An Interpretation of Total Recall That Will Shock! and Amaze!
I've been watching a lot of movies, because I had what I thought was the flu a couple of weeks ago, and I haven't really woken up since. I think I must be hitting the three-week mark for this interminable nap. Don't worry, though. I'm going to the doctor tomorrow to make sure nothing is terribly wrong with me, at least in this respect.
In between naps, I've been watching old movies. If you can't already tell from the images here, one of them was the original Total Recall, which came out in theatres in June of 1990. This was the same month I graduated from high school and 25 years before the extra-marital son Arnold Schwarzenegger had by his other childrens' then nanny graduated high school this last June.
I found the re-watching of this movie strange. He starts off in world of wealth and power. He has a stereotypically hot wife, Lori. Things should be pretty good, but he's haunted by nightmares about Mars, decides to have vacation memories of himself as a secret agent on Mars implanted in his brain, realizes his so-called wife is actually a woman hired to play his wife who is now out to kill him, yada yada yada.
When I thought about, it started to look like a bizarro telling of the biblical Adam and Eve story. Man is created (in this case it's an identity, Douglas Quaid, to obscure an original identity, Hauser), the powers that be gave him a woman created from him (his invented wife's story only exists as a part of his created identity's story), and then she tells him he should take a vacation, which is what inspires him to buy an implanted vacation memory, only he chooses the one no one wants him to choose, which is a trip to Mars, this bizarro version's forbidden fruit.
The knowledge he gains after consuming this forbidden fruit that his so-called wife urged him to try has him fleeing what was once his Eden to avoid execution and to discover the truth of who he is on Mars.
While he's on the run, he realizes he's being tracked using a giant sensor that has been implanted in his head, and Quaid basically gives birth to the thing through his left nostril, because no Garden of Eden story would be complete if it didn't include painful birth as a consequence of gaining knowledge.
Once he lands on Mars and is fully outside of his original Eden, the world he inhabits proves to be a den of all the usual sins of lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. I mean, there is even a three-breasted prostitute. This story has no subtlety.
Quaid uncovers grave injustices on Mars, the greatest of which is that the company who runs the planet is limiting the available air supply so they can charge the citizens gross amounts for the privilege of staying alive. A bunch of things happen that result in Quaid figuring out who the bad guys are and who the good guys are — his alternate personality, Hauser, is a bad guy, which makes our main character the very embodiment of his knowledge of good and evil — and he also figures out how to turn on the air for the planet forever and save the world.
(Also, a bunch of goldfish die — less as a plot point and more as scene decoration — which seems to happen in movies a lot. I hate the wanton slaughter of innocent goldfish in movies. It seems so unnecessary.)
Anyway, the aliens who lived on the planet hundreds of thousands of years ago created a generator that would basically recreate Earth's atmosphere on Mars, because ancient alien creatures apparently needed the same kind of atmosphere a future Earth would have. What a happy coincidence!
Quaid turns on the atmosphere just in time to save all of the human and mutant life on Mars.
And then he and his Mars girlfriend, Milena, get to make out in what appears to be Quaid's new Eden, only this one is a real Eden. His original Eden was a false one constructed by forces that were greater than himself, but this new Eden is one he himself created and which actually exists, which brings us to the conclusion I never noticed in Total Recall before:
The earlier false Eden, the one that was Quaid's happy life on Earth before he gained knowledge of good and evil, was created by outside forces that controlled his heart and mind, metaphorical gods, or at least people who played at being gods. This new, more authentic Eden is one he himself has brought into being, albeit with the help of ancient alien technology. From this perspective, Total Recall becomes a Man vs God story about the defeat of false gods and the triumph of man's self-determination. Could it be that Total Recall is a romantic, atheist tale of the birth of a man-created Eden realized in the heavens?
I'm writing a post a day in November for BlogHer's NaBloPoMo.