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Film / Total Recall (1990)

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"Get your ass to Mars."

Total Recall is a 1990 sci-fi action film loosely based on Philip K. Dick's short story "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale", starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Ronny Cox, and Michael Ironside, written by Dan O'Bannon, Ronald Shusett (the same guys behind Alien!) and Gary Goldman, and directed by Paul Verhoeven.

On its surface level, the film is a sci-fi take on a spy thriller, set in memories implanted into a bored construction worker of the future... or is it? Because of all the Alternate Character Interpretation, the film is often called "the thinking man's action movie."

Douglas Quaid (Schwarzenegger) is tired of life in the year 2084. His literal life's dream is to get his ass to Mars as a way of escaping his humdrum existence. A commercial for the Rekall brand "Ego Trip" induces Quaid to try one of the trips, which are just implanted memories of a vacation that he'd never be able to take in person. Quaid elects for an enhanced set of fake memories that cast him in the role of a super spy—sort of a memory novella that he will remember living through. When something goes wrong with the procedure, he discovers that his entire life is a lie, and that in reality, he is a super spy working under deep cover. Or is he?

The viewer is constantly challenged to decide if Quaid's experiences are real or all just a result of his "ego trip." (Or are they?) The film is also well known for its special effects and over-the-top gore, like some other notable Verhoeven films. Highlights include tons of cool guns, three-breasted mutants, and a bizarre NES tie-in game.

A remake starring Colin Farrell was released in 2012. It's also a loose inspiration for the Total Recall 2070 series.

Tropes are not tropes— they're tropesnote :

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: 2084; we have seen the future, and it is the public transportation system of Mexico City.
  • Action Girl: Lori and Melina. Thumbelina qualifies due to how much ass she kicks during the brothel shootout.
  • Activation Sequence: When the alien device is activated there is a prolonged sequence of the long-dormant machinery turning on, interspersed with scenes of the characters being blown out onto the surface of Mars.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: The receptionist's hair was changed from blonde in the source material to brown in the film.
  • Adaptation Expansion:
    • Philip K. Dick's short story "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" only covers the first bit, set on Earth and dealing with REKAL. Despite being regular staples of Dick's work, the Mars setting, the sectarian conflict, the ancient aliens, and the mutants are all original to the film, as is the ambiguity of whether or not the film is a dream. In fact, it's not hyperbole to say the film is even more Dickesque than the short story.
    • The Piers Anthony novelization of the movie expands on things even further, giving a few glimpses into the alien race that created the reactors and adding a bit of gratuitous sex.
  • Adaptation Title Change: The film is loosely based on Philip K. Dick's short story "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale"; presumably that looked a bit too unwieldy on film posters compared to "Total Recall."
  • Adaptational Heroism: The novelization by Piers Anthony reveals Hauser did turn into a good guy and was pulling a massive Kansas City Shuffle on Cohaagen in order to get Quaid to activate the alien device.
  • Adaptational Modesty: In "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale," the receptionist at Rekall is topless with different color Body Paint every time Quail visits their offices (due to fashion trends evolving into No Nudity Taboo). In the film, the receptionist is more professionally dressed, with the multi-color motif being incorporated by having her instantly change the color on her fingernails.
  • Adaptational Name Change:
    • The original story's Douglas Quail becomes Douglas Quaid in the film.
    • Also, Shirley's counterpart in the film is Tiffany.
  • Adapted Out: "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" ends with Doug volunteering to have a new memory implanted about how he saved a race of tiny mouse-like aliens, and in turn they promised not to destroy earth as long as he lived. It turns out to be a real memory. This never happens in the film.
  • Advert-Overloaded Future: Downplayed (if you compare this to cyberpunk movies of recent time).
    • The large ads, mostly noticeable the Fuji Film and Coca Cola signs, seen after Quaid gets off the subway.note 
    • The audio/video ads on the subway.
  • Aerith and Bob: Kuato hides in the belly of his normal-looking twin brother George.
  • Alien Sky: The opening dream sequence shows that Mars has two moons in its orbit.
  • All According to Plan: Played with. When Cohaagen reveals that he arranged everything so that Quaid would lead him to Kuato. Quaid dismisses this as "too perfect." Cohaagen then reveals it didn't go perfectly, thanks to Quaid's trip to Rekall setting things off early and Richter screwing up a year's worth of planning by trying to murder him. Cohaagen then admits amazement that it worked at all.
  • All Just a Dream: The ending is intentionally ambiguous about the nature of Quaid's fantasy. If it was a dream, has it Gone Horribly Wrong, or not? Does the film end with him being lobotomized, or is that just the end of his vacation? It all comes down to whether the scene between when they start the implantation process and when Quaid wakes up in the Johnnycab is a part of the hallucination or if it really happened. And there's absolutely nothing that says one way or the other.
  • All There in the Manual: The aliens' motivations and a good deal of their culture are explored in the novelization.
  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us: The Mars Resistance base after Cohaagen's forces attack.
  • Ambiguous Ending: The day is saved, Mars is liberated from Cohaagen and terraformed to now be a breathable planet. But we're left unsure if the whole adventure was truly real or if it was all part of Quaid's implanted memory. Needless to say, the film leaves it up to the audience to decide. In the commentary, Verhoeven thinks the movie was all in Quaid's head while Schwarzenegger thinks that it all happened for real.
  • Amnesiac Dissonance: Quaid is shocked and disgusted to find out that he was Hauser all along. He goes on to refuse becoming Hauser again, going as far as calling his former self an "asshole."
  • An Arm and a Leg: Richter gets both his arms ripped off in his death scene.
  • Artificial Outdoors Display: The backside of Quaid's living room has a large display that can show imagery of nature.
  • Artistic License – Biology: The movie completely ignores the fact that getting guns or knives shot out of one's hand would not only hurt like hell and probably blow off some fingers, it would also leave said hand paralyzed for quite a while at the very least. Richter briefly shaking his hand after Quaid relieved him of his shotgun this way is the film's only concession to this end, and he goes back to full combat readiness immediately afterwards.
  • Artistic License – Gun Safety: The security team that ambushes Quaid in the Martian reactor surround him in a circle and all start blazing away with fully automatic weapons and shotguns. Which is remarkably stupid, even before the subsequent reveal that it was just a hologram of Quaid and so they all should have killed one another anyway.
  • Artistic License – Physics: As violent as this movie is, perhaps no one is more brutalized than the laws of physics.
    • Mars is roughly under half an AU from Earth at closest approach, meaning it should take at least three minutes each way for the Video Phones to send messages.
    • While being on the surface of Mars unprotected would be fatal as the atmosphere is too thin to breathe, it wouldn't be nearly as gory/dramatic as in the film.
    • The finale involves Mars' frozen water core being unfrozen and giving Mars a thick oxygen-rich atmosphere with blue skies and clouds within 30 seconds.
    • In the fight scene in the memory implantation suite on Mars, one of the technicians attacks Quaid with a slender metal rod, but between the more than meter of metal and his own strength, he's not able to even raise a bruise on Quaid when he parries the rod with his bare forearm, but it's still strong enough for Quaid to drive it through his attacker's skull. Being able to drive the thick metal lug that had held one of the restraining cuffs to the chair (before Quaid simply lifts the restraint straight up out of the arm) into another technician's neck and create a rather neat, circular wound is similarly silly (OK, it's an Arnold fight scene so the laws of physics tend to go out the window, but things really should make more sense than that).
    • Richter gets his arms chopped off instantly when they're trapped between a rock wall and a slow-moving elevator. In real life that would be very painful and he almost certainly would lose the arms, but the blunt rock and elevator probably wouldn't slice cleanly through them like wet sausage.
    • The power core that emerges from the side of Quaid's "fat lady head" disguise is large enough that it appears to span the entire width of the head. This, combined with the complex animatronics that would allow it to speak on its own, and the voice box for its spoken lines, and the high explosive for the self-destruct function, means there is absolutely no way someone whose head is as big as Arnold's could possibly fit inside that mask.
    • Mars has 38% of the Earth's surface gravity. While people and objects would clearly still be bound to the planetary surface, people would walk and objects would fall differently.
  • A-Team Firing:
    • Richter's goons surround Hauser's hologram on all sides, firing from less than 10 feet away without ever hitting each other even though the bullets should be passing right through the hologram.
    • And then, in the same scene, some other goons die because the bullets do go through the hologram. It's bad enough that the gunfire works silly, but much worse when it's inconsistently silly.
  • Automated Automobiles: Johnny Cab is an automated taxi driven by a crude robot upper body mounted on a swivel pedestal, programmed with simplistic mannerisms like whistling or comments like "Hell of a day, isn't it?" and "Hope you enjoyed the ride!" When Quaid wakes up in one after having his memory wiped at Rekall, it's not very helpful in explaining how he got there. Later when Quaid is fleeing the armed killers who are chasing him, a Johnny Cab doesn't understand Quaid's urgent appeal to "Drive!" because he doesn't provide a specific destination, so Quaid just rips the robot off its pedestal and drives using the joystick. Then after Quaid leaves the Johnny Cab it fuses out and nearly runs him down, crashing into a wall and exploding.
  • Ax-Crazy: Benny becomes this after being revealed as The Mole, chasing Quaid and Melina with a huge drilling machine while mocking them.
  • Badass Bookworm: When Quaid rips through the metal shackles of his Rekall chair, rather than running for their lives as you might expect, the nerdy lab technicians grab the nearest heavy weapons and attack Quaid. The results are preordained, but hey, points for trying at least.
  • Bad Boss: Compared to his established friendship with his other right hand man, Hauser, Cohaagen not only lambasts and insults his mercenary Richter at every opportunity, but uses his wife Lori in Hauser's mole operation, and is thoroughly apathetic to her death caused by it. Richter makes sure to give at least a small fuck you to Cohaagen when it's obvious the plan has gone to shit.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: Richter shoots up a mouse that was carrying Quaid's tracking device when he realizes it was carrying the bug instead of Quaid, later Cohaagen after learning about Quaid and Melina's escape furiously destroys his aquarium, letting the goldfishes die which parallels the suffocating mutants in Venusville through a Match Cut.
  • Bait-and-Switch Gunshot: Cohaagen has Quaid at gunpoint in the underground mine and is about to shoot him. Shots are fired and Cohaagen is shot... by Melina, Quaid's Action Girl companion.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Averted. The mutants are the good guys, despite looking quite, well... mutated.
  • Benevolent Precursors: Of the accidental type, since it's never explained why they didn't activate it themselves. The atmosphere-creating terraforming device left behind by the martians not only is still fully functional after half a million years of being buried in a mountain, it can also be activated by a human simply placing one hand on the huge, easily discernible power-up button.
  • Betty and Veronica Switch: Lori appears to be the Betty, as Quaid's blonde wife, while Melina appears to be the Veronica, as a mysterious, dark-haired alien woman. But Lori is working for the conspiracy, while Melina is working for the good guys.
  • Billed Above the Title: Arnold Schwarzenegger's name is shown prominently at the top of the movie poster.
  • Blasting It Out of Their Hands: As Lori is about to stab Melina to death, Quaid shoots the knife out of her hand.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Cohaagen invokes this trope in regards to the puzzling existence of the terraforming reactor left by the aliens.
    Scientist: The chain reaction could spread to all the Turbinium in the planet, that means a meltdown, a meltdown on a planetary scale.
    Richter: Don't you think whoever built this thing thought of that?
    Cohaagen: Who knows what the hell they thought? They weren't human...
  • Body Horror:
    • Mutants, especially Kuato, who is basically a deformed baby sticking out of the abdomen of a grown man.
    • Quaid removing the bug from his nose. "Take this thing out of the case, and stick it up your nose."
  • Bond One-Liner: Expected, for a Ahnold film.
    • "Consider that a divorce."
    • "See you at the party, Richter!"
    • Melina gets one of her own after Quaid's one against Lori.
      Melina: That was your wife?! What a bitch.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: Cohaagen leaves Quaid and Melina unguarded with scientists for their forcible memory overwrites, and both Quaid and Melina are kept awake and cognizant during the procedure; Rekall at least had the good sense to knock Quaid out before implanting.
  • Bookends: Quaid's opening dream and the final scene are close matches.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Quaid kills both Dr. Edgemar and Lori this way. Kuato goes out this way as well.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Played straight to the hilt. Almost all of the many, many guns in this movie are fully automatic, yet you won't see someone reloading even once, except for Lori when she first attacks Quaid.
  • Brainwash Residue:
    • After Quaid breaks Melina out of the constraints one of the Recall machines, it seems just a bit of the Housewife programming made it through, but not by much.
      Quaid: Are you all right? Are you still you?
      Melina: I'm not sure, dear.
    • Melina appearing to Quaid in his dreams.
  • Breaking the Bonds: Quaid breaks metal shackles twice. (Unless he only imagines it happening the second time and the Rekall process actually succeeded...)
  • Broken Record:
    • "Get your ass to Mars." ***BUZZZZ*** "Get your ass to Mars." ***BUZZZZ*** "Get your ass to Mars."
    • "Two weeks. Two weeks...two weeks, twoweekstwotweekstwoweeks..."
  • Brutal Brawl: The fistfight between Melina and Lori. Rather than catfighting (as the original plan was) both actresses throw brutal punches and kicks.
  • Bulletproof Human Shield: Douglas Quaid is attacked by goons while on an escalator and an innocent bystander catches a bullet while next to him. Douglas grabs the man and uses him as a shield. He even spins the dead man around to block more gunfire from the other direction.
  • The Cameo: Kenny Rogers bandmate Mickey Jones appears as a train passenger.
  • Catapult Nightmare: At the beginning, Douglas Quaid wakes up with a jolt from a nightmare of dying of suffocation on Mars.
  • Category Traitor: Benny betrays the mutants to Cohaagen despite being a mutant himself.
  • Cat Fight: Averted. The Designated Girl Fight is rather brutal and unglamorous, with no slapping and no hair-pulling except as a prelude to an attempted throat-slitting.
  • Cathartic Scream: Richter, The Dragon, does this at least once after Quaid has gotten away from him.
  • Chase Fight: Between Quaid and Richter as Benny drives Quaid to the Last Resort.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • During his fight with his wife, Quaid drops his gun which gets some focus before they move on fighting. The gun comes back later in the scene.
    • Both times Quaid hitches a ride in Benny's taxi, a Drill Tank appears. Guess how Benny later tries to kill Quaid and Melina.
    • The hologram wrist device that Quaid is given early comes in handy when he uses it to fake out Cohaagen's goons protecting the reactor during the climax.
      "You think this is the real Quaid? (laughs) It is."
  • Climactic Elevator Ride: Quaid takes an elevator ride up to his final showdown with Cohaagen over the fate of Mars.
  • Colonized Solar System: Mars has been settled by human colonists. The mutant descendants of the first colonists are fighting a guerilla war against the colonial administration, which is only interested in mining turbinium ore for Earth.
  • Conjoined Twins: There's a Mars colony with a rebellion of mostly mutant people, who were born with deformities due to their colonist parents being forced to live in poorly made domes that didn't protect them from space radiations during the early stages of colonization. Their elusive leader "Kuato" turns out to be a freaky baby-looking mutant with his torso connected to the belly of his healthy-looking brother George.
  • Continuous Decompression:
    • Hull breaches on the Mars station causes a storm capable of hurling people through the air, despite the pressure difference being just one atmosphere (14 psi).
    • Also happens in the climax when the reactor is started and Cohaagen, Quaid and Melina are sucked out onto Mars' surface.
  • Conveniently Unverifiable Cover Story: There's a double-example of this. Hauser initially infiltrated the Martian resistance, convincing them to trust him and believe that he was betraying Cohaagen. Cohaagen then captured him and erased his memory to stop him from revealing all of his secrets to the resistance. It later turns out that this was just an elaborate ruse to help Hauser, now Douglas Quaid, infiltrate deeper into the resistance, since they are then convinced he really had a major secret to reveal. Also La Résistance was led by Kuato, a psychic who might have detected any normal infiltrator.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Ronny Cox is back in this role again, like a previous Verhoeven film.
  • Crapsack World: Mars is definitely this. It's basically a backwater colony whose inhabitants are exploited to mine valuable minerals for Earth, have mutated due to prolonged exposure to radiation and are forced to pay for the very air they breathe.
  • Crystal Clear Picture: The visuals on the large TV screen in Quaid's living room are superimposed on the actual film. It's almost unnoticeable though.
  • Cuckoo Nest: There's a scene where a doctor arrives and tries to convince the hero that he is trapped in an artificially created hallucination. He insists that the hero swallow a pill to return to reality, but the hero notices a drop of sweat falling down the doctor's face, exposing the sham. Ironically, the film teases that most of the film really does take place in the hero's head, and the doctor scene was just part of his spy thriller memory vacation. Everything the doctor warned about in his speech ("One minute, you're the savior of the rebel cause; next thing you know, you'll be Cohaagen's bosom buddy...You'll even have fantasies about alien civilizations...") happens after that scene. Before Quaid goes under the machine at the start, one of the techs says "Blue sky on Mars...", which is in fact how the movie ends. Another interpretation is that the doctor scene was NOT a part of his spy thriller, but was actually a real attempt by a real doctor (and his real wife) to snap him out of a fantasy gone wrong. This is subverted in the original short story (We Can Remember It For You Wholesale) when the main character has his memory altered to believe that only his existence is preventing the takeover of Earth by aliens, only for aliens to appear at the end and reveal that this is true.
  • Cyberpunk: The dystopia with MegaCorp elements put the film squarely in this genre.
  • Dark Action Girl: Lori, Quaid's wife who routinely beats Quaid up.
  • Dark Is Not Evil:
    • Ironically, the script makes lovable blonde girl-next-door Lori a villain, while the dark-skinned, slutty ("sleazy," to use Quaid's term), and rude Melina is the sympathetic one.
    • While the various mutants look scary, they're some of the friendlier characters save for Benny that Quaid encounters on his adventure. Special mention goes to Kuato, who is an empathetic freedom fighter in spite of his malformed appearance.
  • Death by Irony:
    • Cohaagen, who controls all the air on Mars, dies in the thin atmosphere of the Red Planet.
    • Twice Benny is nearly killed by the giant drill machines dashing into the street. When he is exposed as a traitor, Benny tries to kill Quaid with a drill machine. Quaid then kills him by stabbing him with a portable drill.
  • Designated Girlfight: Lori and Melina engage in a brutal No-Holds-Barred Beatdown about two thirds into the movie while Quaid takes care of Lori's male backup. Lori eventually gets the upper hand, forcing Quaid to intervene in order to save Melina's life.note 
  • Disappearing Bullets: At one point, Cohaagen's men encircle Quaid and open fire at him with full automatics. This is already a pretty dumb idea, tactically speaking, considering that it practically guarantees someone's going to get shot by his own side by accident, but it becomes even more ludicrous when the Quaid they're shooting turns out to have been a hologram. So... what was stopping the bullets, then? This trope is almost immediately subverted when Melina uses the hologram to get two Mooks to shoot at her, killing each other.
  • Disguised in Drag: Quaid in the "fat woman" suit.
  • Disney Villain Death: Richter. Although unlike most Disney villain deaths, its purpose was definitely not to avoid gore - it's quite gory, except in the M-rated version.
  • Disposable Decoy Doppelgänger: One of the gadgets Quaid gets equipped with once he's on the run is a wrist-mounted device that lets him project a hologram of himself. Later in the film, Quaid gets seemingly gunned down by an ambush of Cohaagen's men, only for them to discover it's a hologram — cue the real Quaid blasting them all from the flank. Moments later when another group of guards come in, they come across Quaid laughing out in the open with his gun...
    Quaid: You think this is the real Quaid? (the guards look around) It is! (guns the guards down)
  • Disproportionate Retribution: If you don't pay your Johnny Cab's fare, it will run you down. Though this one also appeared to be malfunctioning at the moment, so that may not be a programmed response.
  • Divorce Requires Death: After shooting Lori in the head: "Consider that a divorce."
  • Domed Hometown: Averted with the Mars colony, which is designed as a cluster of separate habitats built on ground level or within canyons. Played straight in the TV spot for Rekall which shows a happy couple in bed inside an underwater dome.
  • Don't Touch It, You Idiot!: Cohaagen telling Quaid not to touch the alien power-up button that would activate the reactor.
  • Doppelgänger Spin: Quaid's wrist hologram device gives him a single image version.
  • The Dragon: Richter, Cohaagen's main enforcer.
  • Dragon with an Agenda: Richter nearly screws up Cohaagen's plans several times, because Cohaagen wants Quaid alive for whatever his plans are, and Richter is constantly trying to kill him, especially after his wife Lori is killed by Quaid (and the fact that Lori was Quaid's 'wife' for a while and was constantly in bed with him can't have helped either). He is naturally quite pleased when Cohaagen finally gives up and gives the order to take him out.
  • Dream Apocalypse: Implied to be the end. The movie is deliberately ambiguous, although hints like "Blue skies on Mars?" before Quaid goes under imply most of the movie has been a trip into a Lotus-Eater Machine with some very unpleasant brain damage for Quaid (i.e. a "schizoid embolism" according to one of the characters, but even that hint was ambiguous).
  • Dream Deception: A variant of this happens some time after Quaid goes to Mars. His wife (who's seemingly a double agent) shows up and says she loves him. Next, the "doctor" from Rekall says this is all just a hallucination caused by a malfunction in the memory machine. Quaid argues that this is false, but the Doctor comes up with some convincing counterarguments. Quaid almost falls for it, but right as he is about to swallow the pill, he notices the "doctor" is sweating, and shoots him.
  • Dream Intro: The opening scene turns out to be one of Quaid's Recurring Dreams.
  • Drill Tank: Coincidentally, defeated with a drill.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Benny appears a couple of minutes before his proper introduction as one of two cab drivers offering Quaid his service.
  • Eating the Eye Candy: The female receptionist at Rekall takes obvious pleasure in ogling Quaid when he turns around to wait for his appointment.
  • Elevator Action Sequence:
    • There's an escalator fight scene where Arnie's character has to use a corpse to block bullets coming from up and down, being unable to dodge while stuck on the escalator.
    • Another elevator fight sequence occurs during the climax, ending in a gruesome way as Richter (Michael Ironside) gets crushed by the ascending elevator, leaving his hands behind.
  • Emergency Stash: A mysterious stranger delivers a suitcase with an emergency stash to Douglas Quaid. The twist is that Quaid set up the stash himself, but he has no memory of it.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones:
    • Richter is definitely upset at the loss of his lover, Lori.
    • Despite being a contemptuous piece of work, Cohaagen himself is greatly distraught over the loss of his friend, Hauser, whose personality is gone when Quaid decides to accept his current identity rather than that of the man he once was.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: Quaid uses a "Johnny Cab" taxi to flee from the bad guys. He has to sabotage the robotic driver, though, and drive the car himself. Once he arrives at his destination, he leaves the taxi, but the robotic driver shorts out and the car starts moving forward. It narrowly misses Quaid, then hits a wall at a very moderate speed and blows up.
  • Everyone Is Armed: When Cohaagan's men attack the Last Resort.
  • Evil All Along: Harry, Lori, Benny and Hauser all turn out to be villains.
  • Excessive Steam Syndrome: All over the place.
    • Lots of steam can be seen in the city when Quaid goes to fight Harry and his men.
    • In the Martian colony there are various excesses of steam, though on Mars it's meant to imply the fresh air being pumped through the colony.
    • The cabin of Benny's drill tank is flooded with steam as well.
  • Excuse Me, Coming Through!: Well, he was carrying a gun, what did you expect?
  • Exploding Fish Tanks: At one point we see Cohaagen feed fish in the tank in his office. Of course, this means the tank will later break.
  • Explosive Decompression: In real life, Mars has a mean atmospheric pressure of 600 pascals. Humans are used to a pressure of 101,300 pascals. In the movie, where being exposed to the surface of Mars gives characters eyes the size of tangerines, the pressure is apparently at -100,000 pascals.note  Even more ludicrous: after returning to "normal" pressure, those tangerine eyes go back to normal, with no ill effects— they aren't even bloodshot. This is explained if you accept the interpretation that most of the movie is occurring in the character's head, and simply reflects his faulty beliefs on how this would work in real life.
  • Exposition Beam: Kuato does this to unlock Quaid's locked memories. In a sense, the story itself is set in motion because the Fake Memory implanting machines in the Rekall center jostle Quaid's hidden memories (or worked perfectly).
  • Eye Scream: The eyes of characters exposed to the near-vacuum atmosphere of Mars start to grotesquely swell and bulge out of the eye sockets. Even if they recover from suffocation, they should be blind after their eyes have taken that kind of abuse. But then, the entire movie seems to be a case of Eyes Are Unbreakable.
  • Fade to White: The final scene fades to white after the Big Damn Kiss. This was to leave some question marks regarding whether everything was a dream and Quaid got lobotomized in the end as suggested earlier by Dr. Edgemar. Or, you know, that's just his vacation ending.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Quaid seems unaware of Kuato's resistance movement, despite it being featured on the news at the beginning of the film. Apparently, he simply tuned out the words "terrorist attack" and focused solely on the Mars part.
  • Fake Memories: Rekall's business model consists in implanting these.
  • Fake Static: Richter (blaming sunspots), when Cohaagen is trying to give him orders.
  • False Friend: Harry is Quaid's best friend and coworker, but after the botched Ego Trip he tries to kill him without hesitation.
  • Fanservice Extra: The triple-breasted hooker Mary has essentially three jobs: showing off her exotic rack, letting Benny fondle her exotic rack, and eventually getting shot In the Back by Richter to make a point to the resistance.
  • Faux Action Girl: Subverted by Quaid's "wife" Lori. At one point, she seems to be becoming one, then proceeds to start kicking ass all over again.
  • First Girl After All: We're first introduced to Melina during an opening dream sequence, but the First Girl seems to be Quaid's wife Lori. Later in the film, we find out that not only is his marriage a part of his Fake Memories, but he knew Melina years before the story proper began. Assuming it wasn't all "just a dream", of course.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: When Lori is busy explaining her true role at Rekall to Quaid after she ambushes him in their apartment, Richter and his goons can be seen on a video-screen walking into the lobby of their apartment complex and checking the resident directory about thirty seconds before Lori finally notices, causing Quaid's attention to be diverted to it as well.
  • Foreshadowing: Multiple examples:
    • When Dr. Lull tosses Ernie a computer chip, he looks at it and says "That's a new one! 'Blue Sky on Mars'."
    • When Quaid threatens to shoot Dr. Edgemar in the Hilton suite, Edgemar describes the events that will happen almost verbatim throughout the rest of the movie. Even the walls literally collapse right after Quaid rejects the pill.
    • Cohaagen has a temper tantrum and smashes an aquarium. The fish die gasping for oxygen, foreshadowing the attempted suffocation of Venusville. And Cohaagen's eventual death by way of dying in an atmosphere that he can't breathe.
    • When Bob McClane at Rekall is trying to convince Quaid to buy the "Secret Agent Ego Trip" package, he tells Quaid that by the end he'll "get the girl, kill the bad guys, and save the entire planet." Which is exactly what he does.
    • During his initial sales pitch, McClane mentions one of the problems with real vacations being "crooked taxi drivers." Which is what Benny turns out to be.
    • When Quaid goes berserk at Rekall he shouts, "YOU BLEW MY COVER!" as per The Reveal that he's actually a Fake Defector.
    • After Quaid tries to explain his situation to Melina, she doesn't believe him and accuses him (or rather Hauser) of never actually loving her and only using her to get to Kuato. It turns out she was one-hundred percent right, and their relationship was just part of a very elaborate plan concocted by Cohaagen and Hauser to find and eliminate Kuato.
    • Benny groping Mary's breasts is an indication that he's not a very good family man.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: When Quaid's fat lady disguise is approved clearance into the Mars settlement, the shot of "her" passport being stamped includes a brief glimpse of the signature of one "Prescilla Allen", which is the name of the actress portraying the disguise.
  • Friend to All Children: Upon first arriving at Venusville, Quaid is hounded by prostitutes, vendors and the like, including two mystics, a woman and a girl. He ignores the woman but affectionately listens to the girl, who guesses that he's a Taurus, and also pays her.
  • Futuristic Jet Injector: While Douglas Quaid is at Rekall to get a memory implant, he is given a relaxant in a gun-type jet injector to make it easier for the implantation to occur. When Quaid later goes berserk, he is repeatedly injected in the leg with the same injector to render him unconscious.
  • Gambit Roulette: Cohaagen's plan, with Lampshade Hanging:
    Vilos Cohaagen: Richter goes hog-wild screwing up everything that I spent a year planning. Frankly... I'm amazed it worked!
  • Girliness Upgrade: Cohaagen has Melina strapped to the memory implant machine to convert her into a loving and obedient Stepford wife for Hauser, a process he says will take about 5 minutes. Quaid rescues her and she mocks the idea it had any effect on her although she was under its influence for over a minute...
  • Girl of My Dreams: Melina, to Quaid. He's been dreaming about her at the start of the film, which is an indication of his hidden memories.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: Quaid's memory implantation at Rekall. Supposedly.
  • Gorn: Tons of it. It's a Paul Verhoeven movie, what did you expect?
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Yes, even a movie as gory as this has examples.
    • When Richter shoots the rat, all we see is its blood splattered on a projector's display.
    • When Quaid kills Benny with a power drill, all we see is a shoulders-up view of him thrashing around and screaming before Quaid withdraws the drill, now coated in blood.
    • Richter getting his arms chopped off is shown onscreen, but not we don't see him falling a hundred feet to the ground and splattering everywhere, although the former injury would perhaps make seeing the latter redundant.
  • Graffiti of the Resistance: The phrase "Kuato Lives" graffitied around Mars, as a sign that the mysterious leader of La Résistance is still alive despite Cohaagen's attempts to kill him.
  • Grand Theft Me: Quaid not being the original personality, technically he is the bodyjacker in the entire situation. Quaid was only supposed to temporarily take over to lead Cohaagen and Hauser to the resistance. Quaid didn't want to give it back.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Richter's enthusiasm to kill Quaid appears to be based primarily around the fact that Richter's wife was the agent assigned to pose as Quaid's wife Lori. And that she clearly enjoyed several aspects of that particular mission. At least until Lori gets killed, at which point his motives centre on good old-fashioned revenge. There are also added implications from his original alias, Hauser, being best friends with his Bad Boss, Cohaagen.
  • Groin Attack: Happens so often you could make a drinking game out of it.
    • Lori does this to Quaid twice the first time she fights him: once with her fist, once with a kick.
    • Later in the film she stomps on them after capturing him. Quaid was in the middle of a fight with some mooks until Lori enters and kicks his face, seemingly knocks him out in the process. But she doesn't buy it for a moment, so she stomps on his crotch just to make sure that he's indeed still conscious, before kicking his face again and knocking him out for real this time.
    • Richter does it to a patron of the Last Resort during the assault on the place.
    • The little person prostitute Thumbelina does it to Richter's partner with a knife. Ouch.
  • Handy Cuffs: Quaid, after he's captured by the bad guys on Mars.
  • Happiness in Mind Control: At the end of the film, Quaid discovers that Hauser was Evil All Along, and if the bad guys win, he'll be turned back. He thus fights his way free, forcing the Big Bad to decide to just kill him because he's never getting his friend back.
  • He Knows Too Much: Mentioned by Richter as the reason why he wants to kill Quaid. Since Cohaagen has other plans for Quaid, he orders Richter to catch him alive.
  • Helmets Are Hardly Heroic: When we see Quaid at his construction job, he and Harry are the only ones on the site not wearing hardhats or safety goggles.
  • Hey, Catch!: Quaid tries to slip onto Mars undetected by disguising himself in an animatronic suit. When his cover is blown, he takes off the mask and tosses it to his pursuers, upon which it cracks wise and then explodes.
    Fat Lady Mask: Get ready for a surprise! (Cue explosion)
  • Hidden Weapons: Lori has a knife holstered to her lower leg which she is about to use on Melina before Quaid shoots it out of her hand.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: "I never wanted this. I wanted Hauser back. But no. You had to be Quaid!"
  • Hologram: Lori's tennis teaching simulation and a wrist device that creates a false image of its wearer.
  • Hologram Projection Imperfection:
    • While Lori is practicing with a hologram designed to teach proper tennis serves, the hologram blurs a couple of times. It is a loop video of a person going through the motions, the blurs are when the image resets to the start of the loop.
    • The wrist device that creates a hologram decoy of its wearer.
      • When Quaid tests it while on Earth, his image breaks up into static.
      • When Quaid uses it on Mars to trick Cohaagen's troops, his image flickers after the trick is revealed.
      • When Melina uses it, her hologram breaks up when Cohaagen's troops fire into it.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: When Melina isn't fighting to liberate Mars, she works as a prostitute. Most of the Last Resort's professional personnel seems to count as well, actually. Though it's not quite clear whether Melina really does this work, or just uses it as a cover to meet with resistance agents without arousing suspicions.
  • H Umans Are Psychic In The Future: Some mutants living on Mars are psychic. Some are beggars make a living trying to impress tourists by reading their minds and guessing their birthdays. Kuato, a resistance leader, is much more powerful.
  • Humiliation Conga: The movie is this from Richter's perspective.
    • First, his wife Lori gets assigned as wife to a traitor agent, and he knows that she's sleeping with him to maintain the cover. Then he finds out that said traitor has broken his cover, killed several of his teammates, and beaten up his wife. Richter is understandably a bit vengeful.
    • However, his efforts get frustrated as Quaid escapes repeatedly. His partner, Helm, points out to Richter that his wife probably enjoyed weeks of sex in what is basically a legal form of adultery.
    • Then Richter gets a call from Cohaagen, who belittles his intellect and forbids him from eliminating the Traitor/Wifebeater.
    • Then Quaid escapes again with an annoying rat trick.
    • Next at Mars, Quaid escapes and Richter gets told again he cannot pursue him.
    • Then Cohaagen chews Richter out for trying to think independently.
    • Next they try a capture again, but this time Quaid graduates from a Wifebeater to a Wifekiller.
    • Immediately afterwards, Helm prevents him from exacting revenge.
    • Then Quaid leads Richter to Venusville, where a firefight starts. And worse yet, Helm gets killed. Then Cohaagen orders him to back off again. The only upside is that this time, the Resistance is destroyed and Quaid gets captured after all.
    • Richter is finally going to exact some justice upon Lori's killer, but... gotcha! It turns out that Hauser's defection was planned all along.
    • Cohaagen gets really cozy with Quaid and reveals that Hauser and Cohaagen are good friends. Meanwhile, Richter has nothing: his teammates, his wife and his best friend are all dead thanks to Quaid, who will get to live in a mansion, drive a Mercedes, and boink his new girlfriend Melina every night. As a final insult, Quaid will probably become Richter's superior from now on.
    • In fact, for all Richter knows, Hauser may have set up the cover story with Lori as Quaid's wife specifically to have someone to boink. If that is the case, Cohaagen probably knew about it all along, too. The ambush that got Lori killed was part of the plan!
    • The only consolation Richter gets is a free punch on Quaid in the Recall chair. But even this moment of joyful payback is fleeting, as Quaid once again escapes and heads off to activate the alien machine in the Pyramid mines, an act which for all Richter knows could cause the very destruction of Mars - but Richter does know that Quaid wouldn't know any more about the alien machine than he does. At this point, then, Quaid can only be a demented, world-wrecking mass murderer in Richter's eyes.
    • Cohaagen finally, finally gives Richter permission to kill Quaid. However, this long-awaited confrontation doesn't go well. Quaid and Melina manage to gun down Richter's goons, and then Quaid chases him to the elevator. In the final fight, Quaid beats Richter up, severs his arms, and drops him down to his death. Richter's life ends, and his last thoughts are probably about how Mars is doomed.
    • For Richter's poor sake, the movie had better be Quaid's Rekall dream.
  • Identity Amnesia: Hauser erased any memory of himself and others as part of his Memory Gambit to become Quaid. This creates problems when he meets his girlfriend Melina.
  • I Don't Pay You to Think: Cohaagen gives a version of this as he berates Richter:
    Cohaagen: First you try to kill Quaid, then you let him get away!
    Richter: He had help from our side, sir.
    Cohaagen: I know that.
    Richter: But I thought...
    Cohaagen: Who told you to think? I don't give you enough information to think! You do what you're told. That's what you do!
  • I Have a Family: Benny the cab driver has five kids to feed, and likes to bring it up to potential fares. Or was it four?
    [Benny: (after betraying Quaid and Melina) Aw, shit, man. You got me. I ain't even married.
  • Imminent Danger Clue: Quaid realizes Lori and Dr. Edgemar are lying when he sees a drop of nervous sweat on the doctor's brow. If it was all a simulation and Edgemar was never in any danger, why is he so scared? So Quaid kills him.
  • Indecisive Parody: Fully intentional. Are all the outrageous violations of physics, plot-convenient coincidences and implausible combat victories Quaid achieves merely standard action movie operating procedure, or are they all further evidence that this is all just part of Quaid's Rekall memories? You decide!
  • Indy Hat Roll: Quaid, right after arriving on Mars, to escape enemy pursuit.
  • Inescapable Ambush:
  • In Working Order: The switch that activates the alien device.
  • Ironic Echo: Richter gives Quaid a mocking "See you at the party" as the latter is about to be brainwashed back into Hauser. Quaid later repeats it after killing him.
  • Irony: Quaid is given the idea to visit Rekall by seeing a commercial about their services, saying it's a safe, economical alternative to interplanetary travel. Later after everything goes to hell thanks to him going to Rekall, he sees a commercial touting how phony and experimental memory tampering is and asking the viewer to choose space flight as the reliable alternative.
  • It's a Small World, After All: Mars has one red light district (Venusville), and is arranged into sectors that number enough to be designated letters of the alphabet. Since we don't know how much of Mars was colonized, it's possible that the human population there all lives in the same city.
  • It's Personal with the Dragon: Quaid's enmity with Richter is much more vicious than the one with his boss Cohaagen. This is because Richter's wife had to pretend to be Quaid's wife for a while so they could spy on him, and she later dies by Quaid's hands. He's therefore far more willing to resort to deadly force than Cohaagen, who wants to keep Quaid alive for his plans to infiltrate the Martian resistance.
  • I Warned You: After being constantly browbeaten by Cohaagen for trying to kill Quaid rather than following the plan through, Richter very smugly demands his boss' next approach when it fails and Quaid escapes, leaving him on the brink of losing power.
    Richter: You're going to have to make a decision, sir.
    Cohaagen: (reluctant) Kill him.
    Richter: About goddamn time!
  • Jekyll & Hyde: Quaid is actually an implanted personality of the villain Hauser. Maybe.
  • Kirk's Rock: The opening shot shows the formation among the rocks of Mars.
  • Kubrick Stare: Right after Richter gives Quaid a stiff punch and asks the doctor if he'd remember it. He did.
  • La Résistance: Kuato's mutant Martian rebels.
  • Large Ham: Benny, especially after he reveals himself to be a villain.
    Benny: Hey, Quaid! You remember me?! BENNY! BENNY'S THE NAME!
    • Schwarzenegger, anytime he has to shout. His accent and demented facial expressions only adds to the fun, especially while trying to escape being turned back into Hauser after Cohaagen reveals Quaid was just a memory implant.
    • Cohaagen himself isn't immune to this either, especially during his final confrontation with Quaid.
      Cohaagen: In thirty seconds you'll be dead... and I'll blow this place up and be home in time for cornflakes!!!
  • Laser-Guided Broadcast: This sets off the plot of the movie. Douglas Quaid, who's been dreaming (literally) of visiting Mars but whose wife doesn't want to go, sees an advertisement for Rekall which can implant Fake Memories of a vacation. Later, after being told that he has to get his ass to Mars for real, Quaid sees another advertisement for genuine and affordable vacations on Mars.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Cohaagen turns off the air supply for Venusville and later kicks over a fish tank, callously leaving both to die from suffocation. He later dies himself the same way, suffocating in the thin atmosphere of Mars.
  • Latex Perfection: A variation, when Quaid wears a middle-aged woman head while sneaking into airport security. That's somehow both fully animatronic and has a self-destruct function.
  • Leave No Survivors: When Richter and his men pursue Quaid and Melina into the mutant district, they escape and Richter shoots the first person who refuses to answer him. When they retaliate, he orders the soldiers to kill everyone and barely escapes from the ensuing slaughter himself.
  • "Leave Your Quest" Test: In a world where memories can be implanted at will, how do you tell the dream from reality when someone comes and tells you the adventure you're having is all a psychotic delusion and you have to follow his instructions NOW or be lost in it forever?
  • Let's Get Out of Here:
    • Line said by Benny when a shootout ensues on a market square at the Mars station.
    • Also said by Melina after she and Quaid escaped lobotomy.
  • Lobotomy: Quaid is told by one of his co-workers it is what nearly happened to a friend of his when he went to Rekall. Later in the movie, Quaid is told by Dr. Edgemar that he is hallucinating the adventure in his brain and that if he doesn't exit it, he will be lobotomized. It's left ambiguous as to whether Edgemar was lying or whether Quaid was indeed lobotomized. note 
  • Locked Out of the Loop: When Cohaagen reveals Hauser was working for him all along, Quaid just scoffs and points to Richter of "this idiot has been trying to kill me. You don't kill someone you're trying to plant." Cohaagen scoffs that Richter didn't know anything about it and his going "hog wild" nearly ruined the entire plan. Through it all, Richter's expression makes it clear: he's as amazed as Quaid to learn all this.
  • Lockdown: Happens twice. Once when Quaid arrives on Mars and later when Cohaagen locks down a sector which has disobeyed him:
    Technician: Sir, the oxygen level is bottoming out in Sector G. What do you want me to do about it?
    Cohaagen: [as if obvious] Don't do anything.
    Technician: But they won't last an hour, sir.
    Cohaagen: Fuck 'em. It'll be a good lesson to the others.
  • Look Behind You: How the hologram wrist device is used.
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: Rekall has one, and will plug you in for a modest fee. Quaid may have been in it for most of the movie.
  • Made of Explodium: "Johnny Cab," an electric golf cart, can withstand dozens of bullets, but stiff it on a fare and it explodes like a grenade.
  • Made of Plasticine: Richter gets his arms not simply broken but cleanly sliced off when trapped between a blunt not-at-all-sharp rock face and a slow-moving service elevator.
  • Madonna-Whore Complex: The Total Recall saleswoman admonishes Quaid to be honest when assigning traits to his perfect fantasy girlfriend. Quaid first gives "sleazy" as one of her traits, but as he's drifting off, gives a more honest "demure."
  • Major Injury Underreaction: After kicking a gun out of Richter's hand to prevent him killing Thumbelina, Tony is shot directly in the chest by Helm and goes down, but not only does he not die despite being shot in the damn chest, whenever he appears afterwards, he is not hampered at all by his gunshot wound. The most that comes out of him being shot is his shirt now has blood on it.
  • Make an Example of Them: The reason Cohaagen gives for letting the mutants in Venusville die of asphyxiation after their uprising.
    Technician: Sir, the oxygen level is bottoming out in Sector G. What do you want me to do about it?
    Vilos Cohaagen: [as if obvious] Don't do anything.
    Technician: But they won't last an hour, sir.
    Vilos Cohaagen: Fuck 'em. It'll be a good lesson to the others.
  • Marrying the Mark: After he remembers part of his old identity, Quaid discovers that his entire marriage is a sham when his wife Lori tries to kill him. She is really part of a unit sent by the Martian governor to spy on him, and is already married to the governor's top enforcer, Richter, who despises Quaid because of this.
  • Manchurian Agent: Quaid. He's unknowingly manipulated by Hauser and Cohaagen to lead them to Kuato.
  • Memory Gambit: Hauser wiped his memories and rebuilt his personality as Quaid, in order to make it easier to infiltrate the resistance. Unfortunately for Hauser and Cohaagen, Quaid experiences severe Amnesiac Dissonance upon finding out the truth, and decides that he would rather remain Quaid and do whatever he can to derail Cohaagen's plan.
  • Memory Wipe Exploitation: Quaid has spent the entire film with (possibly) false memories, and in constant conflict with Richter. When he's finally caught, he's about to have his previous memories restored, and return to being Richter's ally.
    Richter: Excuse me, Doctor. Is he gonna remember any of this?
    Doctor: Not a thing.
    Richter: Oh, really? [punches Quaid in the face]
  • Metal Detector Checkpoint: A futuristic X-Ray scanner renders the subject as a full-body skeleton while they walk through it, enabling the large number of pedestrians entering an apartment block to be scanned without slowing them down. Later when Quaid tries to run through the scanner carrying a firearm, it sets off a Red Alert and the gun is rendered as a pulsating red object, drawing every security guard in the area.
  • Mind Screw: Quaid's entire adventure follows the plot of the super spy vacation he orders, as described by the Rekall salesman. Coincidence?!? Or was it?
  • Minion Shipping: Richter and Lori are a couple, even though she sleeps with Quaid for at least six weeks to build a cover (8 years' worth of memories including a wedding ceremony). Richter goes insanely homicidal when Lori is killed by Quaid.
  • The Mole:
    • Quaid, as lampshaded by Cohaagen...
      Cohaagen: Fucking mutants could always sniff us out. So Hauser and I sat down and invented you: the perfect mole.
    • Benny as well, who is responsible for killing George, Kuato's conjoined brother. He also lied about having a family.
  • Moment Killer: As Quaid and Melina are kissing in the Martian catacombs, the rebels show up and take them into custody.
  • Mook Lieutenant: Everett—the chief guard on Mars, and Helm—Richter's lead goon who accompanies him for half of the film before meeting a rather gruesome end during the bar shoot-out.
  • Multiboobage: The triple-breasted hooker.
  • Mutants: Several mutants appear as deformed inhabitants of a Mars colony, born with deformities due to their colonist parents being forced to live in poorly made domes that didn't protect them from space radiations during the early stages of colonization. One of the most famous ones is probably the three-breasted prostitute.
  • My Girl Is Not a Slut: Richter, about Lori.
    Helm: I'd be upset too if a guy like Quaid was porking my old lady.
    Ritcher: Are you saying she liked it?
    Helm: No, I'm sure she hated every minute of it!
  • Nasal Trauma: Quaid has to ram a self-guiding pincer up his nose in order to extract the bug implanted in his head. This is nasty enough on its own, but the bug is clearly bigger than his nostrils, so we get to see his nose grotesquely deforming out of shape as he slowly removes it.
  • Neck Snap: In Quaid's first fight against Cohaagen's goons, Harry and another mook check out this way in a rather gratuitous fashion.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: With his drill tank, Benny creates a hole in the wall which leads Quaid to the alien reactor after he and Melina had just run into a dead-end after escaping Cohaagen's goons.
  • Nightmare Face: Tony, the head of the mutant resistance in Venusville. The mind-reading mutant and her daughter as well.
    Tony: You've got a lot of nerve showing your face around here, Hauser!
    Hauser: Look who's talking!
  • No Ontological Inertia:
    • Quaid and Melina, who somehow instantly recover from decompression fairly quickly, despite it being previously shown to turn people into jelly.
    • It seems that the alien reactor also managed to bring the air pressure to Earth-Norm, but it still shouldn't have been that fast.
  • No OSHA Compliance:
    • Rather than kicking in automatically, the emergency pressure doors in the Mars spaceport terminal have to be manually activated while potentially (as happens in the film) fighting against being sucked into a near-vacuum.
    • The elevator Quaid and Richter fight on is an even better example of this: not only does it not have any kind of safety netting, walls or doors despite the fact that it's shown rising hundreds of feet into the air, but there's next to no space between the platform and at least one of the floors it passes next to, making it extremely easy to get something wedged between them, which is exactly what Quaid does to sever Richter's arms, causing him to fall to his death.
    • Building a Domed City with non-bullet-proof glass walls and then permitting staff to carry guns is asking for trouble.
    • When Quaid is working at his job on the construction site, both him and his friend are operating jackhammers with no hearing protection. Hearing protection is mandatory when using or being around a jackhammer.
  • Nose Shove: Douglas Quaid has to shove the business end of a self-guiding pincer up his nose to extract the ball-shaped tracking bug that has been implanted in it.
  • Note to Self: The video messages Hauser leaves for Quaid.
  • Obvious Stunt Double: Arnold also changes appearance when he jumps into a subway car to escape the bad guys.
  • Oh, Crap!: After sedating Quaid, Bob McClane tries to dismiss the incident as Quaid acting out part of his "ego trip," but when the technicians say it hasn't been implanted yet, all he can say is "Oh, shit."
  • Once-Green Mars: It is shown that Mars was once inhabited by ancients, who had a massive machine that maintained a breathable atmosphere and biosphere on the planet—which is now being uncovered by the mining operations going on in the movie's present.
  • One World Order: Not on the world, but Cohaagen's governorship seems to be the only state of any substance on Mars.
  • Ominous Adversarial Amusement: After Richter's forces riddle Quaid with bullets, the latter gets up and starts laughing loud to the shock of his opponents. Turns out the Quaid they shot was just a projection.
  • Operator Incompatibility: Subverted when Quaid activates the alien reactor. The activating mechanism is in the shape of a three-fingered alien hand, but Quaid just puts his fingers Spock-style and activates it anyway.
  • Or Was It a Dream?: The movie plays with this extensively. The protagonist Quaid goes to a place called Rekall, which can implant fake memories for people looking for an adventure but unable to actually have one. He wants a spy story, and he gets one — he wakes up in the same place, but now he's apparently accessed suppressed memories of actually being a spy and is being chased by other spies. He later encounters someone who claims to be from Rekall telling him that he's still in a virtual reality experience, but it's gone wrong and if he doesn't snap out of it he'll have to be lobotomized. And the films ends with a fade to white, in which he wakes up in his chair and asked if he enjoyed his vacation. So was it all a fake memory, or wasn't it? There's a lot of evidence in the film either way:
    • A lot of questions are raised by Quaid waking up screaming that the Rekall people blew his cover, the only time we see Quaid's "Hauser" persona outside of Quaid looking at a screen. Is this real or not? But if it's not real, where does it fit into the whole Rekall experience?
    • The escapade to Mars is part of Quaid's scenario if you look closely, and the specific title, "Blue Skies on Mars", foreshadows how Quaid restores the Martian atmosphere and turns the sky blue.
    • Most of the characters whom Quaid meets on Mars appear in the movie sequences before the Rekall experience — even Quaid's Love Interest, who greatly resembles a news reporter Quaid spots on Earth. But not all of the characters do. The main doctor may or may not also be foreshadowing when he mentions "crooked taxi drivers".
    • Quaid is asked to describe a Love Interest for his fake memories when he first goes to Rekall. The woman he creates, "model 41", bears a near-perfect resemblance to the one we see on Mars. As for his actual wife, she seems oddly preoccupied with flushing the idea of a trip to Mars out of Quaid's head, as if she knows about Quaid's psychological issues — which makes a lot more sense if she's actually in league with the spies chasing Quaid in the "dream".
    • The lobotomy threat adds an extra layer on it — was he lobotomized or not? Even if it was a dream, did it really go wrong and end with his lobotomy, or was that all part of the dream, too?
  • Overly-Nervous Flop Sweat: When Rekall's President Dr. Edgemar meets Quaid to convince him that he is caught in his memories and should take a pill as a symbol of his desire to break out of it, Quaid puts the pill in his mouth and pretends to swallow it while watching Dr. Edgemar's reaction. When he sees a drop of sweat running down the doctor's face, he knows it's a trap and kills him.
  • Paying for Air: This is how the Big Bad Cohaagen stays in charge of the planet Mars. He owns all the oxygen in the colonies, which basically gives him absolute power (it's implied Earth won't stop him because he also controls a valuable mineral). His plot is to destroy a Martian machine that can generate air for the whole planet.
  • Percussive Therapy: Cohaagen, after a snide Richter finally gets him to call for Quaid's death, pauses solemnly for a moment... and then smashes a nearby fish tank.
  • Planetville: Even the presence of other tropes reinforce this. For example, the atmospheric pressurization is so fast that if it was interpreted as accurate, it not only shrinks the colony to appreciable city-size, but the whole damn planet.
  • Platonic Cave: The entire setting following the Rekall implant, if one prescribes to the notion that everything following it is all taking place in Quaid's head.
  • Pleasure Island: The future version of it. Rekall offers Fake Memories of a journey to exotic places.
  • Plot Armor: Justified. Somehow Quaid manages to constantly evade bullets that kill others — but that's because he is protected, whether by the game or by the conspiracy.
  • Plot-Demanded Manual Mode: When Quaid is chased by the bad guys and gets into an Automated Automobile, he cannot name a valid destination so the robot driver refuses to go anywhere. Cue Quaid ripping the robot from its chair and driving the car himself.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Benny provides much of the comedic lines. He loses it when he reveals himself to be The Mole for Cohaagen, but still retains the hamminess.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Cohaagen is both a wealthy bastard who will literally Kill the Poor, and a Straw Misogynist who does not object to brainwashing women into submission.
    Cohaagen: (to Melina) You're going to be respectful, compliant, and appreciative, the way a woman should be.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Because Richter and his goons haven't been let in on the plan, a lot of them get killed because Richter goes Off the Rails trying to kill a man he thinks is a traitor that his boss has an inexplicable soft spot for.
  • Precision F-Strike: After asked by subordinates how to deal with the welfare of Venusville with their oxygen deprived, Cohaagen gives a nonchalant "Fuck 'em."
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner:
    • From the bomb itself: "Get ready for a surpriiiise~!"
  • Pretty Little Headshots: When Lori gets shot in the head by Quaid, the wound is nothing more than a small hole with a trickle of blood leaking out. Notably, it's the only example of this trope in the movie. Everyone else who checks out via Boom, Headshot! gets their brains splattered across whatever's behind them.
  • Product Placement: Fuji Film, Jack in the Box, Pepsi and more.
  • Prosthetic Limb Reveal: Benny seems like a perfectly normal taxi driver, until he helps Quaid/Hauser get into the resistance base by taking off his prosthetic hand, opening his sleeve and showing his mutated lower arm, revealing himself to be a mutant. This reveal would be pretty cool in the long run... but then Benny also turns out to be a mole.
  • Psychic Powers: Kuato and a number of other mutants. In Kuato's case, his main power is telepathy.
  • Psycho for Hire: Richter, Lori and Benny are all violent maniacs on Cohaagen's payroll.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Lori claims that she was just hired to do a job when Doug finds out that his 'wife' was there to spy on him. However, later in the film this is deconstructed and eventually subverted when she brutally beats Doug for simply following him to Mars which she despises, tries to slash Melina's throat in a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown and then tries to distract with her sweet housewife facade once more to gun him down before Quaid took the upper hand. In short, she is as much of a Psycho for Hire as her real husband Richter.
  • Put Their Heads Together: When a group of mooks attack Douglas Quaid after he leaves Rekall, he takes out two of them by slamming their heads together.
  • Red Light District: Venusville is a sleazy strip club located in Sector G on Mars, with mutants working as psychics and prostitutes (one of whom has three breasts) and "The Last Resort" bordello which is a secret base of La Résistance.
  • Red Pill, Blue Pill: Douglas Quaid goes to a company to have memories of a spy adventure implanted in his mind. Something goes wrong and he embarks on a spy adventure very similar to the false memories he was going to get. Later, he's told that what he thinks is reality is in fact those false memories, and is offered a chance to escape by taking a red pill. He decides against it and kills the person offering the pill. The movie leaves unresolved the question of whether everything after the memory implantation was real or not.
  • Repetitive Audio Glitch: The recording of Hauser gets stuck repeating the infamous words "Get your ass to Mars" after the laptop it's on gets shot during the brief second attack on Douglas Quaid. Later, Quaid's animatronic disguise gets stuck saying "two weeks" whenever he tries to talk, blowing his cover.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Why didn't the Martians turn on the oxygen machine? Cohaagen believes it was because the machine could potentially destroy the planet; it's also possible they didn't breath oxygen themselves and left it it behind for another species to find. We're given no solid answers either way.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: In-universe example. Before the "Ego Trip" begins, Dr. Lull shows Quaid that some ancient alien artifacts HAVE been found on Mars for real.
  • Running Gag: Benny's constant moans when in danger on how "I've got five kids to feed!"
  • Running Gagged: Benny's refrain that he's "got five kids to feed!" pays off when he reveals he's been Evil All Along and "I've got four kids to feed." When Quaid sardonically asks "what happened to the fifth?", Benny laughs and admits, "Shit, man, you caught me. I'm not even married."
  • Schrödinger's Butterfly: Is it a memory implant gone awry or all real? In the short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" that inspired this (can't say based on, can't even say very, very loosely based on), it did really happen.
  • Screen Shake: The camera shakes violently when the eruptions from the restarting reactor hit the colony.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Show Some Leg: After failing to kill Quaid by herself, Lori tries to distract Quaid until her associates can deal with him by acting sexually suggestive towards him, implying that he should "tie her up." However, Quaid glances over to see them walking through the hallway on a CRTV, and knocks her out.
  • Sickening "Crunch!": Employed several times. Most notably when Quaid strangles the Recall executive and when he breaks the bones of Harry's men during their fight scene after visiting Rekall. note 
  • Skeletal Appendage: The Martian cabdriver who befriends Quaid turns out to be a mutant: one of his arms is grossly deformed, twice the normal length and skeletally thin so it looks like just skin over bones.
  • Soft Glass: Windows and other glass panes get shattered by the hectare, yet nobody ever suffers as much as a scratch.
  • Spiteful Spit:
    • Melina spits in Cohaagen's face after he gloats that they'll brainwash her into Hauser's compliant housewife.
    • After Quaid shoots Dr. Edgemar, he spits out the pill that he didn't swallow onto his corpse.
  • Spotting the Thread: Quaid is met by Dr. Edgemar, the head of Rekall, who tells him this is all just a simulation and he's been inserted into it to break Quaid out of his delusion. When Quaid puts a gun to his head, the good doctor calmly says that nothing will happen to him if Quaid shoots but in Quaid's mind, it will shatter his sanity. Quaid is almost tempted to swallow the pill he's offered to "free" him... and then notices the drops of nervous sweat going down Edgemar's head. He proceeds to shoot him and reveal he's real after all.
  • The Stinger: Not in the movie itself, but on the Deluxe Edition of the soundtrack album, the final track ("A New Life") is followed after a brief pause by the music from the Rekall commercial Quaid watches ("For the memory of a lifetime - Rekall, Rekall, Rekall...").
  • Super Window Jump: Richter jumps through the front window of The Last Resort brothel to escape the firefight going on inside.
  • Take a Third Option: At the Metal Detector Checkpoint, when Quaid is surrounded left and right by Richter's men, he decides to do a Super Window Jump through the detector wall. Nobody was expecting that move.
  • Taking You with Me: During the Elevator Action Sequence, when Richter is hanging from the gondola, he clings onto Quaid and yells, "You're coming with me!" Quaid, however, pulls him up so that his arms are torn off by the oncoming ascent, causing Richter to fall screaming to his death.
  • The Tape Knew You Would Say That: Hauser leaves instructions to Quaid, anticipates how Quaid is going to react at various points, and seems to know roughly how long it'll take him to remove the tracking device, before continuing.
  • Tap on the Head: On Earth, Quaid knocks Lori unconscious with a single punch. On Mars she returns the favor with a kick to the face.
  • Terraform: Done to Mars, at the end of the movie. Supposedly by rapidly melting the planet's icy core to flood the atmosphere with oxygen. All at once, with no harmful side effects to billions of tons of air suddenly blasting on to the surface faster than any tornado. A window gets broken, that's it. There's not even any dust kicked up. On Mars.
  • There Was a Door: Several goons do an explosive entry right after Lori tells Quaid he's really blown it now.
  • That Man Is Dead: Quaid embraces his new identity over his former personality as Hauser, much to the chagrin of Hauser's friend, Cohaagen.
    Cohaagen: I didn't want it to end this way. I wanted Hauser back! But noooo... you had to be Quaid!
    Quaid: I am Quaid!
    Cohaagen: You're nothing! You're nobody! You're a stupid dream! Well, all dreams come to an end!
  • These Hands Have Killed: Quaid does this right after he slaughters the five agents (one of them being his best friend/co-worker, supposedly) trying to kill him on Earth, before he goes back to his "wife" Lori. He actually has their blood on his hands at the time.
  • This Is a Drill: Benny tries to kill Quaid and Melina with a giant drill, but is killed by Quaid with a smaller drill.
  • This Is for Emphasis, Bitch!: The boss of the Rekall branch that Quaid visits calls his female chief technician a bitch during his freak-out about his client's violent reaction to the procedure. She takes it largely in stride.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: The main character is either a secret agent in deep undercover on Mars (which is what he paid Rekall to experience), or he is going insane due to brain damage from side effects of the memory implant.
  • Thrown Out the Airlock: The "Martian atmosphere" variant of the trope is used here due to the main action of the story taking place within a pressurized colony on Mars. Upon arriving, Quaid avoids Richter's bullets which end up shattering a window that causes a Continuous Decompression during which a few men to get helplessly sucked out onto the surface of Mars, bound for a gruesome Explosive Decompression death. And in the end Cohaagen dies that way after getting blown out of the pyramid through a breach caused by an explosive device. The heroes almost die the same way.
  • Til Murder Do Us Part:
    Lori: Doug... Honey... You wouldn't hurt me... would you, sweetheart? Sweetheart... Be reasonable! After all, we're married!
    Quaid: Consider that a divorce.
  • Title Drop:
    Richter: In an hour he could have total recall.
  • Tracking Chip: Quaid has been implanted with a tracking chip in his head which he manages to find out about and remove before the bad guys can reach him. Said "chip" has the size and approximate shape of a .45 ACP bullet and is encased in something akin to a small ping-pong ball, which seriously stressed the Willing Suspension of Disbelief about how Quaid didn't notice a foreign body of these dimensions loitering somewhere around his sinuses.
  • Train Escape: Quaid shakes Richter and his men by jumping onto a departing subway train.
  • Traitor Shot: The looks Quaid's wife and colleagues give him in the beginning every time he doesn't notice practically scream "these folks aren't nearly as friendly as they pretend to be."
  • Twisted Echo Cut: The cut from the fish from Cohaagen's smashed fish tank gasping for oxygen to the people of Venusville suffering from the same dilemma.
  • Two Shots from Behind the Bar: The barkeeper at the place where Melina works makes use of his rifle against Richter's men.
  • Uncanny Valley: The JohnnyCab robots are made to imitate a real-life driver, with various "realistic" expressions built into them, but the end result is really creepy - especially when they scream in terror as they short out internally.
  • Uncle Tomfoolery: Benny the cab driver, until he reveals himself as a mutant collaborator. And especially after that turns out to be a lie and he was Evil All Along.
  • Unknown Character: The man who left the suitcase to Quaid outside of his apartment. All we're told is that they were buddies in the Agency on Mars and Quaid asked him to find him if he disappeared. After their conversation over the phone, he's never seen or mentioned again.
  • Unobtainium: Turbinium ore, which is being mined on Mars against the local rebels' wishes and keeps Cohaagen's regime running, as his superiors on Earth give him carte blanche as long as their supply remains constant.
  • The Unsolved Mystery: Did the events really happen, or is it all a memory implant from Rekall?
  • Using You All Along: Quaid is being used by Hauser and Cohaagen to locate Kuato's rebel group on Mars.
  • Video Phone: Used on both Earth and Mars. Talking to someone on Mars was as easy as phoning them up on Earth. In fact, Cohaagen (when on Mars) uses his vid phone to call Richter (on Earth) without any technical difficulties or time delay.
  • Villainous Breakdown:
    • Richter has a brief one after Lori's death but pulls himself together quite quickly after nearly killing himself and his head goon.
    • After Quaid rejects his mind reformatting and threatens to turn on the machine, Cohaagen is despondent when finally giving the order to execute him, even ignoring Richter sassing him a little. After a short moment of silence, he suddenly snaps and shoves his ornamental fishbowl onto the ground.
  • Villainous Friendship: Cohaagen and Hauser (Quaid's former identity). Cohaagen acknowledges their friendship when Quaid calls the guy an asshole and makes sure he is given an obedient, mindwiped wife to "enjoy." Later, Cohaagen goes into a rage when he is forced to order the death of his friend, and goes on a tirade against Quaid for making sure Hauser isn't coming back.
  • Villains Never Lie: Averted; Quaid refuses to believe Cohaagen when he lays out his Evil Plan until Cohaagen smugly plays the final tape that Hauser left behind, showing they both planned the entire thing.
  • Villains Out Shopping: When Lori captures Quaid, she calls Richter and Helm while they're having drinks in the hotel bar.
  • The War of Earthly Aggression: The poor living conditions of the workers on Mars has led to the emergence of a resistance group around its leader Kuato demanding independence from Earth.
  • Weird Moon: The two Mars asteroid satellites, Phobos and Deimos, are depicted as twin moons large enough to be seen by the naked eye in the sky like the Earth's moon.
  • We Will Spend Credits in the Future: Rekall offers the fake two-week Mars holiday for the price of 899 credits.
  • Wham Line:
    Cohaagen: Someone you trust wants to talk to you. (switches on computer screen)
    Hauser: Howdy, Quaid.
  • Wild Goose Chase: Quaid puts the Tracking Chip inside a Mars bar and leaves it for the rats, so Richter's goons will waste time chasing the signal.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Quaid.
    • First he punches out Lori during their fight in their apartment. Later, he has no qualms about shooting her after she triumphs in a Designated Girl Fight and sneakily starts to reach for her gun.
    Lori: Sweetheart, be reasonable. After all, we're married.
    (Lori goes for her gun one last time, but Quaid shoots her directly in the brain, killing her.)
    Quaid: Consider that a divorce.
    • Cohaagen nearly hit Melina for spitting at him (after making a misogynistic remark directed to her) but digresses, presumably thinking Hauser won't be pleased with him for hitting his girl.
  • Xtreme Kool Letterz: The "Rekall" brand.
  • Your Head Asplode:
    • Subverted, where the exploding head is a bomb-rigged animatronic prosthesis which Quaid wears as part of a costume. His deception uncovered, he tosses the head to his pursuers, in whose hands it cracks wise and then asplodes.
    • Also averted and almost played straight, since the thin Martian atmosphere causes people to swell and bloat while undergoing Explosive Decompression. Cohaagen gets tossed into the atmosphere and dies brutally as his eyes pop out of his head. Quaid and Melina also get jettisoned out into Mars' atmosphere but only shortly after Cohaagen has suffocated to death. Thankfully, they survive.
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle!: Hauser basically says this to Quaid, pointing out that that's his body and he wants it back. So Try Not to Die.
  • You Wouldn't Shoot Me: Lori, the woman Quaid is programmed to think of as his wife plays on his implanted feelings while wielding a gun herself, saying "after all, we're married."
  • Zeerust: Showcased with the ridiculously bulky CRT-based videophones.

"Don't fuck with your brain, pal! It ain't worth it!"

Alternative Title(s): Total Recall


Total Recall

Cohaagen gives a version of this as he berates Richter.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / IDontPayYouToThink

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