Arnold and Self in ‘Total Recall’

) Total Recall can be viewed in many different lights. On the surface it is yet another popcorn flick that allowed audiences to escape the dreary elements of their everyday modern lives, but to say that is all would do the movie a great disservice. At its heart it is a question of self and more importantly, reality as a whole. That is why it is my personal belief that the most applicable method of approaching this film is through the viewpoint of Psychoanalysis and Post-Structuralism. Both of these concepts deal heavily with issues of identity, self, as well as reality. While many other concepts are at work throughout the course of the film, this question of reality bookends the film. For instance, the film begins with this question of experiential reality versus projected reality. As viewers we begin to understand the reality of Doug as it unfolds in front of our eyes. We see the blue-collar worker who longs for something more which is a purposely relatable element of the American lifestyle. However, as viewers our own reality is threatened as we see Doug subject himself to the treatment at Rekall. This futuristic technique of memory implantation forces us to examine the reality of the film apart from ourselves and that is even subverted when we become aware that Doug has already had his memory erased. Suddenly, there is very little that is recognizable to the audience. All that remains are the standard archetypes for a majority of the film. Of course Arnold is portrayed as the hero while he is confronted by the “exotic other” in the form of Melina and even the filmic archetype of the “femme fatale” is visited when we see him interact with his “wife” early on in the film versus her ultimate betrayal in the film. Verhoeven makes it clear that reality is something that is to be questioned. Baudry examines this question of reality in his text “The Apparatus: Metapsychological Approaches to the Impression of Reality in Cinema”. He even goes so far as to suggest that the reality of the film and the reality of the audience that is watching the film, all elements of this life should be questioned. While that distorts the concept of reality as we have defined it for ourselves, it does beg the question that so many of us are curious about of “What is real?” As the film twists and turns this question of, most specifically, reality among questions of identity as well as consciousness, is constantly in the forefront of the viewer’s mind. As Arnold shifts from hero to villain, his wife shifts from her role in his life to a foil, and even Melina as a woman of his dreams to the actuality of her existence, it never seems to be sure where the film is going or even where it will end. Verhoeven as well as Saunders describe it perfectly when they simple say “that’s the best mind-fuck yet”. However, in the style of Phillip K. Dick it’s only appropriate that these questions be poised. Another one of Dick’s famous works led to the creation of the film Blade Runner that also deals with these concepts of self. That being said, it seems only appropriate that no real answer seems to be given. Although the film ends with a certain level of self-awareness and the questioning of reality, it seems content to have forced the viewer into a self-reflexive question of basic concepts we take for granted. However, throughout the film, although feminist theory and even counter cinematic theories can be applied, when questioning reality, consciousness, and self as is done throughout the film, the school of Psychoanalysis and Post-Structuralism seems most appropriate for this film.


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