Total Recall
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A Note Regarding Spoilers

The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags have been used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.

For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for total Recall can be found here.

After signing up at Rekall Inc. for a memory implant of the perfect vacation on Mars and discovering that the life he is currently living is actually a lie, construction worker Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) goes to the Mars colony in search of answers and learns that he is actually a renegade Intelligence agent called Hauser. Aided by Hauser's lover Melina (Rachel Ticotin), a member of a band of freedom fighters fighting to free Mars from the oppressive rule of Hauser's former boss, corrupt administrator Vilos Cohaggen (Ronny Cox), Quaid sets out to stop Cohaggen and save Mars. But Quaid soon begins to question reality and wonders whether everything happening to him is real or whether it is all a virtual memory instilled in him by an implant gone wrong.

Total Recall is loosely based on a short story, 'We Can Remember it for You Wholesale', by American novelist Philip K. Dick and first published in the April 1966 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. The short story was adapted for the screen by American screenwriters Ronald Shusett, Dan O'Bannon, Gary Goldman, and Jon Povill.

After being almost convinced by Edgemar (Roy Brocksmith) that he's really back at Rekall suffering from a freeform delusion caused by a schizoid embolism while undergoing the memory transplant, Quaid notices a bead of sweat running down Edgemar's cheek and immediately shoots him in the forehead. The implication is that a memory implant would have no reason to be so nervous that it started to sweat.

This is the other possibility, and the facts also fit this explanation. The assumption is that Doug starts dreaming during the procedure at Rekall, and everything that happens before that is reality. Doug simply has dreams about Mars, because he sees daily news footage of the guerrilla war going on there, and that's why he unconsciously incorporates it into his nightmares. Dreaming about an unknown woman may simply be coincidence; we all dream about anonymous people, she may simply be someone he once crossed on the street or met in a store, and not a recollection of an earlier memory. Or perhaps an subconscious clue that Doug is not so happy in his relation with Lori after all (as dreams are often highly metaphoric). A subtle clue that Doug's later adventure will be a dream might be that Bob, the salesman from Rekall, seems to be hesitant to let Doug make a virtual trip to Mars. Maybe because the daily news keeps showing how violent the situation on Mars is, and he fears that this knowledge may negatively affect Doug's dream. Which is exactly what happens with Doug and what causes his dream to run out of control. Aside from that, Bob tells him how the dream will go; Doug being a secret agent, people firing guns at him, the suite at the Hilton, and at the end killing the bad guy, rescuing the girl and saving Mars. Dr. Lull mentions alien machinery, and the Rekall technician comments that Doug's dream is called Blue Skies on Mars. And on top of that, Milena's face is already one of the options he has to choose from; all very conspicuous.

So the dream starts exactly when Doug is sedated in the chair at Rekall. The part where he wakes up, thinks he is Hauser and attacks the Rekall employees is the beginning of the dream. As Dr. Edgemar later confirms, Doug immediately had a schizoid embolism: his mind is reacting violently to the impant procedure; he is making the dream up as he goes, incorporating things and people he knows into the dream; this includes the procedure at Rekall, his wife Lori, Harry from work, Vilos Cohaagen, the Mars rebellion, and Milena from his dreams (although she could be an implant, as Doug chose her as his fantasy woman). People and things he doesn't know, like Richter and Benny, may be part of the original Ego Trip dream program. Due to the schizoid embolism however, Doug experiences extreme paranoia, thinking that he is a double agent whose memory has been erased, and who is hunted by almost everyone. Dr. Edgemar needs to intervene: he inserts a memory of himself in the dream and tries to convince Doug everything is the result of his imagination running wild; he even implants an image of Lori (the real one) to assure him. As happened in the Rekall office, Edgemar gives an outline of everything that is about to happen; saving the rebel cause, being Cohaagens bosom buddy, and the alien civilizations. Doug believes it for a minute, but then he sees Edgemar sweating. Now it can be speculated that Doug is so paranoid that he imagines the drop of sweat on Edgemar's head, practically giving himself a reason not to believe the doctor, and kill him. This is probably what Edgemar meant when he said that the "walls of reality" would come crashing down and Doug would be stuck in a permanent psychosis; Edgemar was Doug's only connection to reality, and by killing his only guide out, Doug ultimately rejects the real world and accepts the dream as reality, becoming permanently stuck inside an illusion. In this illusion, Lori immediately becomes a paranoid imagination again, attacking him and betraying him to Richter's men. Doug plays out his dream, and in the end, the only way to get him back to the real world is by lobotomizing him, which is what happens when we see the flash of light.

Another distinct possibility (and probability) is that Doug had, in fact, visited Rekall once before, and that the movie itself follows his 2nd attempt at enjoying the Ego Trip, unbeknownst to him. Reason being, is that his memory of the 1st attempt was erased by Rekall as an illegal cover-up of their failure and nearly lobotomizing him. Hence Bob being very uneasy when Doug revisits Rekall and requests the Mars trip yet again. Bob puts on a smiley face and acts cool around Doug, maintaining his professional composure, so as to not tip Doug off that he's been there once already, especially considering what happened the previous time. So Bob tries to discourage Doug from Mars and coax him into trying out a different memory implant instead (so as to avoid the same outcome as last time). But of course, Doug doesn't budge. He wants Mars. After that, Bob thinks for a moment, and against his better judgement, reluctantly decides to accommodate Doug a 2nd time. Later, when Doug goes berserk, and is resedated, Bob states that he's just re-enacting the secret agent portion of his Ego Trip, and the doctor's rebuttal is they had not implanted it yet. Therefore, somewhere deep within Doug's subconscious, the original failed implant still existed. So, after failing twice now, they erase Doug's memory of ever going to Rekall and then create a mandatory policy on the spot that no one at Rekall has ever heard of him. This could also explain why Doug has been having vivid, reoccurring dreams of going to Mars and of Mileena before going back to Rekall: a residue of this first failed Ego Trip that Rekall did not manage to properly erase. That's why Mileena's face appears on the screen in front of Doug after he specifies what type of girl he wants in his fantasy, because she is in fact just a Rekall fabrication and he'd picked her the 1st time around, too. Guy knows what he wants. Doug's dream actually begins with his cab ride home, and not with him going beserk. The alien structures featured at the end of the movie also appear on the screen before Doug goes under. Hence them appearing within Doug's Ego Trip fantasy later on. The technician then mentions "Blue skies on Mars?" with a very cynical attitude in reference to a newly implemented feature to the Ego Trip storyline. Hence the fantasy ending with a blue sky on Mars. This theory is further supported by Doug's brief conversation about Rekall with his coworker/friend Harry at the quarry. Harry tells Doug not to go to Rekall and states that a "friend of his" went there and nearly got himself labotomized. Nearly. Harry is of course actually talking about Doug, (Harry knows Doug does not "recall" the 1st instance) and that's why when Doug disappointingly looks away from Harry and his advice, Harry looks back to Doug with a very worried expression. Worried that his friend will repeat the same mind threatening mistake. Which of course he does (or we wouldn't have a movie after all). Elements of his schizoid embolism are indeed self-implemented from Doug's reality. Such as his friend Harry & wife Lori being a part of it, suddenly trying to kill him. Doug also saw Cohaagan on the news many times before. So, just like a real dream functions, his delusion is a mixing pot of both real life figures and ones from the implant. The rest is just Doug's imagination running rampant as his true persona and made-up persona are at constant odds with one another, resulting in his eventual and inevitable labotomization, which ultimately transcends his reality. (Which we, in the real real world all know, is also made up.) Poor Doug. Should've listened to Harry. "Don't fuck with your brain, Pal. It ain't worth it."

Assuming that Doug is not spending the majority of the movie dreaming in a chair at Recall, but everything he experiences is really happening, the proposed series of events could be as follows:

Vilos Cohaagen is administrator on Mars, Hauser is his trusted friend and employee. During the colonization of Mars, Cohaagen has sacrificed many workers by letting them work to death, and allowing others to mutate into hideous forms, due to poor shielding from space radiation and bad air quality. Cohaagen further extorts Mars' inhabitants with high taxes on air, threatening to shut off the air to those who oppose him. This causes a resistance group of Martians (colonists and mutants) to start terrorist actions against Cohaagen's forces, in order to free Mars from his oppression. During mining operations in the Pyramid mountains, workers discover remnants of an ancient alien civilization. Its purpose was perhaps to make Mars an habitable planet with its own atmosphere; however, that would effectively take away Cohaagen's source of power, so he closes the mine and keeps the finding a secret, maintaining that the alien machinery was there to cause a global meltdown and destroy Mars if it was ever turned on (or he likes to believe that, at least). The resistance leader, Kuato, learns about the secret, and that it may be the key to the salvation of the planet, so he desperately seeks the truth.

Several attempts are made to eradicate the resistance, but the rebels are well hidden among the inhabitants of Mars; infiltration missions fail because many of the mutants are psychic and spot the spies eventually before they can find out who and where Kuato is. So Cohaagen and Hauser set up a delicate plan. Hauser starts spying on a woman called Melina, who is suspected of working with the rebels. He gains her trust by convincing her he wants to get out of Cohaagen's organisation. Just when he is ready to be introduced into the resistance, Hauser pulls out and 'disappears' to make the rebels and Melina think he has been caught and killed by Cohaagen. A trail is set for 'Douglas Quaid' to find his way into the heart of the resistance. Hauser tapes a video to himself, explaining how he wanted to betray Cohaagen, and that Quaid needs to go to Mars to join the rebels. He also makes another tape, one to be revealed to Quaid after Kuato has been killed, explaining the entire scheme. A suite in the Hilton Hotel on Mars is rented in Houser's name, and a message is left there with instructions to find Melina. Hauser's memory is isolated and blocked, a bug is inserted in his head and he gets the memory and personality of Douglas Quaid, a construction worker on Earth. One of Cohaagen's spies, Lori, goes to live with him pretending she is his wife, making sure that he remembers nothing of his former life. Other people keeping an eye on Quaid are Harry, who impersonates a colleague on his work, and Richter. None of them, however, are told that Hauser is actually a double agent; they simply believe Hauser is a traitor who got punished by having to live out his days on Earth as Quaid.

The object is to have Quaid return to Mars after a while so he can get into contact with Melina and the resistance again. Unfortunately, this plan gets accelerated when Quaid unexpectedly begins to have dreams of his former life on Mars as Hauser. He is so fascinated by these dreams that he goes to Rekall to have a trip to Mars implanted. However, during the implantation procedure, the scientists inadvertently reactivate Hauser's memory. They wipe it and restore Quaid's personality again, but Harry, Lori and Richter fear that the procedure at Rekall will cause Hauser to resurface again, so they try to kill him, despite Cohaagen's orders to bring Quaid back alive. Cohaagen has another agent deliver a suitcase to Quaid, containing the first Hauser message, the bug extractor, and enough information to get to the Hilton Hotel on Mars and find the message to look for Melina. On Mars, Benny, another one of Cohaagen's spies, helps Quaid to get where he needs to be. But Melina does not believe Quaid's story and sends him away. Benny relays this information to Cohaagen, who calls in Dr. Edgemar from Rekall to present himself to Quaid as a memory implant, in an attempt to fool Quaid into handing himself over with Lori's help (Edgemar may even be the person who wiped Hauser's mind the first time). It is not quite sure why they want Quaid back now; perhaps they want to reacquire him and try another way to get him to Kuato, now that Melina seems unlikely to be of any help. Despite that Quaid sees through Edgemar's ruse, Richter's men succeed in catching him. He is unexpectedly rescued by Melina, and from there, Quaid fulfills his purpose of meeting Kuato and getting Benny close enough to kill him. Afterwards, Quaid learns from Hauser's message how he has essentially been double-crossed by himself. The big flaw in this plan was obviously that 'Quaid', the new personality, could not be adequately controlled, and started to defend his own existence, leading to him activating the alien device, and the bad guy becoming the hero.

This explanation leaves several coincidences unaccounted for: e.g. Bob from Rekall, Dr. Lull, the Rekall technician and Dr. Edgemar give a lot of examples of what will happen in the implanted dream, which happens in actuality later on. Also, Milena's face is already pre-programmed as an optional mystery woman in the Ego Trip; it is very coincidental that she would really exist. However, they may have alternate explanations: Milena's face may just be standard enough that she closely resembles the standard athletic brunette pre-programmed in the Ego Trip. There is a possibility that programmers from Rekall did some field research on Mars for creating the Ego Trip, heard all the rumours going around about the Pyramid Mountains, the alien machinery, its purpose, and the prophecy of someone saving Mars one day, and decided to make these elements part of the Ego Trip (and thus accidentally predicted the future). They may even have used existing people on Mars as 'templates' for the people in the Ego Trip (which would explain why Milena is pre-programmed in it). Dr Edgemar is probably one of Cohaagen's trusted employees, and as such, one of the few people who knew exactly what had happened to Doug and what the alien machinery could do. Since Doug is still hesitant to believe him, Edgemar has no choice but to fabricate a story, and make it as convincing as possible, by including his own believes and predictions, hoping the amount of detail will convince Doug that he tells the truth (and initially, it worked).

In any way, it should be noted that in the audio commentary, Verhoeven correctly states that the quality of the script is examplified by the fact that two characters can accurately predict the direction the story will go in, yet the film retains its edge-of-the-seat feel.

How does the movie end?

Quaid and Melina make it to the control room. As Quaid prepares to turn on the reactor, he is confronted by Cohaagen who warns him that the reaction will spread to all the tribidium on the planet, putting Mars into a global meltdown. Instead, he intends to blow up the reactor, keeping his control over the air supply. He turns his gun on Quaid, however, Melina shoots Cohaagen first. He activates the bomb anyway, but Quaid tosses it into an exit tunnel. The explosion rips open the walls causing massive decompression from exposure to the atmopsheric vacuum. Quaid and Melina hang on as the decompression tries to suck them outside, but Cohaagen is sucked out onto the surface of the planet where he quickly dies from lack of oxygen. Quaid laboriously crawls his way over to the reactor and activates it before he and Melina are also sucked outside onto the planet's surface. They struggle to breathe as the reaction begins to spread across the planet, causing the release of breathable oxygen and allowing them and all Martian residents to safely breathe the free air. In the final scene, Quaid and Melina stand outside, gazing at the blue sky. Quaid wonders whether it's real, but Melina replies: 'Kiss me quick before you wake up.'

Original Rating an X?

The film was edited by the filmakers to get an R rating although it is unknown whether this footage exists anymore, taken from the alternate versions section: Benny's death is optically cropped to remove the exiting drill erupting from his stomach, the innocent bystander used as a shield was bloodier before trimming, the stabbing of Helm in the bar had the bowie knife slicing up his stomach. Stills of this were actually featured in Fangoria magazine at the time of the film's release, several shots of the scientists being killed by Quaid after he breaks free from the implant-machine were shortened, and the scene of Richter's arms being severed was shortened.

Will there be a sequel?

During the late 1990s, Jonathan Frakes was set to direct a sequel for Dimension Pictures but the budget eventually became too big. Although Arnold Schwarzenegger had not officially been signed on, Frakes did say he would make the film with or without him. When asked at a 2006 UK convention about any existing possibility that the sequel could still be made, Frakes optimistically replied, "maybe someday(!)". Frakes also agreed that one theory was that Minority Report (2001) was a sequel of sorts in that it was set in the same universe as Total Recall (1990) and that the three Cognitives (from Minority Report) were in fact psychic mutants from Mars. In 1999, there was a television series named Total Recall 2070 was meant to be set in the same universe as Total Recall; however, the show had far more similarities with the Blade Runner movie (also inspired by a Philip K. Dick story) than Verhoeven's film. The two-hour series pilot, released in VHS and DVD for the North American market, borrowed footage from the film, such as the space cruiser arriving on Mars. There is a new version based on the novel by Philip K. Dick starring Colin Farrel as Quaid, Kate Beckinsale as Lori, Jessica Biel as Mileena and Bryan Cranston as Vilos Cohaagen that was released on August 3rd 2012.

The book is very serious and the film is an entertaining action Arnie movie. What's surprising about "We Can Remember it for You Wholesale" is how close it is to Total Recall, at least up to a point. Both the story and the movie follow Douglas Quail (story)/Quaid (film), an everyday married guy who is inexplicably drawn to Mars. Realizing that he'll never be able to go to the planet in person, Quaid visits the offices of Rekall, Incorporated (traveling there and back in a taxi driven by a robot as in the film), where he elects to undergo a process that will insert the memories of a trip to Mars into his brain a trip where he adopts the role of a secret agent. Trouble is, before the process can even begin, Rekall's technicians discover that those memories already exist in Quaid's mind: he is a secret agent, and he did go to Mars. Having now remembered his other life, Quaid finds himself pursued by shadowy security forces intent on killing him.

Where the short story and the movie part ways is directly after this point. In the film, Quaid/Arnie heads off to Mars and gets involved in a Martian revolution. All of that was bolted on to Dick's story by Verhoeven and his writers, Dan O'Bannon et al; Dick's tale ends with Quail striking a deal: he returns to Rekall voluntarily to avoid being killed, agreeing to have his mind once again wiped, and have one of his outlandish fantasies implanted as a memory, overriding the secret agent/Mars one: Quail will receive memories of having saved Mars from an alien invasion when he was a child. This leads to a nice twist that's even more insane than what's gone before: when the Rekall technicians try to implement this memory, they find that he has already and genuinely experienced this as a child. But although the story and the movie diverge here, prior to this juncture they run along remarkably similar lines, right down to those robot taxis.

Page last updated by bj_kuehl, 1 week ago
Top 5 Contributors: RainCoatandAxe, !!!deleted!!! (2011934), rick3197, phyrkrakr, stephen-morton

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