I watched the Arnie version on TV the other night, and I watched the Colin Farrell version at the cinema tonight, and I’m convinced: Total Recall missed a trick in the romance department. And it makes Douglas Quade look like a douche.
Here’s a bit of a run-down with some spoilers: Douglas Quade goes to Rekall have a false memory implanted into his brain. He requests a Secret-Agent Adventure. He then proceeds to have an adventure in which he is truly a secret agent called Houser who’s had his memory altered so that he thinks he’s Douglas Quade, Everyman. (I’ll give you a second.) It’s never entirely clear whether the adventure is real or the requested implant.
At the end of the story Quade has to chose between retrieving the memories of Houser and becoming “himself” again, or remaining the implanted self, Quade. He chooses Quade.
My problem is this: Quade has a wife called Lori. They were childhood sweethearts and have been married for seven years. She’s beautiful. In the Arnie version she’s also compliant, a good listener and a sexpot. In the Farrell version she’s smart, tough and sexy.
When the adventure ensues, it turns out she’s one of the bad guys. She claims she’s only known Quade for six weeks, when she was assigned to him. The entirety of their history is an implanted memory. She tries to kill him. She’s pretty good at it.
In the Arnie version, he puts a bullet through her head and his new girlfriend says, “What a bitch.” Or something. She definitely calls her a bitch. And Arnie just gives this knowing sneer like, Haha, your observations about my erstwhile wife are hilarious, because she is a woman who had the bad manners to be kind of a badass.
In the Farrell version she at least gets to be the baddie, not just the baddie’s girlfriend. Farrell makes some show of feeling conflicted when the new (old) love interest shows up, because his memories tell him he was married for seven years. Not so much conflicted about his feelings for his “wife”, however, as conflicted about what’s true and what’s not.
The whole premise of this story relies on the idea that a false memory is just as “real” as a true memory. The fact that they missed an opportunity to explore that idea to its furthest end boggles me.
Quade believes, utterly, that he’s been married to this woman for seven years. Both films use the fact that she tries to kill him as an easy-out. Like – psychopathic behaviour cancels out seven years of marital love and trust.
It would make a much more interesting point to say: He’s only known this woman six weeks in real time. He feels he’s loved her for seven years. What would it take to disassociate himself from those feelings – to be faced with the painful fact of her utter lack of feeling or loyalty to him?
Lovers to enemies can be just as interesting as the other way around.
Let me say here: I get that this is action-adventure, and not some complex love story. But the movie’s internal logic is what frustrates me. When Quade is faced with the choice between Quade and Houser, he chooses Quade. Because his emotional attachment to Quade is strong enough to overcome an external sense of his “true” self. The life that’s been implanted in his brain feels authentic to him.
But only when it comes to himself, apparently. If that life has such a strong emotional pull on him, why is it so easy for him to distance himself from his wife, or the emotions surrounding her?
In the Arnie version it makes him come across like a bit of a sociopath. Farrell almost pulls it off because he’s so damn good at the coy, uncertain looks that make him feel human. But I came away feeling that if he couldn’t feel the loss of love, he surely couldn’t feel much at all.
It’s a fascinating and terrifying question, whether love is pure chemical delusion, or something more. Total Recall asked the same question about reality, but only as it touched on the reality of one man’s ego. Ho hum.
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