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Film Review: Total Recall (1990)

Updated on February 6, 2016
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Review written by: Jason Wheeler, Film Frenzy Senior Writer & Editor.


In 1990, Paul Verhoeven released Total Recall, very loosely based off the Philip K. Dick story We Can Remember it for You Wholesale. Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside, Ronny Cox, Mel Johnson, Marshall Bell, and Ray Baker, the film grossed $261.3 million at the Box Office. Winning the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, and the Saturn Awards for Best Science Fiction Film and Best Costume, it was also nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing and the Saturn Awards for Best Actor, Best Direction, Best Make-up, Best Music, Best Special Effects, Best Supporting Actress and Best Writing. It also earned a remake in 2012 starring Colin Farrell and Bryan Cranston.


Douglas Quaid is tired of life in the future and wants to get to Mars as a way of escaping his boring life. But when he tries a Rekall brand Ego Trip that will give him fake memories casting him in the role of a super spy, something goes wrong and he discovers his entire life is a lie and that he really is a spy working under cover. Or maybe not.


It’s interesting in that while Total Recall is a great film that has a very well told, ambiguous story that could be interpreted in two different ways concerning the manner in which the events of the film are played out. There’s the possibility that the events in the film are real and Quaid really is the secret agent Hauser who had his memories removed with new ones implanted, making his initial dream about Mars a method of him remembering everything that happened prior to the film. On the other hand, it could just be the memories implanted by Rekall and Quaid is simply experiencing the vacation that he paid for. And there’s evidence for both theories.

Evidence for the former comes down to the interactions and observations that Quaid has with other characters, the biggest being when Rekall President Edgemar meets with Quaid. He tries to convince him that he’s actually in a dream and gives him a pill to take that would symbolize his desire to break out of it. And when he pretends to swallow it, Edgemar’s reaction is to sweat, which Quaid sees and interprets as a trap.

However, evidence for the latter comes down to that all the events in the film are the exact same as the description of the Ego Trip Quaid is given while at Rekall.

Really though, what it all comes down to is the scene where Quaid is struggling after the Ego Trip starts. But there’s no indication that would point to one way or the other and at the same time, the director states that his intent was for everything to be fantasy and Schwarzenegger insists that it was real and his performance should be taken at face value.

But in seeking to decipher whether or not the events of the film actually happened, there could be a clue in the acting. It’s interesting to note that the best acting in the film comes from Schwarzenegger, but that’s looking at the acting throughout the film. In the beginning of the film, before Quaid heads to Rekall, the acting ranges from decent to pretty good, especially from Sharon Stone. However, after he goes to Rekall, everyone but Schwarzenegger start providing performances that range from unrealistic to so hammy that they’re probably going to eat the set. And one instance of this is while he’s still in Rekall. There’s an assistant who overacts when stating that the memories haven’t been implanted yet and her slapping of another assistant who is having a nervous breakdown is a bit over the top. And from then on, it feels like all the characters are trying to act, but overstating their performances. Except Quaid. The way all these characters are acting speaks to the whole film being the Ego Trip played out by Quaid. It makes sense because Quaid believes it to be real and he’s going through it like he actually believes it and acts “normal.” Yet, he finds the whole situation he’s in so ridiculously over the top that he’s also imagining the over the top performances of everybody else.

4 stars for Total Recall (1990)

the postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent WNI's positions, strategies or opinion


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    • FatBoyThin profile image

      Colin Garrow 2 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      Interesting theories, which I have to say I hadn't really thought about much before having just accepted that the 'fantasy' is real. I love this movie and I can still remember how impressed I was the first time I saw it. Even though the effects are a bit lacking now, the film still packs a punch. Also, I reckon it's a better movie than the recent remake (with Colin Farrell). Great Hub.