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The Psychology of Total Recall

Updated on June 10, 2012

Total Recall 1990 Trailer

Pick It Up Today

By J.C. Delfino III

Total Recall is an excellent movie from the early 90’s and is due to have a remake re-released to theaters August 3, 2012. I will be talking briefly about the original one which covered many psychological areas, I will be discussing about the following three areas in more detail and how they are portrayed in the movie: Depression, Memories (and False Memories), and Prejudice. These three issues were on the forefront of the whole movie.


Although the depression was downplayed, Quade (the main character) was suffering for severe depression, he felt his life was out of order, boring and meant to be something more, although he had a good job, beautiful wife, and lived on the best planet, he was always preoccupied by the need for more. His depression was obvious and consumed his every thought. He eventually found himself going to great lengths to find the adventure he was seeking, first trying to talk his wife into a trip to Mars and then finally deciding to go and receive false memory implants of a vacation to Mars, against the advice of a co-worker from his job. Caution was thrown into the wind and he decided to not only take a memory implant but he choose to go as a special agent, this was done in part because of the framing that the salesman had done during the sales pitch, but he was easily swayed with really little more then seeing Special Agent on the screen.


Here is where the action and mind games (of trying to figure out the truth of the movie) begin. Quade decides to have the memory implant when it appears that halfway though the process he begins to carry on about the doctors blowing his cover, that he was in fact a superspy under cover on Earth. At this point we have to decide is this where the implanted memories start to take place or did he have previous memories wiped from his mind? Either way lets take a look at this incredible concept, it is no secret that memories can be altered, or even created, by a dream, an overheard story or many other factors.

Most people believe memories as truth that in actuality are not. It is not uncommon to sit around a table and hear a story told that totally varies from what we remember. It is simply because people remember things different, and sometimes even combines memories to make a single memory out of two or more different events.

But what if using technology we were able to give people adventures within their mind that seemed so real that they were unable to separate the truth from fantasy. It may actually be possible someday and would be very popular. The reason I believe this is because look at all the games that people are currently playing that let them be warriors and soldiers fighting in different conflicts. They spend countless hours immersed in these games which are becoming more and more graphically real. The Army actually uses a free game as a recruitment tool to help gamers think of the possibility of military service.

Let’s go one step further; imagine someone who was unable to visit the pyramids of Egypt the chance to take a virtual vacation with glasses that you wear in a virtual reality setting. This is currently available. The Luxor Casino in Las Vegas does it slightly different and cheaper with a complete replica of King Tut’s tomb that you can explore for only about twenty dollars. Amusement parks are taking this one step further, when you take the Bug’s Life ride in Disneyland your chair moves when you are carried, when they spray bug spray at you the room fills up with steam, which makes it harder to breathe, air is gushed at you when you are turning quickly, and a bug suddenly behind you pushes your seat forward as it bumps into you. People wait in long lines for this adventure. People are already lining up for a chance to go into space over the next few years some paying hundred’s of thousands of dollars for the trip. People thrive on adventure and if scientists could alter your memories to give you a grand, safe adventure people would line up for that too.


As the movie moves forward it exposes Quade to the Mutant Population, these disfigured and financially deprived people struggle to survive, being denied clean air, proper living arrangements, etc. They become a freedom force and Quade must join up with them becoming their savior in the process. At one time the Mutants are cut off from oxygen while the bad guys are tracking down Quade. When Quade is captured the bad guys are asked what to do with the “Muties”, the reply is simple “Kill them.” They are looked as inferior and not worth keeping alive. Although the story only slightly goes into their individual personalities they are shown as fiercely loyal, and willing to die for their cause of making Mars better for everyone. Not exactly the traits of inferior people.

Quade is the tragic hero in this story and it ends with a kiss from the heroine without revealing whether he was in fact previously a superspy or simply a man who was having delusions and would needs to be lobotomized. His depression and need for adventure sent him searching for it no matter what the cost. A problem that many people have, it is one thing to be driven, it is another thing entirely to deny safety, and the advice of those who care about you. Adventure may be waiting but more likely ill-adventure will be found if not closely thought out, hopefully though you won’t have to be lobotomized.


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    • jcdelfinoiii profile image

      J. C. Delfino III 5 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      Thank you Sandy for Checking it out. Planning to do more psychiatric evaluations of movies soon ;-)

    • SandyMcCollum profile image

      SandyMcCollum 5 years ago

      Interesting. I never 'read' a movie before, thanks! :)