One of the most recognisable actors of the 1980s, was action supremo, and former bodybuilding champion Arnold Schwarzenegger. From the ridiculously quotable Commando to his defining iconic role in The Terminator, Arnie (as he’s affectionately known) built a reputation on zinging one-liners and violent action. What he is lesser known for is his actual acting ability, which is something that comes to the fore in the Paul Verhoeven-directed Total Recall.
Based on a story by science fiction legend Philip K. Dick called We Can Remember it for you Wholesale, the film adaptation Total Recall explores the themes of identity and reality. Set in the future, our hero Quaid (Schwarzenegger) is a construction worker who keeps having dreams of a life on Mars, home to a colony constantly under threat from rebellion and insurgency. Discouraged from thinking about it by his wife (Sharon Stone) he visits a Rekall facility, which can implant you with fake memories.
He opts for dreams of Mars under blue skies, but while undergoing the procedure Quaid reacts violently, claiming that they have blown his cover. Confused by his own reaction and with co-workers and his wife turning on him, Quaid goes on the run, deciding to follow his dreams of Mars to try and find out the truth about his own life.
To say that Total Recall’s underlying thesis on identity is interesting would be a huge understatement. Much like The Matrix and A Scanner Darkly, the idea that the world as you know it being fake allows for plenty of room for twists and turns that help keep the pacing of a film flowing beautifully. Under Verhoeven’s control, Total Recall treads the line between deep-thinking science fiction and all-out action comfortably and is paced in such a way that your never bored with either. It’s a tour de force of 1980s action and one that is grounded by a subtle central performance from Schwarzenegger.
Normally seen flexing biceps, firing massive guns and coolly dispatching enemies with a witty one-liner, Schwarzenegger actually imbues Total Recall’s Quaid with a vulnerability etched with confusion. The dawning realisation that life is not as he thought it was is perfectly played and stands as one of his strongest performances ever. Just in case you’re worried that he is all emotion, he still manages some great lines in there too.
Verhoeven proves himself adept at dealing with big thinking science fiction and creates an interesting and intriguing atmosphere, splitting the action between futuristic Earth and down-and-dirty Mars. There’s even a three breasted woman. Awesome! With such an interesting central conceit, a career best Schwarzenegger and a non-stop, break-neck pace, Total Recall stands the test of time, evolving from a cult classic to bonafide great.