Well, at least it was not Zardoz (1974). Total Recall (1990), the original version directed by Paul Verhoeven, is a campy science fiction movie that is some kind of cult classic, for an unbeknownst reason. It is set in 2084, and while rewatching it recently I remember thinking, “So, 100 years from now it will be five years ago.” I had forgotten that it is set only sixty-four years from now. It just goes to show you how even thirty years prior they did not anticipate how much technology would advance in the intervening decades. All I can say is thank God we have not developed the ability to implant dreams into people’s consciouses, as is the mcguffin in the film.
In addition to these (as they are called in Total Recall) “ego trips,” there is also the colonization of Mars. It is the Red Planet that our film’s hero Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) longs to visit, though it is not immediately clear why. To all appearances, he is a regular working stiff, though his job in construction proved too much of an opportunity for Verhoeven to show off Arnold’s rippling muscles as he operates a jackhammer. His life seems normal too, with a wife, Lori (Sharon Stone), and a modest apartment. But when he decides to visit Rekall, the company that ran the aforementioned “ego trips,” everything goes haywire. Before he could get into his mental vacation, his true identity surfaces. He is not Dennis Quaid but Carl Hauser, an operative of the Mars special police (or something), and his current life is a cover. Now it look like he had turned against the Martian government, led by the Machiavellian Cohaagen (Ronny Cox) who controls the air supply on that planet. There is an underground rebel group on Mars that, to say the least, takes issue with how the one basic element needed for survival is handled. Many of them are also mutants, the result of some kind of radiation, and thus shunned by regular society. It is to them that Quaid travels, dodging Cohaagen’s minions along the way. Many of the mutants, particularly the rebel leader Kuato (Marshall Bell), have psychic powers and Quaid hopes that Kuato can help restore his identity. Unfortunately, Cohaagen’s henchmen catch up with him and it is revealed that Hauser was really working to undermine the rebels all along. Quaid, however, had other plans. When he breaks free from Cohaagen’s grip, he travels to an ancient alien pyramid nearby, which is believe to give air to all of Mars and thus undermine Cohaagen’s crooked regime. Good thing it worked, too, as Quaid is hurled out onto the Martian landscape and nearly chokes to death.
If you have never seen a Verhoeven film, especially during the 1980s and 1990s, know that they are often over-the-top violent. Total Recall is no different in this regard. His films seem to revel in not only gushing blood but overt sexuality. Nudity is casual, even if there are no sex scenes, and Total Recall takes it to another level by having a mutant women with three breasts. Its excessiveness turns campy, though, when it becomes evident that it takes itself seriously. It would have seemed less silly, if it makes any sense, had there been a little levity in the story. But setting up this mutant versus normal humans, of the haves versus the have-nots, the relentless gun play, knife play, and resulting body count, trivializes any kind of political message involved.
Still, there is one nice part to take away from Total Recall, and that is the character of Quaid himself. When Cohaagen captures Quaid, Quaid is faced with a choice. He could go back to his former corrupt life, or continue fighting for the good of those the Martian government sought to keep in a downtrodden state. The Catholic Church, as does most of Christianity, preaches that every person is redeemable. Confession affords Catholics a regular opportunity to get back into God’s good graces. Neither do you need amnesia to experience forgiveness, but those are the cards with which Quaid must play.
I cannot recommend Total Recall to many, despite this little nugget of goodness in it. Neither is the 2012 remake much better. They are both silly, violent, and not totally worth your time. There are many other options out there for your perusal. I would also be remiss if I did not point out the nightmare fuel that is the scenes of Quaid and Melina (Rachel Ticotin) gasping for air, eyes bulging out of their heads. Yikes.