Total Recall is based on the short story “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale” by Philip K. Dick. This connection itself makes this movie science fiction. Philip K. Dick is one of the more well know sci-fi short writers.
This film is set post-chemical war and the only two areas that can be inhabited are the United Federation of Britain and The Colony (formerly Australia.) This is easily explained. It could happen at any point in the future with any country. Perhaps it would not on the global scale as in this movie; unless the delivery method was by intercontinental ballistic missile. The mode of travel is completely fictional. There is no way to really travel safely past the Earth’s core. So it is a variation on reality. But science fiction also has the element of fanciful imagination to it that may or may not be possible. Will it truly be possible to travel through the Earth’s core via a vehicle like The Fall? Maybe but not in the near future and certainly not in my lifetime or my child’s lifetime.
Futuristic cars, antigravity, synthetic people (robots or androids whatever they are designated they are still synthetic), and some catastrophe are something that one would expect to find in science fiction. And Total Recall has it. One convention that is expected, especially if there is knowledge of the original Total Recall (1990), is travel to another world and aliens. We don’t see that in this one. We do get a couple of nods to the original. The first being the three breasted prostitute and the second a very familiar woman that looks very similar to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Doug Quaid’s disguise to get to Mars is seen right before the disguised Colin Farrell’s Doug Quaid.
There are two narrative structures that work very well together for this film, pre-existing and discovery. Pre-existing because the world is there when we come in, the catastrophe has already occurred. Discovery because it is obvious in the opening sequence that Doug Quaid isn’t himself, at least he isn’t certain who he is. He’s having strange dreams that seem more like memories than dreams. He goes through the film discovering who he was and that he doesn’t want to be the person Cohaagen wants him to be. In other words he has discovered there is a way to be better than the man he doesn’t remember. He has discovered his new self in the process of remembering Melina and helping the resistance. The screenwriters did an excellent job weaving these two structures together and adapting portions of Mister Dick’s short.
The evolutionary model in Total Recall is global catastrophe. One could argue that there is a dash of mutated species in there. How many three breasted prostitutes are alive today? Oh, right, none! Could it have been the product of surgery or the effects of chemical warfare that her parents lived through? We don’t really know but she lives in The Colony and nothing good comes from The Colony according to Cohaagen.
College graduate, Army vet, single mom, Husky mom, Movie lover, writer