I finally saw Total Recall today. You may know this movie as what many have labelled another unnecessary remake. The thing is, the 1990 version wasn't even the first one. It was originally "We Can Remember It Wholesale for You" from one of Hollywood's favorite writers, Philip K. Dick. The only relevant item to the Arnold Schwarzenegger film is the title. Why people are suddenly so hot about the holiness of that film is a little beyond me. It would be like saying Predator can only be remembered for Arnold's participation. I love the Governator as much as anyone else, but it's something of a stretch to say that Total Recall as a film property cannot be considered in any other sense than the version starring a gigantically-muscled actor who somehow managed to convince some people that he can be an everyman.
The new Total Recall stars Ireland's everyman, Colin Farrell, the guy everyone in Hollywood was falling all over themselves a decade ago to work with. He's the epitome of the commodity that creative types love but whose commercial appeal is limited. He's never been Tom Cruise (but was his costar in Spielberg's Minority Report, also based on a Philip K. Dick movie, and arguably the precedent to Farrell starring in this one), and he probably never will be. Hey, he's starred in a Woody Allen movie (Cassandra's Dream), and Woody has never had a blockbuster. Sometimes it's really about the quality of the product.
I would want anyone to argue that the first Total Recall will really stand up in quality a century from now. The new one could make that case. It's not a classic, but visually, it will endure far longer. It has a timeless sensibility that cinema has only started to reach on a consistent basis (visionaries like Orson Welles were doing it seventy years ago, and as such were lightyears ahead of their time).
Well anyway, I'm not here to talk about the first version. As far as I'm concerned, there's no reason at all to talk about the one while talking about the other. I won't go so far as to compare the new Total Recall to Humphrey Bogart's Maltese Falcon, but it's enough to say that there were two earlier versions of that movie, and they might as well not even exist today. They're anecdotes. To say that a movie, especially a hit movie, cannot be remade is to suggest that there's a perfect version of anything. No, what that really says is that one is completely incapable of removing their own memories from an idea that existed before them and will exist long after they're gone.
Which is kind of funny, because Total Recall is all about memory. Actually, this Total Recall is also about revolution, and so it's more timely than timeless just at the moment. I've been reading a string of literature lately about revolution, entirely by coincidence, and I've begun to alter my views of revolution. People are always going to be unhappy with the status quo. It goes with a lot of historic ignorance to say that today is much worse than yesterday as far as the social injustices we must face on a daily basis. Yes, we must always struggle for improvement, but to suggest that the only way to achieve it is through radical methods is something we're uniquely suited in the post-9/11 age to reexamine. Total Recall in some ways speaks to a revolution more than two hundred years older, the birth of America, and perhaps it's a little odd to suggest now that maybe those Tories weren't so wrong questioning all those radicals, those agitators. No, our Founding Fathers weren't terrorists, but some instances they might as well have been. The new Star Wars films also have a thing or two to say about revolution, from a number of perspectives. What are we to make of it? Well, what does Total Recall say?
In many ways, Colin Farrell's character doesn't care a thing about revolution. He should, presented as being a member of the oppressed colonists trying to make a living in unfair working conditions, being denied promotions as a wave of cheaper replacements threaten to bring about what can be considered a sinister new world order, all under the control of a corrupt government. Yet he really doesn't. He chooses to be a secret agent, working both sides, when he finally goes to the illicit headquarters of the memory drug program at the center of the story. Yes, this is a drug movie, a drug story. Philip K. Dick was always writing about the corruption of perception, and what is that but an allegory of the effect drugs have on the mind? What else have we as a society been grappling with for the past forty years? There's the argument that making it legal solves every problem still plaguing us about it, but it doesn't touch the central issue: what does taking drugs really say about us? It's an escape. Farrell's character doesn't want revolution, he wants escape.
As a byproduct of his trip to Rekall, he ends up having to escape one crazy situation after another. His touchstone from one life becomes the enemy in another, and vice versa. By the end of it, he no longer care what's real and what isn't. All he wants is stability and peace again. He doesn't care that the revolution has won. The guy who prods him to do it in the first place says he's done it three times. I'd say as an addiction, that number's a little low, but Rekall is a different kind of drug. Total Recall would be the first time a movie has fully immersed us into someone losing themselves under the influence. Sure, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas and Requiem for a Dream went there, too, but they settled for the surreal rather than trying to discover the destination, and if it's worth it.
Farrell doesn't need to do a lot of acting so much as reacting, taking the rollercoaster ride, and at a certain point, he's virtually swallowed whole by the experience. Maybe that's the point. If any actor can pull off a performance like that, it's Farrell, who's either the guy people resent or the one they begrudgingly love. Maybe that makes him the perfect star for a movie like Total Recall, which will be dismissed in its original release, but will come to have greater meaning in years to come, much like Farrell's whole career.
If you're still wondering where Mars went, then maybe you're one of the people still waiting for the revolution to be televised. The planet you're looking for is right here.