Mega Spoiler Alert.
Some genres have sunk to fairly low depths in recent years, but others are demanding more of us. Case in point: Inception (2010). But let’s flash back (recall, one might say) 20 years before that to a film with similar themes, Total Recall (1990). Now that the preview is out for the new version, I thought I’d offer my own knowledge of this film. If you haven’t seen this movie already, none of this post will make any sense.
Here’s the thing you didn’t know: As suggested by director Paul Verhoeven, the majority of Total Recall is a dream, Quaid’s “vacation” gone awry.
Here are some clues:
- Lori (Stone) tries to convince Quaid (Ahnold) that he wouldn’t enjoy Mars. If she isn’t part of the conspiracy, this is a legitimate thing to say. Quaid saying he wants to go to Mars is like me saying I want to take a vacation in Libya. If she is part of a conspiracy, the entire plan hinges upon Quaid going to Mars, so why wouldn’t she encourage it?
- Quaid’s coworker, Harry, tells Quaid to avoid going to Rekall. If Harry is in on the big plan, he would tell Quaid to avoid going there, but this is true if he isn’t in on it too.He even tells Quaid not to screw with his brain, which is always good advice.
- The salesman at Rekall mentions a “deluxe suite at the Hilton”. He says “you are a top operative, under deep cover, on your most important mission. People are trying to kill you left and right. You meet this beautiful exotic woman.” Then: “I don’t want to spoil it for you, Doug, but you rest assured, by the time the trip is over, you get the girl, kill the bad guys, and save the entire planet.” He describes the rest of the film in perfect detail.
- Dr. Lull (female scientist at Rekall) asks Quaid “would you like us to integrate some alien stuff?” She mentions alien artifacts, which Quaid’s conspiracy will involve. Many of the images on the monitor are drawings of what he will see later, which are supposed to be highly guarded secrets by Cohaagen (as told to us later by the biker guy from Terminator 2 ).
- When the lab tech is handed the file for the memory sequence, he says “that’s a new one, blue sky on Mars.”
At about 18:30 into the movie, Quaid drifts out of consciousness. The camera tilts up and focuses on the machine. Everything after this is a “dream” from Quaid at Rekall.
- Dr. Lull says that they hadn’t implanted the memory yet, which leads us to believe that the conspiracy is true. Think about this, though: if this is part of Quaid’s delusion/implant, these are no longer the real people we met five minutes ago, but rather characters in Quaid’s Rekall story.
- Dr. Edgemeyer (creepy guy from Rekall commerical) is telling the truth.Quaid is still at Rekall and something has gone wrong, just like Harry said it might.
- Edgemeyer tells Quaid “Think about it: your dream started in the middle of your implant procedure. Everything after that, the chases, the trip to Mars, the suite at the Hilton, are all elements of your Rekall holiday and ego trip. You paid to be a secret agent.” He’s right.
- Lori comes in. This is the real Lori, in this case. She’s at Rekall with Edgemeyer.
- Edgemeyer then gives away the rest of the movie: “One minute you’ll be the savior of the rebel cause, then, next you’ll be Cohaagen’s bosom buddy.” Quaid (in conspiracy land) was really Cohaagen’s friend before his memory was erased. If this isn’t fantasy, why would Edgemeyer tell Quaid this important secret? For that matter, why would anyone tell Edgemeyer?
- He says “You’ll even have fantasies about alien civilizations, as you requested”. Remember Dr. Lull’s comments?
- Quaid sees a bead of sweat and takes that to mean Edgemeyer is lying. There are all sorts of reasons a guy can sweat besides nervousness.
- The walls of the hotel room come crashing in, much like what Edgemeyer predicted: “the walls of reality will come crashing down”.
- Lori kicks Quaid and says “That’s for making me come to Mars.” Does this mean she’s actually there and that all of this is real? Nope. Check out the editing. There are a few seconds during which we don’t see Lori. If Lori was at Rekall, they would immediately pull her out of Quaid’s dream for fear getting caught in his mental breakdown. When she leaves, Quaid’s mind brings the “conspiracy” Lori back.
- At the end, looking at the “blue sky on Mars”, Quaid wonders if it’s a dream. The screen fades to white as the film ends. Remember Edgemeyer’s comments? “In the end, back on Earth, you’ll be lobotomized.”