"Sorry Quaid. Your whole life is just a dream.”
Movierob wrote to me a while back, honouring me with the opportunity to choose this month’s Genre Grandeur. Stunned that he had chosen me I snapped up the offer with ardent apreciation and quickly set my mind about my genre of choice. Dystopian fiction has always appealed to me, especially Philip K. Dick’s zealous commitment to original science fiction stories. To quote PKD directly “this is the essence of science fiction, the conceptual dislocation within the society so that as a result a new society is generated in the author’s mind, transferred to paper, and from paper it occurs as a convulsive shock in the reader’s mind, the shock of dysrecognition.”
It’s with PKD’s imagination that I round out my contribution to Rob’s month of decadent dystopias, with Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall.
Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 cult classic science fiction extravaganza, inspired by Philip K. Dick’s short story ‘We Can Remember it for you Wholesale’ is as suitably confusing as it’s original title.
Set to an orchestral sci-fi introduction with scrolling opening credits we open to the exuberantly coloured red planet, Mars. Two figures traverse a mountainous track only to be foiled by the loose ground beneath causing one of them to fall to their impending doom. Smashing his helmet on a conveniently placed rock we get our first glimpse of Arnie, and boy is it a doozy. Face melting, eyes bulging, tongue protruding we can’t help but feel Arnie’s journey is over before it’s even begun. But alas, Verhoeven is merely warming us up for a mind-bending story warped by outer-consciousness and dream states. We soon wake from Arnie’s nightmare in a state of flexed persperation with Sharon Stone resting idly by his side.
Arnie plays Douglas Quaid, and Stone his wife, Lori. Shaking him to his senses Lori uses, let’s say, her women’s intuition, which leads briskly onto Quaid’s morning protein shake in front of the projected television. Imagining the future is no easy task, especially for a film maker so we’ll give the set designer a little bit of credit even if just for the bookcase, or quaint tea set. Quaid can’t quite seem to shake his nightmare and Mars soon becomes the topic of discussion. Lori hotly extinguishes Quaid’s desire to travel to Mars, suggesting Saturn instead, but like a spoiled school child Quaid has his heart set on Mars.
Quaid’s despondency to the mundaneness of day to day life plays catalyst to his desire to leave Earth and visit Mars. His niggling desire leads him to ‘Rekall’ where “you can buy the memory of your ideal vacation” without the pesky annoyances. After the obligatory muscle shot of Arnie, and against all advice Quaid heads into ‘Rekall’ for a meeting with Bob McClane to see about a memory implantation of Mars. Who’d have thought Arnie would be a sucker to salesmanship? Bob succesfully sells Quaid a trip to Mars with all the trimmings, accommodation at the Hilton, a sultry visit to Venusville, and the all important Secret Agent ego trip (the crux of Quaid’s tumble down the rabbit hole).
Tantalised by McClane’s Hollywood promise, with a smile on his face, preferences selected, and arms tied down, Quaid prepares for his not-so-interstellar travel to Mars.
What essentially drives the film forward is Quaid’s state of mind. Convinced the people at ‘Rekall’ have blown his cover we’re immediately thrust into Quaid’s fantasy, supposedly.
"You call this a delusion?"
As the elements of Bob McClane’s tantalising sale come to fruition with stark realism Quaid can’t help but get sucked into a tale of deceit. Conscious or sub-conscious, the whole affair makes for fantastic camp storytelling. With heavy 90s nostalgia swarming into every scene, from questionable acting, retro clothing, and a non-sensical imagination of the future Total Recall is one of a kind.
Is he dreaming, or isn’t he? Watching Arnie struggle with his consciousness for nearly two hours is a strangely satisfying experience. There’s nothing vacuous about Verhoeven’s fantastical imagination, nor is there anything lacking in Arnie’s performance. Despite the gimmicky tropes and questionable science, it is at the end of the day dystopian science fiction with a hyperviolent, yet fun-loving appreciation for gorn.
Verhoeven has done an excellent job identifying with Philip K. Dick’s exploration of authoritarianism and dystopian futures. Retaining the element of mystery PKD superbly incorporates into his story telling Verhoeven expands upon and delivers a science fiction marvel that will blow your mind.
There aren’t many films that lead me to one resolution on first viewing, only to squash all logic behind my reasoning on second and third viewings, forcing me to adopt an open-minded approach and throw my hands up in defeat. This is one such film.
Just lose yourself in another world for a couple of hours and you’ll come out the other side befuddled, bemused, and bewildered but ultimately entertained. Astoundingly rewatchable. Over and over and over again. Timeless Classic.
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“For the memory of a lifetime, Rekall, Rekall, Rekall.”