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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.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

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?

REVIEWS

The movie’s premise and their delivery were awesome. Quaid, who is under the impression that he is a secret agent, caused by a memory implant, tries to save the inhabitants of Mars. Part of the movie is spent asking, how can we tell the difference between reality and dreams? What makes us, our memories, our past, even if we don't remember it, genuine? When Quaid’s wife and the Rekall expert show up on Mars, they try to tell Quaid that the world is all in his mind. He’s told that everything happening right now is just a side effect of his secret agent program going wrong in his brain. The Rekall expert tells Quaid that everything that happens is happening because he wants it to, but offers him a pill that will help him out of it. When the expert sweats, Quaid shoots him. Its things like that, which makes this movie great, the action, philosophical content, and inability to what’s coming next. I would like to point out that a machine has been built that will create an atmosphere. NASA plans to use it on Venus in the future, but it takes years to do its job and requires resources from the ground where it’s placed. The ending is the only part of this movie that will make you cringe a little bit. -- Flying V

This film takes place in the future, when there are many different life forms living on the earth other than just humans. When the main character, Quaid, decides he wants to try a new form of memory transplant where you can have any vacation planted into your memory, things go extremely wrong. Throughout the film, director Paul Verhoeven keeps you guessing, trying to determine whether Quaid is in a delusional state from his implant going wrong, experiencing life as a secret agent named Hauser, or if he purposely had part of his memory wiped out in order to gain trust from the rebels, of whom he is trying to defeat. This is a great movie that grabs you with its issue of personal identity. Throughout his journey, Quaid has to decide whether to believe the government that he really is a secret agent or to believe that he really is Quaid and that he is just experiencing a memory implant. Verhoeven does a great job of presenting a common philosophical issue of personal identity in this film and really challenges you to piece things together throughout the film and determine how you feel Quaid’s problem with personal identity can be solved. -- Yee Haw

Before taking this course, I never would have looked at Total Recall as a philosophical film. This has a lot to do with the Govenator being in it, but that’s obvious. After watching the movie and observing the philosophical content, I gained a lot more respect for the movie. The whole appearance versus reality thing is definitely a heated topic in all philosophy classrooms. Basically, it’s all dependent upon one’s perception. Even at the end, the movie leaves you thinking about reality. Quaid still doesn’t know what is real and what is fake. This movie is similar to The Matrix on that level. Personally, I would have just accepted where I was and who I was at that point. I would have just lived life without any questions because I would have already destroyed the sinister government on Mars. I like how everything is completely different about this movie once you think about it from a philosophical standpoint. There are certain movies that change your entire perception of the world and reality. This film honestly created that sensation for me. I give it 9 out of 10. I only give it 9 because Arnold didn’t ram his fist into someone’s stomach and break their spine (The Running Man). -- Talking Man