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Movie Reviews

Total Recall



Released: July 27th 1990 (UK)

Directed By: Paul Verhoeven

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sharon Stone

Certificate: 18

Reviewed By: Patrick Campbell

Whether you love him or hate him, there’s no denying that director Paul Verhoeven gets film lovers talking. Despite being surprisingly quiet in recent years – we have to go back to 2006 to find the last movie he directed – in the early 1990s it was difficult to find a more controversial and divisive figure in cinema than the Dutchman. Before the much-discussed ‘Basic Instinct’ (1992) and ‘Showgirls’ (1995) however, Verhoeven proved himself to be an adept director of sci-fi movies, firstly with ‘Robocop’ (1987) and then ‘Total Recall’ (1990) – the latter being a dramatization of the Philip K Dick short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”.

We don’t know what year it is in ‘Total Recall’, but we know the film begins in a future world and centres on the life of a Mr Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger). On the outside, life is good for Quaid – he’s got a nice apartment, a loving wife called Lori (Sharon Stone) and a job as a construction worker. Inside, however, his life is in turmoil, due to the frequent nightmares he keeps on having about the planet Mars, which in the film is inhabited and in the middle of a violent civil war. Why the dreams? Quaid doesn’t know, nor does he understand why a mysterious brunette keeps on appearing in them. His fascination with the planet is too strong to ignore however, so when his wife refuses to go on holiday there, Quaid settles on the next best thing. “Rekall”.

What the company “Rekall” can do for Quaid is a complex yet very attractive offer. For a fee, they can implant memories into his head, giving him the impression that he’s living out the experience when in reality it’s a deliberately and carefully staged scenario akin to a vivid dream. It is an intriguing concept, and one that plays on temptation as well as the depths of the human imagination. Quaid selects his destination (Mars) and his occupation (spy) before sitting back for the injection which will take him there. Or does it?

The strength of ‘Total Recall’ is in its ambiguity. When something seemingly goes wrong with the “Rekall” operation, we’re led to believe initially that what unfolds in front of us is real life – that there was a problem with the injection, that Quaid ends up on Mars on his own volition. However, Verhoeven does his best to throw us off the hunt at every available opportunity. The plot twists come thick and fast, but refreshingly they don’t confuse or muddle the plot to any great extent, instead making the film more exciting and thrilling than predicted. Indeed, ‘Total Recall’ does many things very well. It boasts memorable characters, unforgettable scenes, impressive make-up and solid special effects. The Mars that we see on the screen seems cold, fearsome, chaotic and intimidating, which fits nicely with Quaid’s powerful yet confused and lonely character.

No film is perfect, and ‘Total Recall’ has its problems. The science at points is laughably wrong, and you do wonder if the amount of violence throughout the film is necessary. Quaid’s character doesn’t have any depth, either. You root for him because he’s the good guy – you think – but there’s little in the film to make you invest in his character a huge amount. This is perhaps further compounded by the fact that Arnie once again struggles to act his way out of a paper bag. The overall impression of the film however is a very positive one. Sci-fi fan or not, it is recommended.

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