Monday, May 28, 2007

Schwarzenegger Sunday: Total Recall

For an overview of Schwarzenegger Sunday, check out the Marching Orders above. Note – there will always be spoilers.

Arnold plays Douglas Quaid, a construction worker who has recurring dreams about Mars which quickly lead him to obsession. He goes to Rekall to have a fake Martian memory implanted. However, before they can implant the new memory, he has a “schizoid embolism” and is placed in a cab while still unconscious. As he tries to go home, he finds himself attacked by various thugs and then his wife. He manages to escape a series of violent shootouts before discovering via a taped message that he’s not really Douglas Quaid, but a man named Hauser who was working for Vilos Cohaagen, governor of Mars. After informing him of his previous memory replacement, Hauser tells Quaid to go to Mars to destroy Cohaagen’s operation. Upon arrival, Quaid meets Melina, a prostitute with whom Hauser had history. Melina brings Quaid to Kuato, the leader of the Martian rebels. Kuato is able to unlock Quiad’s buried memories of alien artifacts within Mars. However, in meeting with Kuato, Quaid unwittingly leads Cohaagen’s forces to him. They kill Kuato and Quaid is set to be refitted with Hauser’s personality. Quaid is able to overpower the technicians, get to the alien artifacts, defeat Cohaagen and start the alien reactor which in turn provides Mars with a clean, breathable atmosphere.

Quality of “Ahnold” lines: Arnold has a few lines here, but most are in the second half of the movie. The Quaid character was originally written as more of a milquetoast and was punched up a bit after Arnold was cast. Once Quaid gets in touch with his inner Hauser, he tosses out a few decent ones 5
“Whatcha been feeding this thing?” “Blondes.”
“You wouldn’t hurt me, would you sweetheart? After all, we’re married.” Quaid shoots Lori in the head and says, “Consider that a divorce.”
A deformed gentlemen says, “You’ve got a lot of nerve showing your face around here, Hauser.” “Look who’s talking.”

Plethora of “Ahnold” lines: Arnold plays it pretty straight, so there are not very many lines here. The ones listed above are the best, save one more which we’ll get to shortly. 3

“I’ll be back.”: This is n/a, which surprised me. There was the perfect opportunity for it in the scene where they’re about to reprogram Quaid as Hauser. Cohaagen could have said, “Yeah, but you’ll be Hauser,” or something a bit wittier than that…

Smarmy Villain: Vilos Cohaagen is played by Ronny Cox, who is basically reprising his role from Robocop, but somehow far more evil. Cohaagen is ruling Mars so ruthlessly, you wonder what he’s really getting out of it. Sure, he’s probably rich as hell. And at one point he explains why he’s “such a happy person”: “Because I've got the greatest job in the solar system. As long as the Terbinium keeps flowing, I can do anything I want. Anything. In fact, the only thing I ever worry about is, that one day - if the rebels win, it all might end.” You might remember Cox from his first role as the reasonable and just Drew from Deliverance. Here, he’s as sinister as can be. This is a man who kills his own goldfish solely out of rage. After shutting the air out of one section of Mars, killing Kuato and apprehending Quaid, he is asked whether air should be returned to said section. His response, “Fuck ‘em. It’ll be a good lesson to the others.” 10

Rough and Tumble Henchman: We’ve seen a lot of classic henchman here at Schwarzenegger Sunday, but no one embodies the category quite like Michael Ironside’s Richter.He is fiery and determined, pouring every last ounce of energy into killing Quaid. The fact that Richter’s girlfriend is “porking” Quaid as part of her assignment certainly doesn’t help matters, nor does the fact that Quaid later kills her. Look at the glee on his face when he thinks he’s managed to kill Quaid: Richter is as tough as they come and hell bent on stopping Quaid at all costs. 10

Diminutive Sidekick: Quaid doesn’t really have a sidekick. Kuato helps him a bit, and he makes Danny DeVito look huge. He’s small enough to live in another man’s belly. The closest thing to a sidekick is Benny the taxi driver, but he ends up turning on Quaid once they meet Kuato. n/a

Rejected hot love interest: Quaid’s wife Lori is played by Sharon Stone in her absolute prime. I can still remember seeing this movie in the theaters and being somewhat in awe of how attractive she was. It would be understandable if Quaid simply wanted to continue as a construction worker on earth, being satisfied with a woman this good-looking. However, he not only denies her pleas to keep on truckin’, he shoots her in the head. I can’t fathom a greater rejection than that. 10
Not nearly hot enough love interest: Rachel Ticotin’s Melina is certainly attractive, but not on par with Stone. She’s athletic and sleazy and demure, just as Quaid requested at Rekall. She’s tough, too, but again when compared to an in-her-prime Sharon Stone, she’s not nearly hot enough. 7

Arnold yelling: Arnold is yelling, shouting, and grunting throughout the entire film. The very first scene is a dream where he falls off a cliff on Mars, landing on a rock where which breaks his mask. I believe the opening line would be written: “Aaaahahhahahlalhahhhhh!” The high point of his yelling, and also one of the better lines he drops is when he is using a giant high-powered drill to kill Benny and he hollers, “SCREEWWWWW YOOOUUUUUUU!” 10

Arnold cursing: We don’t get a poignant curse word here because Arnold is cursing throughout the entire film. In fact, everyone is. Apparently Mars is not a place big on decorum. My two favorites are probably when the thugs attack him after he goes to Rekall and he exclaims, “What the FUCK did I do wrong???” and when he tells Cohaagen, “That’s the best mindfuck yet.” 7

Arnold crazyface: Pretty solid, eh? 8
Superfluous Explosions: There are some explosions here, but not at the superfluous level to which we’ve become accustomed. The only truly superfluous one is when Quaid leaps from the Johnny Cab, and tries to run him down, crashing into a wall before blowing way up. The car appears to be electric, so I’m uncertain of how on earth it would explode like this. But beyond that, we get a few small bursts. This probably makes sense because a big explosion on Mars would lead to a cracked dome and everybody dying. 5
Director: Paul Verhoeven made a name for himself when 1987’s Robocop hit theaters with its subversive view of the future. Total Recall established him as a major director, a distinction he solidified with Basic Instinct. However, his next film, Showgirls, was a critical and box-office bomb. He did not work with Arnold again, but according to the DVD’s featurette, they’re still pretty good friends and thoroughly enjoyed working together. Arnold had been a big fan of Robocop and claims that Total Recall was a major boost to his career.

Franco Columbu: n/a

Sven Ole-Thorsen: Sven does not appear in the film, but he is listed as a “Trainer.” I’m not sure if he simply parlayed being Arnold’s buddy into a free trip to Mexico, or if he actually did some work. 3

Shirtless Arnold: When Arnold wakes up from his dream at the outset of the film, he’s shirtless, and possibly completely naked in bed. After that, he keeps his clothes on for the remainder of the movie. 4

Severely brutal killing of rough and tumble henchman: There are various brutal killings throughout the movie – 77 in all. But they broke the mold with this one. After departing from Quaid under the assumption that he would soon be Hauser, Cohaagen and Richter invite Quaid to a party. But not before Richter punches Quaid in the face solely for his own pleasure. That was apparently a big mistake as it sent Quaid into a rage that enabled him to slay all the technicians and escape with Melina. Eventually, Quaid and Richter meet in a battle on a platform elevator. With Ricther hanging over the edge of the platform, Quaid pulls him back on just enough that his arms are ripped off when the elevator passes a rock ceiling. He then falls several hundred feet to his demise as Quaid says, "See you at the party, Richter!" 10

Even more severely brutal killing of villain: Cohaagen and Quaid meet at the on-switch for the Alien reactor. Cohaagen tries to convince Quaid that starting the reactor would blow up the planet, but based on what Kuato told him, Quaid knows better. However, Cohaagen has rigged the switch with a bomb. Quaid throws the bomb down an airshaft before it explodes, but when it does, it creates a hole which sucks the air out of the room. Cohaagen falls through that hole and lands on a Martain hillside. The lack of atmosphere results in his eyes bugging out, his skin being stretched and him basically “bloating” to death. It’s quite gruesome. 10

Plausibly implausible plot: As you can see, everything is quite farfetched. Alien artifacts on Mars that can create an atmosphere immediately by melting a glacier? Bad domes resulting in mutant freaks? Memory implants which make you think you’ve been somewhere? I could make this list a lot longer, but you get the gist. However, they do such a good job of setting up the fact that we operating in the future, that it all sounds somewhat feasible. The special effects are superb which adds to the realism. They even won a Special Achievement Oscar. In any event, we buy into everything, and somehow it all makes sense, ridiculous though it may be. 10

Ambiguous ending: It’s not simply implied, it’s stated and acknowledged by the characters. Quaid says, “I just had a terrible thought – what if this is a dream?” Melina responds, “Well then kiss me quick before you wake up.” They embrace and instead of the screen fading to black, it fades white. This is meant to imply that instead of really being on Mars, Quaid could be back at Rekall, getting lobotomized. 10

I vividly recall seeing this movie in the theater when I was 15, and enjoying the hell out of it. When it was released, it was on a different level than any movie preceding it. The gory violence combined with the blatant sexuality and science fiction ingenuity captivated audiences. Watching it now, it doesn’t play as well as it used to, but perhaps that is because I’ve just seen it too many times. As mentioned above, it’s an incredibly well-done movie, particularly in how they set up the future in a believable, yet still fantastic way.

The biggest theme is whether any of this is actually happening or if it’s all in Quaid’s mind. The filmmakers try to toe the line halfway between each possibility, but the repeat viewer can’t help but try to take cues one way or the other. My take is that if you have to choose, it’s all in Quaid’s head. Some of this is the fact that situations are simply too perfect. Benny the cab driver ending up working for Cohaagen all along would be an example of this. Coincidence is the norm throughout the film. Other points include: Rachel Ticotin is clearly the woman he chooses when at Rekall, and is labeled “41A”. The doctor who visits him on Mars to try to “talk him out of his psychosis” is the same guy who was in the TV ad for Rekall. One of the Rekall technicians implanting his memory looks at the plot of his implant and exclaims, “That’s a new one. Blue sky on Mars.” All of these point to the fact that it is likely Quaid never leaves Rekall, never takes a trip to Mars, and never ends up giving the planet atmosphere. But I’m willing to accede that there is no definitive answer on this, which makes the movie that much better. This is definitely one of Arnold’s more rewatchable outings.

All the Schwarzenegger Sundays:
The Terminator
Raw Deal
The Running Man
True Lies
Pumping Iron
Conan The Barbarian
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Last Action Hero
Roundup, Part I
Roundup, Part II
The George W. Bush Administration


PMaz said...

Whatever happened to Michael Ironside?

Anonymous said...

If I am Arnold, i will never ever kill Lori.

Unknown said...

Never fully understood what made this movie so great. Like you, I had seen it when I was younger. But looking at a review of it, it was definitely the villains that made it work. Cox and Ironside were awesome. But Stone and "Benny" deserve small credit, too.

Andrew said...

On the topic of whether it's real or not, a persuasive argument in favour of it being reality is that we are not only exposed to situations that Arnold himself participates in. For instance, we are privy to meetings that take place solely between Cohaagen and Richter. If it was a paranoid delusion one might legitimately expect it to be a first person paranoid delusion.

Reed said...

That's certainly a valid point, Andrew. But couldn't they also then implant a third-person memory as part of his adventure?

I just keep going back to the fact that before they start the implantation process, they show a picture of Rachel Ticotin on the monitor with all the choices. Now, we could believe that this is just the way a sedated Quaid views the monitor and interprets the potentially faceless option as his dreamgirl Melina. But if everything IS from his perspective, then, as you said, the scenes with Richter and Cohaagen could not be shown.

Jason said...

When you put it like this-almost as a big budget action comedy of sorts-Total Recall sounds great. Look for the Arnold-isms, have fun with the plot, don't think about it too hard. My only issue with thinking of it that way is a large number of people die or nearly die with some pretty gruesome deaths. That's not quite fun in my book, no matter how comical the death is.

Plus, I expected more from Verhoeven coming right after RoboCop and before Basic Instinct. Both those moves were subversive in their own ways with a critique of the society. There's not a lot of that going on here.

I do like the breakdown, though. Very different way to do a review.