I don’t really remember the first Total Recall with Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1990. I am sure I was in dance class contemplating my arabesque while all normal teenagers were sneaking into the movie with a flask to see the famed chick with three tits. And so if you are going to ask me if this Total Recall was as good as the first one, I don’t have an opinion on that. Sorry. What I can say is that in addition to all the thrilling effects you would expect to see from Len Wiseman (Underworld director), we get a good dose of philosophy.


Yes, it’s true. (No spoilers here!)

Set in a future of have and have-nots, and a whole population of people forced to live in darkness, trash, and misery, the people of The Colony (where Total Recall takes place) has an opportunity to escape the treachery  through the services of a company called Recall. At Recall, you pay people to chemically manipulate your brain so you can create memories that you never experienced. Or, as my philosophy professor would say, memories that are subjective but not objective truths.

Confused? Example: I have always wanted to be an incredible lounge singer ala Fabulous Baker Boys. At Recall, I could have that experience programmed in my mind so that way when I wake up, it’s like I’ve really done that. This makes me happier with my life. Even though I know it’s not real.

When this premise was presented in the movie, I was saddened so deeply to think that in the future people would want to create memories from drugs and not from experience. Although calculated injected memories eradicate risk and failure from experiences, I would think that they would also lack the physical memory of an experience as well. (Remembering a Caribbean vacation is not nearly the same as being there.) How miserable would you have to be to accept the compromised truth of a mental experience over the real thing?

And yet, as my sister pointed out to me, the evolution of the online world has allowed subjective truths, memories, and histories forge stronger realities than tangible truths. In fact, a status update on Facebook passed among hundreds of friends is more powerful than whether or not it really happened. That status update – right or wrong – is the truth.

For me, a-contextual memories free falling in my brain, sound scary given I think we all spend much of our lives trying to connect the disparate events in our history into a larger narrative that helps us create meaning in our lives. In short, the very idea that such an act could happen undermines the notion that we have an identity at all, not when it is so tenable.

In short,  Total Recall is very much about existentialism, the 20th century philosophical school which prescribes that actions are more important than thoughts and that authenticity is every human being’s greatest journey. In a scene later in the movie, it’s like existentialism’s own Jean-Paul Sartre is talking to Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell’s character), explaining that his quest for his past means nothing. His present and future forges who he is.

And as we see Douglas Quaid move throughout the movie, trying to peel pack the layers of who he truly “is,” we see an authentic existential angst , a longing for self-knowledge rather than an action movie’s typical singular vengeful urge to kill the bad guys. In Total Recall, Douglas Quaid knows that until he determines how to evaluate his own self, he cannot determine who the bad guys are.

And so, Total Recall is another action movie that is a little more sophisticated and multi-faceted. Yes, it’s true. A girl with a philosophy background, a love of fast cars, and a keen eye for good-looking men can walk away from the theater feeling pretty satisfied, even though she knows it would be better in real life.

Go see the movie!

One thought on “ Colin Farrell and Jean-Paul Sartre walk into a bar: Total Recall ”

  1. Joy you sure are quick to write this one. I assume that this movie is a thumbs up.
    It sounds like you liked Colins mind instead of his body in this movie.

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