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Is Total Recall a dream or reality?

Quaid getting brain zapped

It is one of the greatest debates of modern times and one that has plagued the thoughts and discussions of the world’s most brilliant minds for 20 years. In the classic 1990 film Total Recall, was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character Quaid actually a spy or was it all a dream? Did he really ‘Get his ass to Mars’?

The movie is genius and I have written about it and the upcoming remake in this gripping post. If you are reading this, it is probably safe to assume that you have seen it. It is also safe to assume you have debated whether it was real or if it was all a dream. Unless you are braindead or boring or something. Well here is the answer. You’re welcome.

It is all a dream. Definitely. Here is the proof.

The crucial evidence all comes from the scene where he is put under at Rekall.

1/ The spy option is brand new and he just goes for it on a whim. At first he specifically states ‘No options’ but the guy convinces him to go as a spy. And lo and behold, he actually is a spy. A bit of a coincidence. Especially if he was supposed to be a sleeper agent designed to meet the rebels and expose their leader Kuato. What if Rekall had never decided to do the spy option at all? What if Quaid had never gone to Rekall? It’s a bit of a flimsy plan if he really is a spy.

Brunette and athletic. Only parameters given. Just saying.

2/ When Quaid is choosing the love interest for his spy adventure he chooses simply: Brunette, athletic, sleazy, and demure. (Good choices!) Given the level of technology, it is likely they have 1000s of virtual women on their books. Physically, he only asks for a brunette that’s athletic. Even Warcraft has tons of avatars that would fit that description. But the picture you see before he goes under is of Melina. Are we supposed to believe that with just those two physical parameters the virtual lady is coincidentally the exact doppelganger of a real resistance fighter on Mars? Way too big a coincidence.

3/ The big one. Before Quaid goes under, one of the assistants who is inputting data for the dream says: ‘Oh this is a new one, blue skies on Mars.’ Now either he is talking about the dream and final bit of the adventure or it is just yet another mad coincidence of epic proportions.  Here is how the dream was supposed to pan out according to the guy at Rekall: ‘You are a top operative under deep cover, on your most important mission. People are trying to kill you. You meet this beautiful, exotic woman…’ then: ‘by the time the trip is over you get the girl, kill the bad guys, and save the entire planet.’ This is exactly what happens. Not only that but the exotic girl’s photo is on their records as in point 2 above. AND he saves the whole planet by accessing Martian technology, whose purpose is actually unknown, that coincidentally turns the sky blue on Mars.

So there you go. Like a lot of people I wanted it to be real because it makes the narrative all the more exciting, but the evidence really is against it. I know it is just a film but it was a thoughtful one and the guys writing it wanted it to be ambiguous but possibly left some clues. Also, if you listen to the voice overs by Schwarzenegger and Verhoeven on the DVD, it seems pretty likely it was a dream.

Sorry but there you go! It will be interesting to pedantic nerds like myself how they will deal with this in the new one. Or maybe it won’t.

Blue sky on Mars. That's a new one.