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Headscratchers / Total Recall (1990)

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  • When the 7 to 8 troops surrounded the hologram of Quaid, how come they didn't get hit with any bullets, but when 2 of the troops shot at the hologram, they shot each other?
    • Theory: the holograms are hard light projections and can physically interact with the environment. Notably the two who shoot Melina don't hit each other until the hologram starts glitching out. As for where the BULLETS have gone afterwards... No idea.

  • What's the explanation for it all being real? If it was fake, it would all makes sense, how everything happened just as advertised, how blatantly cliche-filled bits of it are, even the plot holes could be handwaved with "Quaid isn't all that smart". But if it is, then it's just a cliche sci-fi action film.
    • There are two major factors that point to Quaid's experiences being real, at least in my opinion: (1) The fact that he dreams about Melina long before he meets her "for real," and (2) The dialogue between Dr. Lall and Bob about how Quaid can't simply be acting out his ego-trip because it hasn't been implanted yet. I personally think the whole thing being a dream is the more plausible explanation (mainly because, as you say, it explains away all the junk science like the core of Mars being made of ice), but the second point is particularly damning; why would Rekall bother implanting any of that if he's not conscious to see it and it doesn't seem to have any bearing on the rest of the movie? On the other hand, it could be they stuck that bit in Quaid's mind just to make the dream that much more convincing; of course it's all real, because Rekall wouldn't lie about screwing up, would they?
      • As they say in the movie, the reasoning that Melina is real because he dreamed of her is mighty thin. The implant might very well latch onto a subconscious image already present thus reinforcing the "reality". As for Dr. Lall and Bob's conversation, that happens after he goes in the machine, which means the "secret agent" package he purchased has already started. The salesman did state the package meant he was under deep cover after all.
      • In the novelization Melina tells Quaid that she had done some modelling work for Rekall in the past.
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    • Or put another way, when Quaid is giving the details about his "fantasy vacation", he was conjuring up repressed experiences from his subconscious. The device keeping his memories repressed then shut off temporarily (possibly because it was supposed to respond to similar external stimuli) which is why he had that outburst that resulted in his getting tranqed and put into the cab.
    • I think the clearest evidence to it being "real" is that the audience is shown things and conversations that Quaid can have no knowledge of. Parts of the film simply don't happen from his perspective.
      • On the other hand, these could essentially be the Rekall equivalent of 'cut-scenes' to enable his mind to fill in the gaps of what's happening, thus making it more plausible.
    • I've always thought it was real because of how Rekall is supposed to work. They implant memories, not actual experience. If it worked the way it was supposed to for it to be fake (but going wrong), Rekall would just be a glorified virtual reality. The story of something going wrong in the middle of his Rekall treatment that would leave him lobotomised, but not before experiencing his new memories in real time, just doesn't make sense!
      • The director has stated that both interpretations fit the facts, and refuses to say which is true. Under the "all just a dream" explanation, Melina was simply constructed right on that readout while he describes the body type for the girl, and his own mind fills the gaps with the image form the dream. The "failed implant" was simply part of the failed memories. And it is possible to witness things from other perspectives in dreams, though it admittedly isn't common, and usually the dreamer reacts to them when it happens.
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    • Probably the best evidence of all that it's for real is that, if it was just a scripted pseudo-experience, Rekall wouldn't have dared to include so many Mind Screws in the adventure's plotline. Else, it'd be leaving itself open to lawsuits from people whose relatives came out of the device convinced they genuinely were memory-wiped spies!
      • On the other hand, that's basically how dreams work. When you're in the dream, no matter how insane or screwy it seems, you're probable convinced that it's all real and happening to you... until you wake up, at which point your mind clears and you realise how illogical the dream actually was. Unless you're genuinely disassociated from reality — but then, the movie also has several scenes that suggest that this is a possibility as well (such as the doctor who shows up to convince Quaid that the Rekall experience has gone wrong).
      • Sure, it's how dreams work. And there are probably people who wake up from their dreams and believe (at least for a short time) that whatever was happening in the dream really did happen, like dreaming that your spouse left in the middle of the night for a business trip and then being shocked to find them in the kitchen in the morning. But if that happens in a regular dream, there's no one to sue about it when you wake up confused. If it happens after a Rekall-dream that's contractually supposed to be psychologically harmless, there is.
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    • This cannot be fake in any way. Suppose everything that happened in the movie, tons of people dying, and Quaid personally triggering the terraforming process on Mars, was implanted by Rekall. How would the people at Rekall handwave the fact that none of it really happened, despite claiming that the memories they implant are as real as the, um, real memories?
      • They're advertised as seeming and feeling real. Obviously, if they include over-the-top fantasies (like being a wizard with magical powers or, well, a Double Reverse Quadruple Agent) they don't have to worry about your memories not jiving with reality. You're probably expected to still be aware they were implanted. Heck, not letting you retain the knowledge that you chose to let then screw with your mind would probably be a very bad idea, from a liability standpoint.
      • By this theory, Rekall is basically a sci-fi equivalent of a video game-stroke-theme park ride-stroke-action film, all done with virtual reality. Notice how things start off fairly small; the procedure at Rekall doesn't quite work, they find something slightly wrong about Quaid, when he leaves things seem like they're normal but everything just seems a bit... off. Then it starts getting bigger; his best friend and his wife are revealed to be not what they seem. People start hunting him. And so on and so on, it gradually and slowly escalates until eventually he's on Mars with triple-breasted prostitutes and mutant super-intelligent fetuses and ancient alien technology based in the frozen core, and he's not questioning it because the narrative of the experience has sneaked up all the far-out stuff so slowly and gradually that it all just seems so real and natural. And then when it ends, and you come back down, you might be a little disorientated for a while, but eventually you'll just accept "Okay, it was just a ride — but what a ride!"
    • And it can't just be a cliche sci-fi action film because...?
      • Because there are people interested in contemplating their entertainment, and not simply consuming it.
      • Your interests don't really have an effect on the creation of the movie. It is what it is whether you like it that way or not.
      • True, but the very fact that there's been so much discussion over this movie for nearly thirty years suggests that there's something more going on than a by-the-numbers Schwartzenegger shoot-em-up. You don't hear people discussing the nature of reality as depicted in Eraser, after all.
      • Because Eraser has no component that would bring its reality into question. That doesn't mean they're not equally intended as summer action blockbuster movies, it just means this one has a slightly more cerebral plothook.
    • If it's all an implanted experience, why would Rekall put something demonstrably and glaringly wrong into the memory implant? The movie ends with Quaid and Melina staring at a blue sky on Mars! Anytime he looks at Mars in the future it will still be red which will clash with his implants and possibly cause him to return to Rekall looking for a refund!
    • More pragmatically, why would Rekall put in memories of their own employees behaving in irresponsible and immoral ways, such as lying to a customer and dumping him in a cab instead of calmly explaining what happened and offering to help him out? It'd be a great place to put in the "outfitting a spy" scene and even give him a Rekall agent buddy. Seems like an operation as slick as that wouldn't pass up the opportunity for advertising, but more accurately wouldn't give that sort of bad press to their own customers. The customer waking up and one of the first things he thinks is "Oh it's those assholes who lied to me and dumped me in a cab" is not promoting return visits.

  • Why Cohaagen did not use the same hologram device Hauser had on his agents and the (fake?) doctor?
    • It's possible that Cohaagen knew nothing about the device. The man who gives it to Quaid never says who he is or who he works for, nor does he explain how Quaid acquired it (and later gave to him for safekeeping). Hauser also never mentions the hologram device in the message he left for Quaid. For all we know, the mysterious guy who left the suitcase for Quaid threw it in because he though Quaid might need it, and owed him a favor.
    • Maybe Hauser had a sneaking suspicion that one of Cohaagen's underlings might seize the opportunity to kill Quaid, thus achieving a Klingon Promotion and become Cohaagen's new Dragon. In which case, he might've put the hologram device in the stash left for Quaid, specifically so Quaid could avoid being shot.

  • Why would the martians build a device like that? They would have little to no use for the foreign air!
    • If I remember correctly, the builders are only ever referred to as 'aliens', not Martians. Perhaps they were previous colonists who never got round to turning on the machine for some reason, rather than indigenous to Mars. Alternatively, Mars may once have had an Earth-like atmosphere, lost it through some disaster, and the builders were attempting to restore it, but died out or left first.
      • As mentioned above they're described as "aliens" rather than Martians and probably breathed a similar atmosphere to humans. Presumably the atmosphere machine was part of a failed attempt to colonize the planet.
      • Or maybe they did use the machine once to give Mars an breathable atmosphere, but then died out or left sometime after that and the atmosphere eventually disappeared naturally while the machine recharged itself and waited patiently for the next person to come along and press the button. It is certainly more believable than the idea that aliens built such a giant machine and simply never pressed the button.
      • The novelization suggests (and the movie does too just... vastly more sparingly, and you'd have to make much bigger leaps of logic to get there) that the aliens lived underneath the surface, in facilities like the one the reactor is housed in. The reactor was an attempt to make the surface habitable as well. It was also deliberately left for humans.
    • The explanation that "they left or died before activating it" doesn't really hold water when you consider all it takes to activate it is, like, two seconds by someone with a hand. An entire civilization couldn't spare two seconds to activate the damn thing? My explanation is that they left automated builders and then died out or left; the builders finished the job, but didn't activate the machine.
      • To be fair, "they died or left" is just a shorthand for "we don't have a clue who they were, what they were doing, why they were doing it or why they didn't finish it, but obviously something stopped them before they could activate the machine". Assuming that the aliens would have activated the machine if they were alive and able to do so and didn't put in all that hard work and effort just to lose interest, the only two plausible alternatives are either (a) they died en mass before they could activate it or (b) something happened that forced them to leave the planet en mass before they could activate it. But either way, it all happened so far in the ancient past that there's no evidence left to provide a clear or exact answer for what happened. No one said it was a perfect explanation, but it's the only one they've got.
    • Maybe the Martians never activated the device because the "foreign" air wouldn't have been right for them. It's possible that they'd intended for it to generate a slightly different mix of gases - one that was suitable for them to breathe - but discovered after the device was finished that it would generate an oxygen/nitrogen ratio more like Earth's. Unable to fix the problem, they abandoned the device rather than turn it on: after all, if they'd been adapted to tolerate that sort of air, they could have just relocated to prehistoric Earth instead of altering their homeworld.
      • Or maybe it was built by a Martian death cult as a Doomsday Device, that would poison the atmosphere with deadly oxygen and wipe out their civilization. A Martian action-hero-type defeated the cult before they could activate it, but the Martian Hero of Another Story who foiled the plot died via Heroic Sacrifice and never had the chance to disable the device or alert Martian authorities to its location.
    • Alternately, if the events are just a Rekall gone horribly wrong, its just a massive plot device that allows Quaid to save the planet and get the girl, logic be damned.
      • The 2011 four-issue comic book sequel by Dynamite Entertainment unveils the mystery of the alien reactor by revealing that originally there used to be another planet in the solar system between Mars and Jupiter, the Martians accidentally blew it up turning it into the asteroid belt, and the cataclysm also affected Mars, turning its surface into an inabitabile wasteland. While most of the Martians left to go live elsewhere, others felt responsible and had collective visions of Quaid, thus they prepared the reactor for him. Since the machine would've taken millions of years to accumulate all the Turbinium needed to terraform the planet, the Martians put themselves in suspended animation inside Mars' moons Phobos and Deimos to extend their lives and be awakened once the reactor was started by the humans so that they can make sure everything worked out and resume their lives on a revitalized Mars.
      • That wouldn't explain why the device was built so as to be activated with a Martian hand print, not a human one like Quaid's.
      • The larger Martian hand print has smaller grooves inside of it that fit Quaid's own fingers pretty much perfectly, doesn't it?
      • Or, the Martians simply knew Quaid would've easily recognized it's a place where his hand goes even if it's not human shaped. The humans in the film are already intuitive enough to recognize the whole thing as some kind of reactor; even the villain guessed that the alien hand print is the activation button.
      • Of all the theories, the notion that the Martians left the machine behind for another species fits best. If they were oxygen breathers, there's no logical reason NOT to turn it on. Even the button's simplicity seems like a message across the centuries: "This is how you activate it. Our gift to you." Symbolically joining hands with their successors.

  • Paul Verhoeven is almost indisputably a sadist. Why else would he force us to watch oxygen-deprived characters suffocating to death for what seems like several minutes, when in reality that would not be the case at all? (Wouldn't anyone exposed to the vacuum of space immediately turn to puree and be dead in about ten seconds?)
    • Actually, the idea of instantaneous death in a vacuum/hostile environment is an example of Reality Is Unrealistic. Verhoeven actually got it right; in a vacuum you can survive for up to a minute, but it wouldn't be pleasant. On Mars you'd be able to last a little longer, if only because there's some pressure.
      • Well, Verhoeven only slightly got it right. Mars has a pressurised atmosphere so someone exposed to it certainly wouldn't balloon but given that it's mainly carbon dioxide they would asphyxiate, if they didn't freeze to death first. Regardless, what you see in Total Recall isn't even remotely realistic.
      • The pressure difference between Mars' atmosphere and total vacuum is very thin. Basically, on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is vacuum and 10 is Earth standard, Mars rates about a 0.6.
      • And the pressure deep-sea workers are regularly at would be a 700 on that scale. The pressure difference between Earth atmosphere and total vacuum just isn't enough to cause serious damage to the human body, much to Hollywood's dismay.
    • Because it made for a cool scene?

  • The alien device creates supposedly air by decomposing water. But where doesn the nitrogen come from?
    • Nitrogen isn't really required, but what you're left with is an atmosphere of pure hydrogen and oxygen, so the first time someone lights up...
      • Wouldn't that mean that Mars wouldn't have a blue sky? Theories may have changed since I heard this, but I was told when I was a kid that the sky is blue because the nitrogen that makes up most of our atmosphere scatters the blue light around.
    • It's a massive alien reactor from thousands of years ago at the very least, I think it's safe to say they probably don't know everything about how it will actually create a usable atmosphere.
    • We're told that the device extracts oxygen from water. It's never stated that that's all the device does; it might simultaneously be extracting nitrogen from the Martian dirt that's intermixed with the ice. As the "ice core" is, itself, a fictional premise, there's no reason it can't contain nitrogen-bearing minerals if the writers want it to.

  • There is technology that can implant memories and no one has thought of a better way to use it than as a "All In Your Mind" Vacation Package?!
    • Seriously, this technology could revolutionize education. (For example: 10 years of Med School compressed into a Total Recall Program).
      • The ability to give entire lifetimes of experience in varied professions in different times and places could be very useful to a society, effectively allowing it to be full of Omidisciplinary Old Masters from the ground up.
      • It might not work that way. Giving Quaid memories of being a badass superspy, for instance, won't necessarily give him a black belt in kung fu. A lifetime's worth of memories, or even just the med school part, might be dangerous or otherwise unfeasible.
    • Who says they aren't using the same technology for educational purposes? Quaid never goes anywhere near a school, so for all we know they could all be using the same equipment as Rekall.
    • As far as we know, the memory implantation process might only be able to feature two weeks' worth of memory. That's why it's limited to vacations and stuff and not education, because more information wouldn't fit on their tapes and doing multiple sessions would fry your brain somehow.
      • Actually, the agent mentions that you can put more then two weeks on it, it just costs more. However, we don't know how much stuff you can put on a single implant, so the limit could be anything from a month to a lifetime.
      • The implants would have to include a lifetimes worth, to create Quaid as a distinct person.
      • Yes, but notice they don't exactly have him living as a surgeon or a chemist or a programmer or anything. He's a low-level construction worker, and while that would require some specific skills they're not exactly eight-years-of-university type skills. Thus it can be inferred that the memory implantation devices either can't generate skillsets from nothing or it's very limited in the types of skillsets it can implant.
    • Consider also that the problem of 'synaptic embolism' is implied to be a fairly common one; certainly the Rekall boss seems more than a little bit shifty and quick to change the subject on that one. Most reputable educational facilities would likely hesitate before approving the widespread use of an 'educational' tool that posed a good risk of essentially lobotomising a good proportion of their students.
    • It's because it wouldn't be a Philip K. Dick story if it didn't revolve around a menial worker drowning himself in escapist simulacra to escape the doldrums of life, while enormous corporations churn out "spurious realities" for profit. He had a fairly bleak view of the future, it must be said.
    • Bob outright states that memories longer than two weeks cost extra because it requires a deeper implant. It probably cost a lot to create the Quaid identity (though the plan was to get to Quato, so Cohaagen was able to justify the cost by recouping it from the mines once he finished off the rebels), so it's probably not feasible to make such a thing available to everyone.
    • Many people in the movie refer rather derisively towards the company, stating that more often than not, it causes some form of brain damage or psychosis. In the Crapsack World of the future, any kind of oversight or regulation might be so lax that a dangerous service like Rekall is allowed to operate rather freely, the salesman does evoke the image of a used car salesman rather glibly eliding over potential side effects as "ancient history". Of course the two people who try to warn Quaid off are his handlers who have a vested interest in keeping him away from anything that might endanger his cover.
    • Even if the procedure has a two-week limit, that doesn't mean you can't use it for education. It just means that you can't use it all in one sitting to cram in a year's schooling. Seven or eight rounds of simulation per semester would work fine. And if every student "attends" exactly the same series of simulated lessons, then it'd probably be cheaper to produce than an individually-customized fantasy vacation.

  • Although I'm definitely more of the opinion that 'it was all real,' even when I saw it in theaters, I was always rather disturbed how easily an ordinary blue-collar construction worker (like Ahnold) immediately slipped into committing multiple acts of violence without hesitation, including killing complete strangers, and never stop to feel any remorse, much less question how out-of-character his life had become at the drop of a hat. "I'm Quaid! I must be Quaid! Uh-oh, I need to shoot my wife now."
    • Deep seated memories in his subconscious, muscle memory from training and the adrenaline rush from being put into danger. If he really was a soldier/secret agent, he already knew how to do those things and was unconsciously calling up his existing experience.
    • Plus, well, this is still a 1980s Schwartenegger action flick. It's not like any of his characters are exactly slow to violence in those films.
    • Whether real or fake, how easily he slips into violence is likely also a commentary on how easy it might be for any of us to do the same if presented with the right situation/stimulus/justification. Considering Philip K. Dick's "bleak view of the future" mentioned above, and things like the Milgram Experiment, there may actually be some Truth in Television in this. Or as Stephen King put it in Cell, "We didn't survive as a species because we were the toughest, or the smartest. We survived because we were the most murderous, craziest fuckers in the jungle."
    • We also don't know much about Quaid's personal history. It's entirely possible that his "ordinary construction worker" backstory includes a stint overseas with the National Guard or a whole lot of brawling in bars or whatever, so it may not be the first time he's ever had to fight someone. Indeed, if one assumes he's not just dreaming about being a double agent, including such a detail in his cover-identity's history would make sense, as it'd stop "Quaid" from getting suspicious if one of his construction-crew buddies playfully throws a punch at him and his reflexes as Hauser let him put the guy into a headlock without breaking a sweat.

  • The film explains that all the headgames were to allow Hauser to find Kuato, as he is telepathic and would always detect undercover people so the only way to get a mole in was for the mole to not know he is a mole. All right, then how come Kuato never noticed that Benny was working for the enemy?
    • Kuato never vetted Benny. Benny arrived when they were under a time crunch and desperately needed the information about the reactor from Quaid. Had the situation been different, where Benny was actually trying to join the resistance, he'd probably have been led before Kuato at gunpoint to be checked out. As it was, he was still only able to properly betray the resistance because he just so happened to see Kuato's "big brother" with his shirt open.
    • Benny may also have been turned by Hauser only very recently. If he'd joined the resistance some time ago, getting vetted and approved by a shirt-hidden Kuato before becoming a double agent, but later got greedy and/or hard up for cash, he could have cut his deal with Hauser and betrayed the group before its leader had the chance to re-check his thoughts.
    • Benny revealing himself as a mutant also removed most of the preliminary suspicions, with it deemed unthinkable for a mutant to side with the man responsible for his condition.

  • The scene where Quaid fights with an old lady over Hauser's suitcase confuses me. Who is this woman, why is she so adamant about getting the case before Quaid, and what was the point of the scene?
    • She's a random person who tries to steal something that's not apparently being watched or attended. It's a demonstration of the crapsackiness of the world.
    • For those of us in the "it's a dream" camp, it also humorously relates to an earlier scene. When the Rekall rep is pitching to Quaid, he lists three unpleasant things about actual travel that Rekall users avoid. Ironically, all three show up in the movie: Lousy weather (the near-vacuum on Mars's surface), lost luggage (the woman trying to steal the suitcase), and crooked taxi drivers (Benny).
    • It's probably just a quick humorous scene to break up the tension. Paul Verhoeven is fond of such. There's also the shock value of hearing an old woman shouting "Asshole!" Back in the 80s, this was still pretty novel. Compare it to a scene in another Schwarzenegger flick, where a sweet old lady calls him "one mean motherfucker."

  • Kind of a meta question but is their an alternate ending were Cohaagen explodes into a bloody mess? I remember someone asking about this back on the IMDB boards.
    • We do know the original cut was given an X rating for violence, but since that version has never been released or distributed in any format —legal or otherwise— it's hard to say exactly what all was cut or edited out. It certainly seems like Cohaagen's demise was building up to a gory finish, though.

  • How come even though Quaid gets slashed multiple times by Lori he seems to recover with no medical attention or even a bandaide? (indeed, his injuries just seem to disappear after the scene).
    • This is possibly another hint that it's all a dream.
    • Or that first aid in this film's future is advanced enough to seal over cuts instantly, and/or cover them with bandages that blend perfectly with skin. We just don't see Quaid pause in his adventure to patch himself up.

  • Why is the glass in the "customs" part of the enclosure not bullet-proof? It should be for the very reason we see in the film.
    • Aside from the movie needing the glass to be that weak for it to happen, Cohaagen was a greedy bastard who used the cheapest glass and didn't care for potential disasters happening as a result or someone activating the shutters before people started to get sucked out.

  • This is a small thing but it always bothered me: during the fight with Richter, why does Quaid hold onto his arms to ensure they will get ripped off? I know Richter would probably have died from the fall anyway but it still seems kind of.. not very heroic.
    • He did it because da pahty invitations specified that guests had to show up unarmed. *ba-dum tish!* ...In seriousness, though, Richter wasn't simply trying to climb back onto the lift, but rather he was grabbing at Quaid and determined to pull him down off the elevator with him, so Quaid went with the easiest and surest way to get Richter off him for good and keep himself from also going splat.

  • During the car chase on Mars where did Richter get that shotgun? When he and Helm get into the taxi, they both carry pistols. Was the shotgun just lying there? Was it left by a previous customer or do taxi drivers have them just in case?

  • Quaid and Richter arrive at Mars at the same time. We even see the ship landing on Mars. So that means that Quaid and Richter spent a long time, from weeks to months on the same ship. How is it possible they didn't come across each other during the journey? Did Quaid spend the whole time wearing the old woman mask that could only repeat stock phrases and jammed when it couldn't say: "No"? Depending on how often those ships arrive, Lori and the Recall guy may have also been on board the same ship.
    • It's possible that the mask wasn't programmed with stock phrases, but did indeed just repeat whatever Quaid said. But due to the fact that he was forced to wear the disguise for the weeks-long journey without being able to take it off or let it recharge, it eventually started to break down. It just happened to do so at the worst possible moment when he was going through customs.
    • Obviously we never see the ship, but from the amount of people going through customs we can estimate that there are most likely hundreds of passengers on the ship, and if the trip did take days, weeks, or months, then the passengers would have had to have cabins to sleep in. From the utterly shocked reactions of Richter and the troops watching the head malfunction and Quaid take it off, this is absolutely NOT common technology. Almost certainly, Richter did a check on all the passengers when he boarded the ship, but Quaid's disguise and documents passed his check, and then Quaid spent the trip hiding out in his cabin avoiding everybody.


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