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Things I Forgot About 'Total Recall' (1990)

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Ash has a bachelor's in English Lit. She loves analyzing fiction and obsessing over books, film, and television.

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Total Recall (the 1990 version -- the only real version) is a science fiction action film directed by Paul Verhoeven and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (Terminator, Kindergarten Cop, governor of California, you know the guy).

Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, it tells the story of a construction worker who finds out he's actually a secret agent who had his memories rewritten and erased.

Total Recall has a reputation for being one of the most expensive films ever made in the 90's, and I believe it, because there were a lot of special effects and action scenes going on. To me, the movie was well worth every penny. I have always loved this film no matter what anyone said, and though I hadn't seen it in probably over a decade, it recently occurred to me that the film has been living deep in my subconscious, as one of my science fiction books draws heavy elements from it.

I was delighted as I watched the film to recount things I had forgotten about it. So here's the list of wonderful things I noticed and had pushed to the back of my mind.

Melina Was A Badass

Hell yeah.

Hell yeah.

How did I forget Melina? Portrayed by Rachel Ticotin, she was a pretty awesome female character.

She wasn't treated by the story like a sex object or a background decoration. She had her own goals (to liberate Mars) and didn't blindly follow the male lead around. In fact, she saves his life twice, and the scene where she fights Sharon Stone's character is pretty kickass.

Did Sharon have a stunt double? Because damn.

Did Sharon have a stunt double? Because damn.

Not to mention, Sharon Stone also had a pretty great character.

To make it clear, these characters weren't just awesome because they had cool fight scenes. What I'm appreciating here is the fact that they were well written. They weren't treated like objects or decorations or free porn. They were fully three dimensional characters with motives and goals, who didn't solely exist to titillate men in the audience.

Sharon Stone's character, Lori, was a straight-up femme fatale and I liked it.

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Then there was Debbie Lee Carrington as that badass little woman who jumped on a table and shot up a room.

I mean, damn.

Looking at these old 90's movies with all these strong female characters, it makes me look back and wonder what the hell happened. What happened? Because somewhere around the year 2000, things went downhill (again) and female characters became free porn (again) or were portrayed by men in dresses (again).

In fact, I think just about every movie Schwarzenegger starred in during the 90's had a full cast of strong female characters. You know, women depicted as people.

The Special Effects Were Pretty Sweet

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Before CGI came along and ruined everything, movie magic relied on animatronics and makeup. This was actually a blessing in disguise, because it made monsters and gore look creepy and weird in a really cool way.

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Because of CGI, we will never see weird, gross crap like the picture above again.

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Or this. The mutants in this film were a thing of legend. Seriously, I just loved the makeup. It was so weird and disgusting and yet hypnotic to look at.

And most of them still had enough of their faces that you could feel real empathy for them when the air was shut off and they all started suffocating. That sounds horrible, I know, but if they all had gaping jagged maws of teeth for faces, no one would have cared about them. Instead, the audience would have been like, "Put them out of their misery! Ugh!"

Benny Was Awesome

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Speaking of mutants, I loved Benny (Mel Johnson) the cab driver -- but not for the reason most people love him. Yes, he was funny and brought some levity to an otherwise dark film. But I loved him because he was written specifically to defy an on-going trope that needs very much to die.

That trope, of course, is the Sassy Black Sidekick.

When we first meet Benny, he is a black stereotype. He has five kids, is poor, and lives on the outskirts of society just trying to get by. On top of that, he is jolly, constantly cracks jokes, and is willing to bow and scrape before the straight white male lead, living just to serve him (by pushing him forward through the plot).

He couldn't be more of an offensive trope. Or so it seems.

Toward the end of the film, Benny flips the script when he betrays the leading man and his lady, cornering them with a gun as they are trying to escape. Turns out he doesn't really have five kids -- he just played up on stereotypes to trick the male lead. In fact, he's working for the bad guys, and his motivations are purely self-centered.

It seems odd that I'm celebrating the fact that the black guy is, in fact, a villain, but good representation doesn't necessarily mean that the black guy always has to be the good guy. Just as with Sharon Stone's character, Lori, good representation means depicting people as people and not caricatures.

I thought it was pretty clever that Benny was using a caricature as a act and turned out to be an intelligent, cut throat, badass.

Again, the same as Lori.

In the opening of the film, Lori played herself up as this doting, submissive wife that she was not. She turned out to be strong and fierce.

In real life, this goes on all the time. Playing up to a bigot's prejudices has always worked in the favor of the oppressed.

And I think it says something about Quaid that he fell for it, to be honest. His original personality -- Houser -- is depicted as a jerk. Houser was quite likely a misogynist. His best friend, Cohaagen (Ronny Cox), displays some disgusting misogyny toward Melina and gets a wad of spit in his face.

You are who you hang out with.

With that in mind, it wouldn't be surprising if Houser's new personality -- Quiad -- didn't still harbor his prejudices.

There Was A Red Pill Dilemma

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Seems like there's always a red pill dilemma in these science fiction movies. I immediately thought of The Matrix when Douglas Quaid was offered a red pill. If he took the pill, he could go back to banging Sharon Stone and being a construction worker. If he refused the red pill, he would have to go back to constantly fighting, running, and hiding for his life.

Quiad, of course, chose the figurative blue pill -- which was to shoot the guy in the face.

Seems that the blue pill/ red pill theme in science fiction is symbolic of reality versus fantasy. Whenever the theme occurs, the main character is being offered a fantasy life, an escape from reality and from her hardship. We are supposed to cheer (and we usually do) when she rejects the fantasy for reality and chooses to continue fighting.

The red pill is a great concept. It's a shame it was appropriated by whiny men in diapers who think they are "oppressed" because women "owe" them sexual favors. I wonder how they'd feel if gay men started demanding sexual favors from them?

One of several childhood moments when I realized I was gay.

One of several childhood moments when I realized I was gay.

And who could forget this? Apparently, I didn't. I must've buried it in my subconscious, because a three-boobed woman appears in one of my science fiction novels. Maybe I drew inspiration from this movie without even realizing. Who knows?

You're probably wondering why I don't go into a frothing feminist rant about women being exploited in films and forced to do nude scenes. The fact is, I don't care because those boobs aren't real. They're a gag. That woman (Lycia Naff) wasn't forced to show her real breasts.

That doesn't make it any better, I suppose, but I find it hard to be mad when the breasts she's wearing are a prosthetic.

That's my logic.

EDIT\ Sadly, Lycia Naff, who played the three-breasted prostitute, was embarrassed to tears. Even though the breasts weren't hers, she still felt degraded and objectified. I stumbled across the article linked above and . . . damn. It's so sad to know that she went through that in silence. /EDIT

Anyway.

Maybe I'm just being nostalgic, but I do love this film. If I wasn't so bothered by dusting, I would have it out on display with my entire dvd collection, and woe to the person who tries to tear the movie down!

© 2018 Ash