Total Recall (1990) Director: Paul Verhoeven
“What If This Is A Dream?”
Total Recall is a gripping-yet-cornball science fiction thriller that is nevertheless a fun action flick featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger and directed by Paul Verhoeven, who also directed RoboCop, Starship Troopers, Basic Instinct and others.
I thought the science fiction elements of Total Recall were surprisingly compelling, earning its well-deserved status as a cult classic. The plot is based on a 1966 Philip K. Dick short story entitled “We Can Remember It For Your Wholesale.” Many of Philip K. Dick’s stories have been turned into classic science fiction movies, most notably in the case of Blade Runner. Total Recall takes place in the year 2084, about 100 years after it was originally released. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Douglas Quaid, an ordinary construction worker who has strange dreams about visiting Mars so he pays a company called “Rekall” for a psychological adventure/implanted dream as a secret agent on Mars, but Quaid soon discovers that his memory has been tampered with. Throughout the film we are constantly asking ourselves whether or not Quaid’s adventure is merely all the phantasm of the Rekall dream? Or is he truly a secret agent? Before the dream can be implanted, Quaid’s true memory is triggered and he escapes. He is led on a wild ride tracing his true identity from Earth to Mars, fleeing from his faux wife (played by Sharon Stone), and he learns that Mars is now tyrannically governed under a “terbinium” mining operation led by Vilos Cohaagen (Ronny Cox), a villainous leader who charges the denizens of Mars for the air to breathe alongside his brutal enforcer Richter (Michael Ironside). However, there is a rebellion led by a shadowy leader named Kuato, a mutant creature. Quaid, (whose former identity was apparently a spy named Hauser), joins up with the rebellion and detonates a reactor with unpredictable consequences, but in the end the detonation actually creates a breathable atmosphere for all the people living on Mars so they no longer need to pay for breathable air. The ending is ambiguous –was this all a dream?
Total Recall offers a lot of laughs from scenes of mutants with three breasts to creepy scenes of eye-bulging suffocation on Mars (the film won an Academy Award for its effects), and Jerry Goldsmith’s score succinctly captures the mood of the film. Decades later, the rights to Total Recall were eventually sold and a remake was made in 2012 to less than stellar fanfare (I have seen the remake).