Total Recall (1990)

In preparation to watch the new Total Recall starring Colin Ferrell and Jessica Biel, I wanted to watch the original with the last action hero himself, Arnold Swarzenegger. Of course Amazon saw this escalated interest in the original and charged more than a new release. Incredible. Can’t really blame them though, because they got me.

I had never seen it before last night and to be honest I was surprised at the depth of the story in such an unashamed action flick starring the Arnold Swarzenegger. Admittedly, it is going to be a bit difficult treating this film within its own context, because I found myself throughout accusing Total Recall of copying elements of other films, even though they came out after. Of course, it is the other way around, and hence you see my dilemma.

A good question could be, “Why treat this film at all with the new version coming out?” First, the film deals with many elements that are indicative of our postmodern culture, and it is actually ahead of its time before similar movies like Dark City, The Matrix, and Inception. Second, I believe newer does not automatically mean better, and it is always profitable to go back to the “original sources,” so to speak. Ad fontes!

Summary and Review

For those not familiar with the story, a man named Quaid (Swarzenegger) is living the idyllic lifestyle in his nice home, with his beautiful wife (Sharon Stone) in the futuristic world. Yet, he keeps having these dreams/nightmares about being on Mars with another beautiful woman (Rachel Ticotin). This unsettles him to the point that he wants to visit Mars to see if he can match dream with reality. With a revolution occurring on Mars, his wife bids him to not even think about Mars. To compromise, Quaid decides to employ Rekall, a company that implants artificial memories in order to live out this fantasy. Quaid wakes up, supposedly in mid memory implantation, and escapes from Rekall. What happens from that point on is Quaid finds himself being chased by agents, heading to Mars, interacting with mutants, and joining in the revolution.

I must admit, Swarzenegger showed a more vulnerable side in this movie than his usual films of the time. The movie itself is preposterous as a Science Fiction and emphasizes action over plot, so it doesn’t matter much for the lead to give an Oscar-worthy performance. I won’t try to make too much of a judgment on the special effects, because I am speaking 22 years after the fact. I am sure for its time it was top-notch, but I must ask whether it was necessary for there to be a need for such over-the-top special effects every time someone got shot. The gore was actually surprising! The gun shots themselves were loud, and every time the bad guys shot their machine guns (which was most of the movie), I felt the need to shout, “Harry! You’re alive! And you’re a horrible shot!” I mean, seriously, how do the henchmen stay hired with that type of accuracy.

Though the movie is primarily an action film, there is a certain amount of thoughtfulness just below the surface of its presentation, just like the character Cuato (apparently Chucky’s brother). It toys throughout the film with the idea of how much memory plays a role in the identity of a person. It’s not the concern of the film to explore the depths of such a concept like Inception. Nor does it care to make it more explicit like The Matrix or Dark City. At the end it doesn’t care and we are left to not care much whether it is a dream or reality.

Application

One relevant issue that came to my mind as I was watching this film was the ever-increasing interest in video games among guys of all ages. In the film, Rekall, the memory implant agency, promises Swarzenegger that he can have all these experiences without any risk, and to a great extent can pick and choose the scenario, the outcome, and even the girl. This sounds much like a video game. But ironically, this film can serve as a warning for those who spend an unhealthy amount of time playing adventure games, or winning the Heisman on NCAA Football, that you can get your reality confused and even prefer the dream.

Every person who plays a video game is in one way or another fighting for a kingdom or winning a girl. I am sure to conquer nations, throw the winning touchdown, or slay the dragon to save the beautiful woman is easy when there are no risks involved. But that is the problem. It’s not real, and no matter how much time is spent in the virtual world, it does not translate to any true accomplishments in the real world.

What men don’t understand is that there is a real Kingdom to fight for and a real woman to pursue. Sure, there is much risk involved, but that is when there can be much reward. It is good to slow down and reflect upon the spiritual urgency we are faced with every day, and that Christ has called us to be his ambassadors to a lost world. Thankful for Arnold to remind us not to waste time in the virtual world, when so much is at stake.

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