Total Recall (1990, Paul Verhoeven)

For this film-by-film look at the career of Arnold Schwarzenegger, I’ve been watching his movies in a random order and jotting down a few thoughts. The Schwarzenegger Says quotations are taken from Total Recall (2012), Arnie’s brilliantly bonkers autobiography.

TotalRecall

Watched: 26 August 2019
Format: A secondhand DVD bought for £2 from the Oxfam Bookshop in Greenwich, south-east London.
Seen before? Yes, when it came out on VHS and several times since.

Review: This is more like it! After seeing a few underwhelming Arnie flicks recently, it’s great to return to the kind of high-concept sci-fi/action thriller that’s exactly in his wheelhouse. We get a story and a tone that play to his strengths and don’t require him to be anything other than a movie star.

It’s the year 2084. Schwarzenegger plays everyman construction worker Doug Quaid, who keeps dreaming of a life on Mars so wishes to move there. But when his wife (a very sultry Sharon Stone) resists the idea, he instead visits a company called Rekall and buys an implanted fake memory of an action-packed holiday on the Red Planet. However, the implant procedure goes wrong. Doug had chosen to spice up his fantasy by assuming the role of a secret agent on a dangerous mission. But after being injected by Rekall’s doctors he now thinks he *is* a secret agent on a dangerous mission, and his life as a construction worker was just a cover story. Has he been duped into believing the artificial memories he asked for? Or did the implant process uncover a real personality, which had been hidden for unknown reasons?

Loosely based on a Philip K Dick short story, and then focused through the sharp storytelling lens of director Paul Verhoeven (Robocop, Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers), the story is a spiritual sequel to Arnie’s previous sci-fi film The Running Man (1987). It’s easy to imagine this being the same world but 60 years on; there’s still the Brutalist design aesthetic, a totalitarian state and 80s fashions, but now we also have an off-world colony and radiation-affected mutants. We also get Michael Ironside as a typically watchable villain, some eye-popping special effects (literally so in the opening scene), and masses of tech-noir embellishments (driverless taxis, instant nail varnish, walls that turn into TVs, the scene where Doug disguises himself as a woman by using a fake robotic head). It’s frenetic, fun and fantastic, with scene after scene of surprises and shocks and excitement. *Huge* tongue-in-cheek entertainment. 

Schwarzenegger Says: ‘Paul [Verhoeven, who Schwarzenegger headhunted for the director gig] added a dimension of realism and scientific fact… So many things he said were brilliant. He had a vision. He had enthusiasm… The story twists and turns. You never know until the very end: did I take this trip? Was I really the hero? Or was it all inside my head, and I’m just a blue-collar jackhammer operator who may be schizophrenic? Even at the end you’re not necessarily sure. For me, it connected with the sense I had sometimes that my life was too good to be true.’

Nine women who make you wish you had three hands out of 10

Next time: Red Heat