that visits him and Mars, which his wife dismisses as merely manifestations of what he’s seen in the news. Rather than spring for the money to take a trip with his wife, Quaid seeks out the illegal program known as “Rekall.” There, he has artificial memories inserted in to his mind that can inject memories of a wonderful vacation, but is also enticed by the salesman to live out a personal fantasy. Anxious for some break from the monotony, he opts for a fantasy that can fulfill his needs. During the Rekall process, he awakens with his memory wiped, only to discover that he’s being hunted by literally everyone. After thwarting an attempt on his life by one of his friends, he goes on the lam, realizing he might hold crucial information about an alien artifact that the government is after. Quaid is suddenly a man on the run and has nowhere to turn when everything he literally ever thought he knew suddenly reveals itself to be psychotic of hell bent on murdering him.

This is especially true with the twist involving Quaid’s wife Lori who proves to be a vicious adversary intent on killing Quaid at every turn. The world depicted in “Total Recall” is often very awe inspiring with an undercurrent of sheer menace and grit to it. Verhoeven’s ace direction matched with the excellent special effects by Rob Bottin and his team, makes the entire adventure Quaid lives out to be utterly surreal. Though certain effects look dated on screen, the aspect only helps to contribute to the film’s fever dream aesthetic. Schwarzenegger is very good in the role of Quaid, presenting layers of psychoses and confusion that keep him a protagonist with many shades. He’s first a work a day man, then a nearly unstopped secret agent, and then realizes he’s so much more as he uncovers the mystery involving Mars and the hit men out to finish him. There are also excellent supporting turns by Ronny Cox, and Michael Ironside, all of whom portray truly heinous villains. Though it’s still theorized whether or not Quaid ever actually was living out the series of events we see unfold or not, I’m firm in my belief that what we see for a majority of the movie is all in Quaid’s tripped out fantasy.

Quaid is a man craving excitement and obsessing over the mining of Mars, so when given the chance to live out his fantasy. There’s a great dose of ambiguity running throughout “Total Recall” to where you’re never really sure what you’re watching and are kept very much in the dark. Verhoeven divulges key details and ideas about what is happening to Quaid and begs the audience (along with our hero) to re-examine what we’re watching very thoroughly. Through recall it’s heavily implied he’s living both his testosterone fueled tale of sexy women and hyper violence and his obsession with Mars collide in to a rich and over the top adventure that even Quaid has trouble escaping. Or perhaps he simply doesn’t want to escape it. Director Verhoeven’s science fiction classic still holds up incredibly well as a wonky and frenetic action film with an understated brilliance to it.