TOTAL RECALL (1990)
CHARACTERS: Douglas Quaid/Hauser (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Melina (secret agent Hauser’s girlfriend on Mars), Lori (construction worker Quaid’s wife), Richter (secret agent on Mars), Cohaagen (governmental leader on Mars), Kuato (mutant rebel leader on Mars).
OTHER FILMS BY DIRECTOR PAUL VERHOEVEN: Robocop (1987), Basic Instinct (1992), Starship Troopers (1997), Hollow Man (2000).
SYNOPSIS: Screenwriter Ron Shusett describes Total Recall as a “thinking man’s action movie”, which, based on a science fiction story by Philip K. Dick explores the issue of appearance vs. reality. In the year 2084, Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) attempts to determine which of his experiences are real, and which are merely computer-generated fantasies implanted in his brain at a company called Rekall Inc. Theory 1 is that Quaid is just a bored construction worker who purchased a “holiday memory” through a brain implanting procedure. The procedure goes haywire, and Quaid experiences life as an undercover secret agent named Hauser who tries to save to infiltrate a rebellion on planet Mars. Theory 2 is that Quaid is really secret agent Hauser, who intentionally loses memory as a means of gaining the rebels’ confidence and infiltrating their movement. The rebel movement collapses through Quaid’s infiltration efforts, but Quaid himself ultimately turns against his official government, which greedily charges people to breath oxygen. Quaid activates an ancient oxygen machine in a hidden cave on Mars, which creates an atmosphere that everyone can breathe for free. At the end of the film, Quaid/Hauser still is unable to determine if his experiences are real or just an illusion.
1. If you had a chance to have a Rekall memory implant would you? Why or why not?
2. What kind of memory would you want implanted? Would your current moral values impact the kind of memory that you’d want implanted?
3. What level of brain damage would you be willing to risk for a really good memory?
4. When on Mars, Dr. Edgemar tells Quaid that his experiences aren’t real: he’s still on Earth at Rekall Inc., and is having a freeform delusion from a schizoid embolism. At this stage in the story, what is the most rational thing for Quaid to believe about his experiences?
5. Dr. Edgemar wants Quaid to take a pill as a sign of good faith, which will help Quaid out of his delusion. Quaid sees Edgemar sweat, and then shoots him. What was so revealing about Edgemar sweating?
6. The mutant rebel leader Kuato tells Hauser “A man is defined by his actions, not his memories”. Is this true?
7. Cohaagen, the governmental leader on Mars, plays an old video in which secret agent Quaid/Hauser explains that Quaid/Hauser himself contrived the memory loss scheme as a way of catching rebel leader Kuato. Does Quaid the rebel-sympathizer believe the video? Should he?
8. Cohaagen says to Melina: “You’re going to be respectful, compliant and appreciative, the way a woman should be.” We already know that Cohaagen is a greedy and tyrannical political leader. From the film viewer’s perspective, how much worse does it make him to be sexist?
9. In an act of anger, Cohaagen kicks over a fish tank, and the gold fish die on the floor. Assume that these were real gold fish that died in the making of the movie. Was the entertainment value worth the life of the fish (assume that the fish would have died from natural causes within a year anyway)?
10. At the end of the movie Quaid says “I just had a terrible thought: what if this is a dream?” The ending is ambiguous: it’s not clear whether Quaid’s entire adventure on Mars actually happened or was only a freeform delusion at Rekall. The film makers heighten this ambiguity in the closing scene by playing the same music theme that occurred earlier in the film when Quaid first visited Rekall; the scene also fades to white (rather than black), to suggest a dream-like state. In the DVD special feature, one of the filmmakers implies that Quaid was indeed lobotomized during a botched memory implant. Would the ending have been better if it told us concretely whether Quaid’s experience was reality or a delusion?