Just because it made loads of money, stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, and features a three-titted mutant doesn't mean Total Recall isn't ruggedly individualistic art. Just look at its outsider pedigree: Total Recall was loosely based on a 1966 short story from the flushed mind of Philip K. Dick, produced by the buccaneer Hungarian/Lebanese producers behind Carolco Pictures, and directed by Paul Verhoeven, the Dutch émigré who'd just profitably spoofed America's security-industrial complex with 1987's RoboCop.
Total Recall, set in a future where a colonized Mars is in open rebellion, begins on a poured-concrete Earth of 2084 (actually Mexico City). Schwarzenegger is Douglas Quaid, a solid-citizen construction worker in a still-steamy eight-year-old marriage to Lori (Sharon Stone). Nevertheless, Quaid dreams of the Red Planet and high adventure: "I feel like I was meant for something more than this," he pines, and his daydreams lure him to Rekall, a company that specializes in implanting memories of thrilling vacations in people's minds.
Paying for the Martian "Secret Agent" package, the implant surgery knocks something loose in Quaid's noggin--soon, he discovers he actually was a double agent named Hauser on Mars and is on the run from his old bosses, in the company of insurgent mutants and svelte freedom fighter Melina (Rachel Ticotin).
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Or is all of this, in fact, in Quaid's head? While delivering strawberry-jam squibs, Michael Ironside, and a score of unforgettable set pieces, Total Recall mocks precisely the audience wish-fulfillment that a blockbuster entertainment like itself satisfies. "What's bullshit, Mr. Quaid?" asks a representative from Rekall who shows up in the middle of Quaid/Hauser's fugitive run to call into question his perception of reality." That you're having a paranoid episode triggered by acute neuro-chemical trauma? Or that you're really an invincible secret agent from Mars who's the victim of an interplanetary conspiracy to make him think he's a lowly construction worker?"
This June, word arrived that funding for Verhoeven's long-planned biopic, Jesus of Nazareth, was finally coming into place. The director outlined his approach to the material in a 2008 book of the same name, a secular rewrite of the Gospels that worked around the miracles.
Here is precisely the dichotomy at the heart of Verhoeven: He is a debunker who exuberantly confirms the intoxicating power of myth while he debunks. "[Verhoeven's] Starship Troopers doesn't mock the American military or the clichés of war," French New Wave director Jacques Rivette said of Verhoeven in a 1998 interview, "that's just something Verhoeven says in interviews to appear politically correct. In fact, he loves clichés, and there's a comic strip side to Verhoeven." Too true -- and Verhoeven's blissfully ambivalent Bang! Pow! artwork has never reached a higher level than it does here.