Why Are We Remaking 'Total Recall?'

Say it isn’t so.

Hollywood has to remake Total Recall? That lame Arnold Schwarzenegger movie from the early ‘90s? Really?

We have known for some time that Hollywood is having a hard time coming up with new ideas, but why remake this? How bad are things getting over there?

I looked up Total Recall (1990) on Rotten Tomatoes, only to find that it was “guaranteed fresh” with 83%. By most accounts, it was considered a thought-provoking, exciting, all-around stellar film. Am I remembering the same movie?

Well, to be honest, I couldn’t really remember the movie at all. I guess that would be vindication for Hollywood deciding to remake this forgettable film, but also could be an indictment of it’s failure as a story. Forgettable tales often remain untold, because they are just that: forgettable. Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel and Bryan Cranston can huff and puff, but they can’t inflate a lead balloon. Right?

Intrigued, I found a copy of Total Recall to see what I was missing. At first brush, the answer was: not much. It’s big, loud and ultra-violent by even today’s standards. But, after a giving it a fair shake, I must admit that this film is much more ambitious than I remember.

You have to get past a whole lot of problems with the script and the casting. I’m not sure Arno ever quite got that half of his comedic ability in his films was his inability to act. And what construction worker finds himself married to Sharon Stone? Still, if you can get past a few obstacles, you begin to see some incredible story layers unraveling before your eyes, and some seriously deep thoughts about life itself emerge.

Everything about Total Recall centers around this single question, “Who am I?” It’s bigger than the actual linear plot of the movie (attempting to create a breathable atmosphere for Mars and bring freedom from the tyranny of the mining industry. This is, lest we forget, a sci-fi movie.) Douglas Quaid (Schwarzenegger) is confronted with this question several times. Everyone in the movie, including his wife, is trying to convince him he is in a hallucination. He is not who he thinks he is. Later we find out that they are not lying: Quaid’s simple life as an engineer was just a rouse created by himself to fool himself, back when he was a man named Houser. So, obviously, it’s a little complicated. The point is, his memories, his family, his whole life has been manufactured for him. So is he Quaid or Houser? What makes him Quaid or Houser?

Well, what makes you who you are? Does your environment and experiences make you who you are, or are you born who you are? If there was a terrible accident and all your memories were erased, would you still be who you are? Would you still have the same favorite food? Would your favorite color change? If you were a jerk, could you become a nice person? Would you be in love with the same person you loved before you lost your memory?

Even the idea of going to a place and having memories of a vacation you never took implanted in your mind is an incredible idea (the promise of the film’s lynchpin: Recall, Inc.) What if you could go back and change memories of your past? You could remove an event that was tragic, and replace it with some inspiring day you spent with a loved one. But would that change who you are?

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The idea of your entire past being wiped out and replaced with something new is not as far-fetched as it sounds. In fact, its central to Christian beliefs. When Psalms 103 tells us that God removes our sins from us as far as the east is from the west, how far is that? East never meets west. If you started walking east would you ever run into west? Of course not. So is this what God does with your sin? Does he remove it out of your eternal being when you become a follower of Christ? How else could God not remember your sins (Hebrews 8:12)? If God has a bad memory, we are all in trouble. So it has to be that he changes the actual event. actual, genuine recreation of who we are.

Just like Quaid, we are no longer who we used to be. We are given a new identity in Christ. And even if those around us still see us as Houser, we have been changed and given a new life.

While Total Recall (1990) failed in some aspects as a film (the acting is horrible and it’s gratuitous on multiple fronts) the identity question and changing our past in order to alter the future is an intriguing concept for a film, and ultimately a great question for our lives. I have to say now that this seems like a worthwhile film for Hollywood to remake. The problem with Total Recall was in execution. But can they take a great idea for a story and execute it this time?

Or, to put it another way: can you wipe out the memory of the past and create a new future? For a movie, that remains to be seen. For our own lives, well, the answer is central to our identity.

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