Total Recall: Dreaming of a New Reality

Total Recall hit the silver screen 30 years ago and the debate as to whether it’s a dream or reality started immediately. It’s based on the short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” by science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, who also wrote Blade Runner. Total Recall tells the story of a construction worker longing for a more exciting life and hoping to find it on Mars. The screenplay was changed to accommodate Arnold Schwarzenegger as the lead character. But the overall concept of Dick’s story holds up in the 1990 movie adaptation.

I remember watching Total Recall in the theater, multiple times. When it was released there was little competition for my movie going money. Back to the Future Part III was released 2-3 weeks before hand, and I had seen it already (it’s not my favorite installment of the trilogy). Fire Birds was released the week before and a decent movie. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was no longer playing at my movie theater and up to that point I’d seen The Hunt for Red October four times! I was ready for something new. And Arnold saved the day! Being a fan of Science Fiction (and Arnold movies) I was at the theater opening night.

1990 was a stellar year for movies with Pretty Woman and Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles leading the way through to Dances With Wolves, released late in the year. In between those blockbusters were Home Alone, Die Hard 2, The Hunt for Red October, Dick Tracy, Tales from the Dark Side, Days of Thunder, Young Guns II, Goodfellas… the list goes on and on. Side note: Rocky V doesn’t make the list.

Total Recall was a huge hit in the summer of 1990. It was also the biggest weekend box office draw of any movie that year. It wasn’t the biggest hit of the year however, that would go to the supernatural love story called Ghost. Total Recall sits at #5 for top grossing movies of 1990. The four movies that beat it are; Ghost, Home Alone, Pretty Woman and Dances with Wolves.

Total Recall is directed by Paul Verhoeven (RoboCop, Starship Troopers) and stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sharon Stone, Rachel Ticotin, Ronny Cox and Micheal Ironsides. In the movie, Construction worker Doug Quaid (Schwarzenegger) has recurring dreams of a mystery woman on Mars and desires to travel to red planet. Only his wife Lori (Stone) discourages him and tells him to stop dreaming of other women. After seeing a commercial for Rekall, a company that can implant memories of vacations, Quaid decides to visit and buy a Mars vacation memory.

As Quaid is getting the memory implant he suffers a ‘schizoid embolism’ and Quaid starts remembering suppressed memories. On the way home he is attacked by a co-worker, his wife turns out to be a secret agent meant to keep him from going to Mars and his real name is Carl Hauser, not Doug Quaid.

Get your ass to Mars!

Quaid discovers his alter ego Hauser left him clues and he must go to Mars, support the resistance and defeat the evil leader, Vilos Cohaagen (Cox), all while being hunted by his ‘wife’ and Cohaagen’s right hand man, Richter (Ironsides). Cohaagen is mining Mars and guarding an ancient alien secret for his own profit.

Once on Mars, Quaid/Hauser makes his way to Venusville to meet Melina (Ticotin), who is the mysterious woman of his dreams and part of the resistance. She is also the same woman he told the Rekall technicians he would like to meet, “Brunette, athletic, sleazy and demure .”

one of the most complex and visually interesting science-fiction movies in a long time

Roger Ebert

After Melina decides to trust Quaid she introduces him to Kuato, the leader of the resistance. During the meeting Richter and his men charge in and kill Kuato and most of the resistance leaders. Quaid and Melina are captured and taken to Cohaagen.

Blue Skies on Mars

Cohaagen explains that Quaid/Hauser was working with Cohaagen the entire time to infiltrate the resistance and kill Kuato. He even shows a video of Hauser, with Cohaagen, explaining the whole plan. Cohhagen tells Quaid he will re-implant Hauser’s original memories and ‘re-program’ Melina as his obedient mistress.

Quaid is still not sure what to believe and escapes with Melina. They reach the mines and the alien artifact Cohaagen was protecting. Quaid is able to activate the artifact and Mars is saved. As the movie ends Quaid/Hauser looks out over the Martain landscape as a blue sky emerges.

But was it all a dream?

Total Recall is a fantastic movie that leaves a lot of questions to the imagination. The visual effects are amazing, from heads exploding in the Mars atmosphere to the irradiated mutants in Venusville. The special effects team held nothing back, which paid off later when they won an Oscar for best visual effects.

Arnold Schwarzenegger gets to expand his acting prowess with a character that offers more depth and complexity than before.

Sharon Stone Shines in her first major motion picture appearance. She transforms between a loving wife to a badass assassin from scene to scene and nails them both.

Is Quaid really Quaid experiencing a schizoid embolism at the Rekall office? Was Hauser really working with Cohaagen the whole time or was the video a deep fake? Does Quaid’s hand print unlock the power of alien technology to save Mars?

What are your thoughts? Is Total Recall a dream or reality?

Total Recall Trivia:

  • In 1990, Total Recall was the second most expensive film ever made. (Rambo III was the first).
  • Some movies have a toy line tie-in promotion, but Sharon Stone posed nude in Playboy to help promote Total Recall!
  • Sharon Stone hit the gym and learned Tae Kwon Do for the fight scenes and stunts in the movie; she was inducted into the Stunt Woman Association as an honorary member
  • The original version of Total Recall received an X rating. Director Paul Verhoeven cut some scenes and used different camera angles to get an R rating.
  • Total Recall was nominated for 3 Academy Awards and won for Best Visual Effects (Special Achievement Award) beating out Back to the Future Part III, Ghost and Dick Tracy
  • Ad Placement: ads for Coca-Cola are shown on Earth; on Mars only ads for Pepsi appear

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About Pitfall Gary 42 Articles
Just your average Gen X'er. Born in the 70s and raised in the Decade of Decadence! I rode my bike without a helmet and was home when the street lights came on. I love to reminisce about the good ol' days; Movies, TV, music, if it happened in my childhood I'll share it with you.