Title: Total Recall (2012)
Director: Len Wiseman
Writer: Kurt Wimmer, Mark Bomback
Cast: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel
I recently wrote an article in which I compared both versions of Total Recall: Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 film, and this new remake. On that article I pointed out the many differences and similarities between both films, because let’s face it, it’s kind of difficult not to compare the two, especially when you’re such a fan of the original one. But now that I’ve said my piece about both films, I feel like this new one is good enough to get its own review. So, here it is a review for Len Wiseman’s Total Recall, sans any comparisons to Verhoeven’s film. But remember, if you’re interested in reading about how the new and the old compare, don’t hesitate to check out my previous article which does just that in a pretty extensive way.
On this film we meet Douglas Quaid, a blue collar worker who can’t wait to escape his redundant life, he doesn’t know what it is he wants, but he knows he wants a change. While drinking at the local bar he asks his co-workers if they are happy with how their lives have turned out, spending their shitty pay drinking shitty beers in a shitty bar. Quaid wants more out of life, unfortunately he is stuck in his same-o same-o life. But salvation awaits! ‘Rekall’ is a company that sells you fake memories, they can implant fake memories into your brain and make you believe you’ve done whatever you ever wanted to do. Of course, Quaid finds all of this very titillating, it is exactly what he needs, the great escape. So Quaid ends up buying the ticket and taking the ride. Problems arise when the fake memory implants awaken a hidden personality which was lying dormant somewhere in the back of his mind. Now people are chasing him and trying to kill him! Is Douglas Quaid who he thinks he is, or is he someone else?
First things first, I loved the themes on this film. I’ve always said that the best sci-fi films are those that comment on the world we live in rather then just being a showcase for special effects and I’m glad to say that this new Total Recall does just that, it comments on the way society is structured and on they way governments are operating, making their moves so to speak in order to keep a certain part of the population enslaved. Slavery isn’t over; it just changed its name. This new film makes us question the structure of society and if this is the way things should be. On this film when Douglas Quaid is on his way to work, he has to step onto this giant elevator to take what they call “The Fall”. Basically, the working class travels to their jobs by traversing through the core of the planet on this huge elevator. The thing we need to notice about this scene is how tired and bored everybody looks from doing the same thing every day.
Same as the working class that Chaplin portrayed as sheep in Modern Times (1936) or the workers who enter the giant elevator to work in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927), the workers in Total Recall are portrayed as sheep as well. Interesting how going to work and commuting is called “The Fall”, the symbolisms didn’t escape me at all. It’s the idea that we are being treated as herd and that our lives are being wasted doing menial, repetitive jobs that lead our lives nowhere. I take the train to work everyday and can’t help to think we’re all sheep when I see so many people getting on and off the train, looking tired and bored out of their minds; like sheep in a heard in deed. Or rather, like lambs to the slaughter, day by day, the blue collar workers lives are sheered by the scissors of redundancy and time. Why does life have to be like this for some? Can’t life turn out to be something more interesting? Can it all be changed somehow? Can humanity focus their efforts on something more worthwhile? These are some of the questions that Total Recall considers.
This version of Total Recall is really about waking up from that slumber, about disconnecting from that dormant state and taking control of your lives. Quaid is about to take the ‘Rekall’ trip, which is really just a way to try and forget the world and live in a temporary state of bliss. In this film, Quaid is buying a fake escape, not unlike the fake escape that drugs and alcohol offer. These escapes are only temporary, when you wake up; your problems are still there. A smarter solution to redundancy would be to identify it and take the steps to eradicate it from our lives. In a way, Total Recall is also commenting on the stupidity of succumbing to mind numbing drugs to escape our problems. One thing is to use drugs for recreational purposes, but it’s far more damaging to use them to forget about your life, to ignore and escape your problems instead of facing them. There’s a quote from Joe Versus the Volcano (1990), by the way, one of my favorite films ever and a film that addresses some of the very issues that this new Total Recall film addresses; and that quote says: “My father says that almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know, everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. He says that only a few people are awake, and that they live in a state of constant amazement” I totally agree with this sentiment, and it’s what this new Total Recall film is talking about, waking up from that slumber; taking control of your life and doing what you really want with it.
In Quaid’s case, what he feels he needs to do with his life is joining the revolutionary movement so he can change the status quo of society, shake things up, destroy the old way of doing things and starting something new. The idea of destroying something in order to create something new is not a new idea in cinema or in life for that matter, but it is a path seldom taken by society. Big changes occur when old patterns of action are left behind; this I feel is something that has to happen in the world. Things have to change in order for everyone to be happy and free, in order for all of us to truly enjoy life. Not just a select few. Not just the rich and powerful, but everyone.
In the world of Total Recall, and in many parts of the real world we live in governments have taken steps to oppress the working class even further, while lying through their teeth about how they do it. The villains of this film are a dictator and his army of cops. The dictator tells the people that they are putting more cops on the street to protect the population, when in fact what they are really doing is gathering more cops to increment their own private little army with which to oppress. In this respect, Total Recall also reminded me a lot of those faceless cops in George Lucas’s THX-1138 (1971), by the way, THX-1138 was an obvious inspiration for this film. I’ve personally seen the powers that be increment their police force, only to use it against the population and to violate said populations humans rights. Not to protect it, but to oppress. But you wouldn’t know that from looking at the media, where they portray themselves as protectors of the people in television commercials and news articles paid by themselves, to make themselves look like heroes. The film is telling us not to stand idly as these vile creatures take over the world, that in order for a change to occur, people need to rise up from complacency.
Aside from these heavy themes, the film is a great sci-fi/action film, I was never bored. Tonally, it’s a more serious film than Verhoeven’s film, it's not looking to make you laugh with one liners or jokes every five seconds, it doesn’t feel as overtly kinetic as Verhoeven’s film and that’s fine, we couldn’t really expect Len Wiseman, the director of this film to do the same exact film in tone or feel. This Total Recall was going for something different. Yeah we go through the same beats and moments, and there’s a nudge or two to Verhoeven’s film, but in the end, this new Total Recall was trying it’s hardest to be something different. I love Verhoeven’s film for all its craziness, but I also loved this new Total Recall for different reasons, mainly, the awesome art direction, the futuristic technology, I mean, how cool where those hand phones? I enjoyed the decidedly rebellious tone and the flying car chase sequence! They really out did themselves with those scenes. In terms of fx and action, this one pulled no stops, it’s a chase movie with nonstop action. So many things worked just right on this one that I can’t bring myself to say I didn’t like it, because I did like it very much so, it’s not as fun or gory, but then again, it wasn’t trying to be.
Rating: 4 out of 5