Total Recall

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

A 1990 Sci-fi film based on the Phillip K. Dick short story "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale", Total Recall, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, is on its face a sci-fi take on a spy thriller, set in memories implanted into a bored construction worker of the future... or is it? Because of all the Alternate Character Interpretation, the film is often called "The thinking man's action movie."

Douglas Quaid (Arnold S.) is tired of life Twenty Minutes Into the Future. His literal life's dream is to get his ass to Mars as a way of escaping his humdrum existence. A commercial for the Rekall brand "Ego Trip" induces Quaid to try one of the trips, which are just implanted memories of a vacation that he'd never be able to take in person. Quaid elects for an enhanced set of fake memories that cast him in the role of a super spy... sort of a memory novella that he will remember living through. When something goes wrong with the procedure, he discovers that his entire life is a lie, and that he is, in reality, a super spy working under deep cover. Or is he?

The viewer is constantly challenged to decide if Quaid's experiences are real or all just a result of his "ego trip". The film is also well known for its special effects and over-the-top gore, like some other notable Verhoeven films. Highlights include tons of cool guns, three-breasted mutants and a bizarre NES tie-in game (Or do they?)

A remake starring Colin Farrell was released in 2012.

Tropes used in Total Recall include:
  • A-Team Firing: Richter's goons surround Hauser's hologram on all sides, firing from less than 10 feet away without ever hitting each other, even though the bullets should be passing right through the hologram.
  • Adaptation Expansion: Philip K. Dick's short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale".
  • All Just a Dream: ...Or Was It a Dream?
  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us: The Mars Resistance base after Cohaagen's forces attack.
  • Amnesiac Dissonance
  • An Arm and a Leg: Richter gets both his arms ripped off in his death scene.
  • Artistic License Physics:
    • Mars is roughly under half an AU from Earth at closest approach, meaning it should take at least three minutes each way for the video phones to send messages.
    • There are so many things wrong with Mars in this film. The finale is especially egregious though: melting the frozen core of the planet fills the atmosphere with water, turning Mars into an earth-like, perfectly viable planet.
    • In the fight scene in the memory implantation suite on Mars, one of the technicians attacks Quaid with a slender metal rod, but between the more than meter of metal and his own strength, he's not able to even raise a bruise on Quaid when he parries the rod with his bare forearm, but it's still strong enough for Quaid to drive it through his attacker's skull. Being able to drive the thick metal lug that had held one of the restraining cuffs to the chair (before Quaid simply lifts the restraint straight up out of the arm) into another technician's neck and create a rather neat, circular wound is similarly silly (OK, it's an Arnold fight scene, so the laws of physics tend to go out the window, but things really should make more sense than that).
    • Mars has 38% of the Earth's surface gravity. While people and objects would clearly still be bound to the planetary surface, people would walk and objects would fall differently.
    • Or these are clues that these events are not real...
  • Automated Automobiles: Johnny Cab on Earth.
  • Badass Spaniard/Spicy Latina: Melina.
  • Big Bad Friend: Benny and, believe it or not, Hauser.
  • Body Horror: Mutants, especially Kuato.
  • Bond One-Liner: Expected, for a Ahnold film.
  • Breaking the Bonds: Quaid breaks metal shackles twice.
  • Broken Record:

20 GOTO 10

Cohaagen: First you try to kill Quaid, then he escapes!
Richter: He had help from our side, sir.
Cohaagen: I know that.
Richter: But I thought...
Cohaagen: Who told you to think? I don't give you enough information to think. You do what you're told. That's what you do.

Goon: I'd be upset too if a guy like Quaid was porking my old lady.
Ritcher: Are you saying she liked it?
Goon: No, I'm sure she hated every minute of it!

  • Neck Snap: In Quaid's first fight against Cohaagen's goons, one of them checks out this way in a rather gratuitous fashion.
  • No Ontological Inertia:
    • Quaid and Melina, who somehow instantly recover from Decompression fairly quickly, despite it being previously shown to turn people into jelly.
    • It seems that the Alien reactor also managed to bring the pressure to Earth-Norm, but it still shouldn't have been that fast.
  • No OSHA Compliance: Rather than kicking in automatically, the emergency pressure doors in the Mars spaceport terminal have to be manually activated while potentially (as happens in the film) fighting against being sucked into a near-vacuum.
  • Note to Self:: The video messages Hauser leaves for Quaid.
  • One World Order: Cohaagen.
  • Or Was It a Dream?: The ending is intentionally ambiguous about the nature of Quaid's fantasy. If it was a dream, has it Gone Horribly Wrong, or not? Does the film end with him being lobotomized, or is that just the end of his vacation?? It all comes down to whether the the scene between when they start the implantation process and when Quaid wakes up in the Johnny Cab is a part of the hallucination or if it really happened. And there's absolutely nothing that says one way or the other.
  • Planetville: Even the presence of other tropes reinforce this. For example, the atmospheric pressurization is so fast that if it was interpreted as accurate, it not only shrinks the colony to appreciable city-size, but the whole damn planet.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner:
    • Benny! Screw you!
    • "See you at the party, Richter!".
    • From the bomb itself: "Get ready for a surpriiiise!"
  • Product Placement: Fuji Film, Jack in the Box, Pepsi, and more.
  • Psychic Powers: Kuato and a number of other mutants.
  • Publisher Chosen Title: See Adaptation Expansion above.
  • Punch Clock Villain: Lori.
  • Put Their Heads Together: Quaid to two of the Mooks who attacked him after he left Rekall.
  • Rare Guns: The Pankor Jackhammer, though it is actually a Cobray Sweet Streeper made to look like one. It's not very convincing, but damn if it doesn't look cool.
  • Red Herring Shirt: Quaid masquerading as a woman.
  • Red Light District: Venusville on Mars.
  • Red Pill, Blue Pill: A choice offered to Quaid by a Rekall psychologist.
  • The Red Planet: Quaid spends most of the film on Mars.
  • Schrödinger's Butterfly
  • Shout-Out: To Capricorn One.
  • Spare Body Parts: A prostitute on Mars has extra assets.
  • Spiteful Spit: Melina to Cohaagen.
  • Taking You with Me: Richter and Johnny Cab both try this on Quaid.
  • Tanks for The Memories
  • The Tape Knew You Would Say That: Hauser leaves instructions to Quaid, anticipates how Quaid is going to react at various points, and seems to know roughly how long it'll take him to remove the tracking device, before continuing (theoretically justified by some sort of basic AI programmed to judge responses, like the JohnnyCabs, but nothing like that's actually mentioned).
  • Terraform: Mars, at the end of the movie.
  • These Hands Have Killed: Quaid does this right after he slaughters the five agents trying to kill him on Earth, before he goes back to his "wife" Lori. He actually has their blood on his hands at the time.
  • This Is a Drill: Quaid to Benny.
  • Title Drop:

Richter: In an hour he could have total recall.

  • Twenty Minutes Into the Future: We have seen the future, and it is the public transportation system of Mexico City.
  • Uncle Tomfoolery: Benny the cab driver, until he reveals himself as a mutant collaborator. And especially after that turns out to be a lie and he was Evil All Along.
  • Used Future
  • Video Phone: Used a lot on Mars. Talking to someone on Mars was as easy as phoning them up on Earth. In fact, Cohaagen (when on Mars) uses his vid phone to call Richter (on Earth) without any technical difficulties.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Richter has a brief one after Lori's death, but pulls himself together quite quickly after nearly killing himself and his head goon.
  • The War of Earthly Aggression: Mars Resistance version.
  • Wham! Line:

Cohaagen: "Now, here's a message from someone you trust..." (switches on computer screen)
Hauser: Hey, buddy!

Vilos Cohaagen: Richter goes hog-wild screwing up everything that I spent a year planning. Frankly... I'm amazed it worked!

  • Your Head Asplode: Subverted, where the exploding head is a bomb-rigged animatronic prosthesis which Quaid wears as part of a costume. His deception uncovered, he tosses the head to his pursuers, in whose hands it cracks wise and then asplodes. Also averted and played straight, since the thin Martian atmosphere causes one bad guy's head to asplode. Arnie and his gal narrowly avoid the same fate.
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle: Hauser basically says this to Quaid, pointing out that that's his body, and he wants it back. So Try Not to Die.