It seems as though Ray Bradbury and Philip K. Dick will be doing a battle of sorts for my favorite sic-fi author whose work has been successfully transferred to film. A handful of reviews have considered each author and their works as they have been adapted and Total Recall only proves to be the most recent case of this, a film that I had wanted to see for awhile, but always put on the back burner for a variety of reasons. I am glad to have finally obtained a bluray and popped it into my player, because it was a very redemptive experience on a large scale. For whatever reason I had written of Arnold Schwarzenneger as a respectable actor, despite being fully aware that he is excellent in the Terminator series amongst other things. Furthermore, a very terrible experience with Showgirls, as well as a less than stellar response to Basic Instinct had me strongly reconsidering my notions of what constituted Paul Verhoeven as a great filmmaker, aside from Robocop. Finally, I was rather certain that highly stylized, special effects film had lost their magic by the end of the eighties, but this film seems to really be the swan song of that era and baffled me with its continually experimental and fresh use of visual elements to create a highly watchable and active film. One would be hard pressed to really criticize Total Recall as a film, because, while it has its moments of terrible acting and occasionally bends under its ambitious plot, it manages to be solidly executed and perfectly timed considering its both inclusive character plot and larger philosophical considerations. Total Recall, much like Die Hard is just a fun film to engage with, one will find viewing this film to be viscerally enjoyable and visually mesmerizing while also being aware of its general badass nature, particularly in some of the more bizarre moments of special effects and cgi, which manages to exist within the world without the weird showiness present in more contemporary works. I have not paid the remake a visit to this point, but I feel as though it will only be a let down, because this version is something extraordinary and indicative of what is truly possible with science fiction films that are fun and easily accessible, yet not so watered down as to be insultingly straight forward.
Total Recall centers on the experiences of Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenneger) a construction worker whose life within his gorgeous wife Lori (Sharon Stone) is constantly at odds given his preoccupation with his dreams about roaming Mars with a brunette woman only to result in his death when his helmet breaks and he suffocates in the toxic air. These dreams lead Quaid to pursue answers through Rekall, a corporation that specializes in aiding people with their desires through a dream state. Quaid takes up this opportunity only to result in a technological error that leads to him being woken up while being put under for his unconscious experience. This awakening finds him with a severe case of memory loss and the knowledge that he must return to a certain place to assure his safety. However, when Quaid awakes he is also fully aware that he is now a wanted man, one who apparently has ties to a man named Hauser who worked on Mars. As Quaid begins to navigate this space it becomes clear that the people he assumed to be his friend were spies themselves, even Lori who attempts to kill Quaid when he returns to their apartment. Despite being completely against odds Quaid's desire for survival affords him the ability to appropriate technology to his advantage, even using brawn when necessary. While running from pursuers, Quaid learns of a deeper layer of exploitation occurring in his world, one that has led to mutations in individuals, specifically groups whose living close to the surface of Mars. Furthermore, Quaid realizes that his identity as Hauser has layers of problems, some that tie him directly to the exploitation of the persons on Mars, fortunately, Quaid meets a woman named Melina (Rachel Ticotin) and she helps him to realize his past, as well as make larger sense of the dreams he was having at the beginning of the film. Quaid takes it upon himself to correct the wrongdoings by the large corporation, and uses both his newly obtained technology, as well as a keen awareness of the group and their hubris to his advantage, eventually saving the citizens of Mars. The closing scene shows Melina and Quaid happily embracing, although it is quite possible that this entire world was simply the result of Quaid's initial dreaming at Rekall.
My relatively recent review of A Scanner Darkly, also an adaptation of a Dick work, considered the problem of reality and physical experiences, and it is certainly a theme in Blade Runner, a personal favorite of mine, again a result of the influence of the great science fiction author. I would certainly place Total Recall within this context, but where the other two films seem intent on considering the issues of providing validity to a non-sentient being possessing "experience" while the other considers how experience is affected by layers of drugs, Total Recall seems to consider the idea of imagining into existence justice and egalitarianism in the world. Quaid is certainly not a perfect person, but one can easily see from the onset of the film that he is a just and aware individual who simply wants his presence to validate those around him for something relevant, even if he can be a bit snappy and standoffish in the right circumstances. The way the narrative, which is quite assumedly the vision of Quaid, plays up on the lesser versus the one's with unyielding power has various layers, whether it be the delusion of unwarranted power and how this affects the psychological outlook a person might have or the way a lesser individual internalizes their oppression, suggests that Total Recall is decidedly entrenched in denying anything "performed." It could easily possess layers of Marxism, psychoanalysis and in the right context a feminist reading and each would be able to draw upon the "dream" nature of the narrative to advance a reading of rejecting power, particularly those with such sway that their authority is even difficult to undermine in the unconscious state of the world of Total Recall, assuming of course that the film is an entire dreamscape. Total Recall is concerned, firstly, with the issues of assuring one's presence in reality when each interaction is predicated upon a series of lies, or at the very least performances for and against expectations, and even if this rather obtuse consideration of the film is frustrating, its clear criticism of capitalist endeavors, much like what occurred in Robocop, is well worth celebrating.
Key Scene: The X-ray machine sequence could have been in a film this year and still been as captivating.
Total Recall on bluray is super cheap and certainly will prove a great film to have on hand for various situations.