Review: Total Recall (1990)

Arnold Schwarzenegger stars in sci-fi classic Total Recall. Set on Mars, he must battle to discover what is real and what isn't

An adaptation of Hollywood’s go-to sci-fi novelist Philip K. Dick’s We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, 1990’s Total Recall teamed a post-Terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger against a well executed plot that gave him some of his most memorable one-liners.

Total Recall is a child of the 80’s, caught between the decade’s brilliant effects and the 1990’s paranoid fascination with reality and identity (look here to Fight Club and The Matrix). The building titles and overall feel of the film place it as one of the classic action films from its era. The opening scene sets the standard for the peril to be had in the film, exposing Arnie’s character Quaid against the inhospitable atmosphere of Mars. The resulting eye-bulging scene managed to haunt us as children and still manages to pack a punch today.

The story begins with Quaid’s wishes to visit Mars. Although leading a seemingly idyllic life with wife Lori (Sharon Stone), his thoughts become obsessive much to Lori’s dismay. Whilst travelling he sees an advert for Rekall and decides to visit the establishment to have the memory of a trip to Mars implanted in his head – nothing could go wrong. Could it?

Of course it all does; after choosing to remember a visit to Mars as a secret agent, Quaid awakes mid-implantation and wrestles his way out of the building. It is here that the mind-fuckery begins. Setting out on a trail that sees him trying to gain a handle on his own identity, he discovers that most of his nearest and dearest are, in fact, double agents and he can ultimately trust no one. Travelling to Mars (for real this time) he embarks on a journey that reveals his true secret agent past and a mission that could save the entire population of the red planet.

The line between reality and imagination is constantly moved here in director Paul Verhoeven’s film and he leaves the audience second-guessing the actions of most of the key players – including Quaid himself – throughout most of the film. The film itself is populated by absorbing characters and technology that touches a little close to home, with TV advertising on trains now seeming a thing of the norm. The technology that hasn’t quite made its way into everyday life is a delight – a particular highlight being the Johnnycab (voiced by Robert Picado), as well as Arnie’s disguise as a rather large lady. Male fans of the film will probably remember Venusville’s triple breasted woman with a bit more clarity.

Essentially Total Recall is a chase film, but a chase film on many different levels. Quaid himself is being chased by Richter (Michael Ironside), a man jealous of his relationship with Lori, whilst he is chasing after himself, trying to ascertain just who he is and why he’s embroiled in the revolutionary undertones of Mars.

Elaborate plots, double agents and mesmerising effects all work together well in this slice of 1990’s sci-fi action. Providing enough one-liners to keep even the most fanatical of film buffs happy, Total Recall remains as good as it was back in 1990.

Best line: ‘Consider that a divorce’.

Discussion feed

Up next in movies