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"Total Recall" (1990) Movie Review - Schrödinger’s Kuato

Hi, I'm Sam, I love movies. My main interests are science fiction and zombie movies. I also enjoy pessimistic and survival films.


Film Synopsis

Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is an honest construction worker who lives with certain comforts along with his gorgeous wife Lori (Sharon Stone). It's a good life. Any other man would be satisfied, but not Quaid, who thanks to a recurring dream, has a deep feeling that something is missing.

This dream, located on Mars, always starts with the joy of the companion of a mysterious brunette woman and ends like a nightmare, with Quaid dying due to exposition to the hostile environment of the red planet.

Inspired by his vivid dream, Quaid frequently expresses his wish to travel to Mars. His wife Lori hates the idea, mainly because of the red planet's political instability, where Governor Vilos Cohaagen (Ronny Cox) is in constant battle with local rebels, both in the pursuit of a supposedly powerful alien artifact hidden deep in Mars' abandoned mines.

Quaid's obsession with his dream is such that he ultimately decides to hire the services of Rekall, a company that provides memory implants of perfectly designed vacations. It's the year 2084, and virtual tourism is the favorite escapism choice for the majority of the population that doesn't have the time nor the money to make the real trips.

Quaid not only chooses Mars as a destination but customizes his companion to look exactly like the brunette woman of his dreams. He even ends up paying extra for the "secret agent fantasy combo."


The Schrödinger Moment

The genius of Total Recall is that after those first 20 minutes, the film takes a kinda-Schrödinger's-cat-route, showing one story on screen, that are two very different films, depending exclusively on what the viewer believed has happened.

At Rekall, Quaid has an adverse reaction to the process, and before the memory is implanted (or so we believe), he begins to have revelations of suppressed memories of a previous life in which he was, indeed, a secret agent called Hauser. Rekall decides to eliminate all trace of the visit, erasing Quaid's recent memory, refunding the money and sending him home.

From then on everything becomes a frenzy sci-fi adventure, full of betrayals, twists, and blood. Quaid is in the middle of a two-planets conspiracy, where his current life was created of false memories, designed to eliminate his former Hauser personality. Or perhaps, all we are seeing is Quaid's perfect fantasy created by Rekall.

Closing Thoughts

I don't remember another film where two different branches are narrated as plausible options during most of the duration of the piece, instead of being used as a narrative resource for a third-act twist. During three opportunities, three different characters practically reveal the entirety of the third act, promoting 1) the theory that this a dream designed by Rekall or 2) an ironic foreshadowing about the final destiny of our hero.

Total Recall doesn't have the philosophical depth of sci-fi classics like Blade Runner or 2001: A Space Odyssey. Instead, it has glorious pop decadence in the form of Schwarzenegger's one-liners, three-boobed prostitutes, a parasitic twin mutant leader and a dwarf in lingerie firing a machine gun. Liquid gold entertainment.

But even in its apparent blockbuster superficiality, Verhoeven (RoboCop, Starship Troopers) makes clear its recurrent motif about dystopian societies where capitalism has been deepened by the passage of time and the absolute control of new technologies. Rekall is the incarnation of the dangers of a perfect simulated life controlled by a private corporation. It's capitalism's ideal scenario.

And that's clear in any of the two films the viewer chooses to believe: In one version, Rekall uses Quaid's workforce AND his salary to sell him the illusion of an unreachable perfect life. In the other, they use Hauser's talents to destroy political opposition and eliminate enemies by erasing their personality, while ensuring the control and capitalization of elemental life resources like oxygen.

Movie Details

Title: Total Recall

Release Year: 1990

Director(s): Paul Verhoeven

Writer(s): Philip K. Dick, Dan O'Bannon

Actors: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sharon Stone, a.o.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Sam Shepards