“Total Recall” (2012). Cast: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, Bokeem Woodbine, Bill Nighy, John Cho, Will Yun Lee, Andrew Moodie. Director: Len Wiseman. Screenplay: Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback. Screen Story: Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon, Jon Povill and Kurt Wimmer, based on the screenplay of the film “Total Recall” (1990) by Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon and Gary Goldman (“Total Recall” (1990) screen story by Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon and Jon Povill), inspired by the short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale by Philip K. Dick. www.welcometorecall.com/
We’re undeniably convinced of our true nature, aren’t we? But what if we were suddenly presented with circumstances that called those perceptions of ourselves and our lives into question? How would we react to such conditions? Those are some of the very thorny questions posed to a confused and unlikely hero in the new action adventure thriller, “Total Recall.”
Life at the end of the 21st Century is very different. With most of the world having been decimated by war, nearly all of the globe has been rendered uninhabitable except for the United Federation of Britain (the UFB), which calls most of the shots for what remains of humanity, and “the Colony” (Australia), where the majority of the world’s working class resides. Because of the limited habitable land area, living conditions in both societies are cramped. In fact, the prospect of uncontrolled overcrowding looms large, creating considerable tension between and within the two societies, conditions that have prompted the rise of a police state in which security forces crack down on even the slightest of provocations.
Security is especially tight where transportation is concerned, particularly for “the Fall,” a gravity elevator that passes through the earth’s core and serves as the only means of travel between the two cultures.
The Fall is also seen as a symbol of UFB oppression, since it’s how workers from the Colony get to their generally low-paying, labor-intensive jobs, contributing further to the growing animosity between the two societies. Such bitterness has fostered growing resentment against UFB Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) and helped bolster a rebel movement headed by a mysterious iconic leader named Matthias (Bill Nighy).
This backdrop thus provides the setting for the film’s principal narrative, which centers around factory worker Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) and his wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale), a state security officer. Bored with his mundane life, Quaid looks for a diversion to add some excitement to his limited, unfulfilling existence. His solution is to pay a visit to Rekall, a company that provides its customers with vivid virtual experiences through memory implants, including everything from pleasant vacations to personal role-playing adventures.
Intrigued by the available options, Quaid decides to try it out. But, just as he’s being hooked up to the memory implantation device, something goes terribly wrong. An alarm is triggered that signals Quaid is not who he says he is – and that quickly brings hordes of security forces storming into Rekall’s headquarters. Although initially bewildered, Quaid acts instinctively and fights back, taking out the security team as if it were second nature, his commando tactics startling everyone, including him. (After all, how does a supposedly bored but otherwise mild-mannered factory worker suddenly exhibit the skills of a SWAT team member?)
Fearing for his safety, Quaid flees, only to learn that the life he thought he was living was just as much a fabrication as one of Rekall’s implanted fantasies. He suddenly finds himself a wanted man, not just for what he did at Rekall but also for other alleged crimes of which he has no recollection. And so Quaid embarks on an adventure to find out who he really is, an odyssey in which he ultimately becomes entangled with a previously unknown romantic interest (Jessica Biel), as well as the uppermost levels of power within the UFB leadership and the resistance movement.
At its heart, Quaid’s conundrum raises the question, “Who are we, really?”, a quite natural, and rhetorical, response to the sudden, radical changes in his circumstances. Indeed, under such a new, and seemingly imposed, paradigm, who wouldn’t react like that? Such drastically altered conditions fly squarely in the face of what we believe to be true, shaking the very foundations of a worldview we take for granted.
As unsettling as this might be, however, it also serves to illustrate the power of our beliefs in shaping our identity and the reality we experience. Our beliefs are so powerful, in fact, that we tend to take them as givens, propositions not open for questioning. But, as strange as it might seem, sometimes it can be quite beneficial to have our outlook shaken up.
To begin with, experiences like Quaid’s spotlight the intrinsic power of our beliefs and the role they play in shaping our existence through the conscious creation process. Such metaphysical slaps in the face help to make us more consciousof our reality and the process that drives its manifestation. And, because many of us take this concept for granted so much of the time, we often lose sight of its existence and the crucial role it plays in materializing the world around us. So sometimes a healthy reminder of this fact is helpful in making us more mindful of this force in our lives so that we don’t grow complacent about it or oblivious to it.
Moreover, shakeups like this can help to make us aware of our inherent multidimensional selves, drawing attention to capabilities that have been lying dormant within us and that we never knew existed. This becomes apparent in the film, for example, when Quaid discovers his previously unknown commando tactics, skills he didn’t know he possessed but that certainly came in handy when circumstances warranted. Now, this is not to suggest that we should all emulate him and go looking for our inner ninjas, but Quaid’s experience illustrates the value of accessing the latent talents of our multidimensional self, especially those that can work to our benefit in matters of personal growth, development or even survival.
Who knew an action movie could get so deep! But then that shouldn’t come as any surprise with this film “franchise,” as the same was true, at least thematically, in its 1990 predecessor (even if the original’s story line and overall tone were significantly different from this “remake”). And, in part, it’s because of the depth of these underlying themes that it’s hard to believe the film has been so poorly received. In some instances, the picture has been unfairly subjected to inevitable comparisons to the original, and, in others, some viewers may have missed the point of what’s going on here. But potential moviegoers should not be deterred by the naysayers, for this is a terrific rollercoaster ride that serves up both substance and style.
There’s a lot to like here – knock-out action sequences, slick and sexy production values, a great soundtrack and a compelling story that’s not only metaphysically engaging but also politically and socially relevant in many ways. In fact, at the risk of engaging in an inevitable comparison in reverse, I believe this version is a vast improvement over the original in all the ways I’ve already noted. What’s more, the film employs action, notgratuitous violence, in moving the story forward (unlike the original), and Farrell is a much more believable leading man than the predecessor’s protagonist, Arnold Schwarzenegger, ever was.
This is not to say that the film is without its faults. As polished as the action sequences are, for example, some of them go on a little long. Similarly, as stunning as the set designs and art direction are, they mimic those of director Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” (1982) so closely as to be almost indistinguishable. The writing, while better than the original and tinged with a delightfully subtle campiness, could be stronger at times, especially in terms of character development (some performers, such as Cranston, Nighy and Biel, get decidedly short-changed). But, given how much this picture has to offer, these modest failings are effectively offset by its other strengths.
Taking a broader view of ourselves sometimes requires us to take a step back to look at who we really are, even if doing so requires shattering some unquestionable preconceived notions about our nature. Doing so, however, may unveil a richer, fuller picture of ourselves, one that’s a definite upgrade from our present circumstances. In the end, such assessments may indeed reveal that there’s far more to us than we ever thought possible.
Copyright © 2012, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.