The Reckoner!

Arnold Battle! Total Recall: Was It All Just a Dream?

I was in the shower recently when my massive epigastric hernia (which goes by the name Kuato) started talking to me:

Quaid... Quaid... watch Total Recall again.  Total Recall.  Watch it again.  Watch it twice.

That's all it wants to do, because if you were a massive, sentient mutated hernia, which movie would you want to see repeatedly?  One with happy, attractive, hernia-free people chatting about dogs or relationships or whatever, or a science-fiction movie where the first-half of the plot hinges on finding the massive, sentient, mutated hernia that's going to save the solar system?

Yes, Total Recall.  Another artifact of my basic cable besotted childhood.  Another great Philip K. Dick adaptation done by Hollywood.  Go figure!  Another case for Paul Verhoeven to do what he does best, make a rollicking action movie that reminds us of how silly and venal it all can be sometimes.  Also, there's the part where Arnold pulls a steel arm restraint right out of its chair and stabs a scientist through the head with it.

If you recall correctly, the movie ends on an ambiguous note.  (And if you've somehow read down this far without seeing the movie in the past 21 years, there's about to be spoliers in a second).  

The question is, was Arnold dreaming the whole time?  Was the whole Mars plot all part of the 'spy action' set of memories he bought from the Rekall station at the beginning of the movie, and is he really just an ordinary construction worker living a life of quiet desperation?  Or was it all real, and Quaid just saved Mars from the grip of that evil bastard Cohaagen?

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Reckoning Comments!

While the experience that Quaid has does match pretty well with what he asked for at the beginning, I have a hard time believing that the first memory any memory implantation company would give you is that they royally botched the operation and have given you grounds for an enormous lawsuit.  That sees a little... unwise... from a business standpoint.

Somehow when he killed Sharon Stone's character aka his wife, and the guy that came in to intervene, you know the one with the sweat beading on his face, that seemed Quaid was in reality. However, this is a great question and I feel should spur some good commentary!

Most people point to the bead of sweat to prove it was real, but I don't know if that's conclusive. They actually seed clues and red herrings throughout the movie, but you don't know which is which. For example, if you look at the composite of the girl he asks for in the Rekall office scene, it's Melina -- and this is before he goes under. Same with the talk about Mars and aliens on the train before he goes to Rekall. But are those clues that it's real, or red herrings?

Personally, I think it was real because who's more likely to have a physique like Arnold, a corporate thug or construction worker?

@Joseph Ferrare

Great point! I'd completely forgotten about Melina popping up on the monitor as Quaid is going under.  That whole opening scene does point pretty strongly in the 'dream' direction, although if it is a dream, it's one that went horribly awry.  I'm guessing the folks at Rekall don't program in you killing your wife and experiencing explosive decompression in their standard vacation package.

I have nothing of substance to add, just that TR is the best Arnold movie.  

Personally, I think it was an implanted dream--he got what he paid for, but I think it's also possible it *WAS* a botched job, in that they were unable to bring him out of it like they normally should.  Once he rejected coming out voluntarily, he was stuck in it for good.  The epilogue would be the guy in a coma, forever living out this dream. 

However, that's just my opinion.  Part of what makes this a fun movie is trying to decide if it's real or not. That kind of subtlety and viewer-involvement is missing from a lot of movies.

@Michael Clem

Exactly! People dismiss Total Recall as another mindless action movie because of the Arnold factor, but there's a lot going on in this movie beyond the gunplay.

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