Monday, March 19 , 2018, 4:29 am | Fair 41º


Cinema in Focus: ‘Total Recall’

Understanding that memories are a creative union of brain and experience, this film takes it into suspenseful fantasy

3 Stars — Suspenseful

When neuroscientists discovered that memories can be improved by increasing neurotransmitters like acetylcholine, our artists took that discovery to the next level. They proposed that if memories can be manipulated by chemicals, then perhaps by 2084 it would be possible to implant an alternative memory of an entire life through injecting ourselves with chemicals. So injected, we could “remember” being whoever we want to be.

This possibility was first suggested by author Philip K. Dick in his 1966 short story, We Can Remember It for You Wholesale. In 1990, Paul Verhoeven directed the first Total Recall film based on this theme, and Len Wiseman has done so again in 2012.

In this 2012 version of the tale, writer Kurt Wimmer has injected the story with a political theme resembling the struggle that Britain has had with the Irish Republican Army. Positing that in eight decades we will have destroyed virtually all of the planet by chemical warfare, there are only two inhabitable areas remaining: Britain and Australia.

But in the language of this tale, they are the United Federation of Britain (UFB) and The Colony. Having developed a mass transport capable of traveling through the core of the Earth, “The Fall” can deliver laborers from The Colony in 15 minutes to their jobs in the UFB. One of these laborers is Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell).

Haunted by a recurring dream, Quaid explains to his beautiful wife, Lori (Kate Beckinsale), that he longs for something more. Drawn to a recreational company called “Rekall,” he is promised that the experience of having his memories altered by injection will give him whatever memories he wants — from a life of fame, to that of a sports star, to an international spy, Quaid chooses the spy, and the action begins.

The moral themes of the film include political values such as truth and freedom, integrity coming from a clear sense of identity and the supportive grounding of loving relationships. In the political world, the evil chancellor of the UFB, Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston), manipulates and deceives his people using a synthetic army to subdue and crush them. Identity is explored as Quaid is told by the leader of the resistance, Matthias (Bill Nighy), that “it is not our past that defines our identity but who we are in the moment, coming from our heart.” The importance of relationship is presented as Quaid dreams of Melina (Jessica Biel) while lying in bed with his wife, knowing at an intuitive level that something is amiss.

Though memories are stored in chemical chambers within the brain and can therefore be enhanced, the fantasy that our memories are only chemicals is a materialistic view of humanity and assumes that we have no soul or deeper identity. That this is not scientifically or spiritually true is what Quaid risks his life to prove and what this film is all about.


» This film assumes that the future will be one of continuing destruction and struggle. Do you believe we will destroy our planet through war? Do you think the surviving humans would continue that insanity? Why do you answer as you do?

» Though memories are interactively created by our brains and our experiences, it is science fiction to think that one could take an injection of chemicals that would produce a memory without having lived it. What do you think neuroscientists will actually make possible in the next century?

» The love that Quaid has for Melina not only changes his view of politics but of himself as well. How have your relationships changed you?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit

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