Essay 3- Total Recall: reflection on reality, humanity and intersectionality


I really enjoy watching this film and can’t believe Total Recall (1990) was really filmed in 1990 because it is really advanced stuff at that time with a great combination of imagination and SF elements. Total Recall questions the nature of reality and humanity. The whole story is built up with a framework of pseudo reality. As an audience, I also could not distinguish some plots as apparent realities or Doug Quaid’s dream or delusion, especially when came to the plot that a representative of Rekall company shows up with Quaid’s wife and tell Quaid that he is lost in the memory trip to Mars and suffering a “schizoid embolism”, and needs to wake up by eating a pill. Even at the end of the film, audiences, or at least I, cannot define the whole story as a reality or just a dream of Quaid. I also came to a crazy idea to question my world: for people who are already in a realm no matter realistic or dream, can we really distinguish reality and dream? Can reality and dream truly be defined?


Dream realm is a commonly used and heated topic in science fictional works. For example, in the most representative Japanese SF dream film Paprika, the subjects of insane parades in the dream world actually symbolize hidden social problems of Japanese society at that time, such as the great pressure of Japan’s working class, overdeveloped porn industry and the loss of belief. However, in this film, the dream world is more complicated with adding memory since dream and memory can overlap. It seems that memory can be an illusion and not reliable sometimes, but a dream does not necessarily stand for the opposite side of reality. For example, the first shot of Quaid’s dream with a brown hair woman (actually she is Melina) on Mars may have happened before. Dream here focuses more on an individual level. Another intriguing point is the role of memory in humanities. If we suppose the stories of Quaid really happened, after implanting new memories, Hauser, the former owner of the body became Quaid and all his personality and morality have changed. It provides me a new perspective to think about the difference between human and machine. In Westworld, those human-like hosts are actually machines created by the park. After gaining memories, they “wake up” and have emotion. Quaid lost his memory and was implanted with a new memory and became totally another person. He then in a way became a tool of Cohaagen leading government troops to find the boss of the resistance base. There is no difference between unrecalled Quaid and hosts in Westworld. Whether having “real individual memories” can be seen as a factor of defining human and machine? It leads audiences to reexamine memory’s role in building up humanity and redefine the meaning of machine. In other words, humans can also be machines in a way.


Intersectionality in this film is worth analyzing. The presentation of the mutants on Mars exposes discussion of race, class and gender. Among all SF films I have ever watched, this is the first one to directly show visually-vivid freaks. The three-breasted prostitute and mutant Kuato, a baby- form sage who is conjoined inside another man’s body and can read people’s mind have a great visual impact. Mars’ citizens live under an oxygen protective shield and the air is sold by the government to citizens. There is a big gap between the wealthy and the poor on Mars, and poor people only can get cheap domes and have no enough air to clean the rays, so a lot of mutant babies are born. Therefore, a resistance base is formed by the middle and lower class of mostly mutants living in the D zone Venusville. They organize revolutions against the Cohaagen government force in order to gain more air and freedom. Benny, the pretended taxi driver but actually a spy from the government, easily gains trust from the resistance base because he is also a mutant. He says “We are same” and shows his deformed arm to Quaid and Melina, and finally enters the base of the resistance force. Body and appearance are the most common criteria for people to recognize the same group of people or a race, but this idea is overturned in the film for a situation where people have similar physical qualities but with different aims. can they be categorized as the same group or race? What’s the meaning of grouping people by race? In addition to physical or social similarities, there are other factors that should be considered when grouping humans, for example considering a spiritual value is more appropriate in this film.


In addition, this film covers an obvious idea of feminism. Lori and Melina are two important female roles in the film. Lori pretends to be Quaid’s wife but the real identity is the supervisor from the government. She can be a submissive wife or a cool ball-busting girl under the need of her job. Melina is also a feminist heroine that she helps Quaid twice in critical moments. Haraway’s feministic idea states that the best way for women to gain a sense of security and dignity is to work rather than depending on others’ love and protection, especially from men. Both Lori and Melina show strong responsibility to their enterprise. However, feminism inside the film is compromised. The female characters function as sidekicks rather than a prime mover of the plot. Also, both Lori and Melina’s first scene with Quaid are related to love affairs and sex. The first position and description of two female characters are simply on a physiological level. For example, when Quaid told Melina his story in the Last Resort, what Melina cares about immediately is he has a wife on Earth. It shows an overlook of women power, and makes me feel a little bit of misogyny and sexism.


The high-tech recreation presented in the film in future 21 century is another noticeable and worth analyzing topic, such as the holographic sports instructor, relaxing 3D wallpaper, AI robot cab driver and the memory implants of vacations. Such high-tech entertainment devices change human beings’ relationship with the environment, making people far away from the surrounding nature environment. The spots of Earth people’s life do not give me a sense of happiness and enrichment. It seems that people become numb and focus more on busy work than entertainment. Experiencing the environment is a way for people to sense the world. The film also criticizes that science and technology bring convenience to human beings, but they may not improve enjoyments to people’s senses simultaneously.



Jason P. Vest (2007). Future Imperfect: Philip K. Dick at the Movies.

John Semley (2012). Review: Total Recall. Retrieved from: