Reviews

Partial, 'Total Recall'

Movie remakes always recall what came before, and given that this one recalls a movie about recalling -- and remaking -- its drawing attention to these very activities might have been clever.


Total Recall

Director: Len Wiseman
Cast: Colin Farrell, Bryan Cranston, Bokeem Woodbine, Bill Nighy, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, John Cho
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Year: 2012
US date: 2012-08-03 (General release)
UK date: 2012-08-29 (General release)
Website
Trailer

I've been having these dreams. It feels like I'm doing something that matters, something important, you know?

--Doug (Colin Farrell)

"Goddamned resistance." Lori (Kate Beckinsale) has just received a call, the kind she hates. She's a cop in the Colony, see, which means she's living in a squalid walkup in a city where it always rains. When she gets this call, at the beginning of the new Total Recall, she's just getting up, wearing sexy undershirts and distracting her unhappy husband, Doug (Colin Farrell) with what you know to be calculated kisses.

The scene closes as she leaves to answer that call, still teasing Doug, still trying to get his mind off his bad dreams, wherein he and Melina (Jessica Biel) are running from men with guns. He's just awakened from one of these dreams when Lori's phone vibrates (a quaintly 20th century technology lingering into 2084), at which point their kissing stops and they both lay out the lies that structure their relationship: he leaves out any mention of Melina and she leaves out the fact that she's a secret agent who's only pretending to be his wife.

So here's the problem and also the pleasure of the new Total Recall, that you know more than everyone you're watching. Most likely, you know because you recall Paul Verhoeven's movie, the one with Arnold Schwarzenegger as Doug, the great Rachel Ticotin as Melina, and Sharon Stone as the wife ("Considuh dat a divorce!"). Your memory helps you to spot the allusions to the Verhoeven -- the three-breasted woman, the hero's use of human shields, the chair with straps and headgear, and the frightful needle that's "still the best way to get chemicals into the human body" -- all making what's on screen less a movie than a game of correspondences.

As concepts go, this isn't terrible. Movie remakes always recall what came before, and given that this one recalls a movie about recalling -- and remaking -- its drawing attention to these very activities might have been clever. But the 2012 Total Recall is more cumbersome than clever, because it doesn't do much beyond re-raising the question the 1990 movie raised already, the question more effectively posed in Phillip K. Dick's source story, "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale." On its face, this question is existential: How do memories construct a sense of self over time, so that each morning you wake up with an idea of who you are, based on where you are and who's next to you, recollected from the day -- weeks, years -- before? And how would it matter if these memories were not "yours," but implanted?

So far, so like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"] (or Blade Runner, referenced here by rainy, Asianish sets). The next-step trick in "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" and the Recalls is the commercial conundrum: it's not just that you may not be who you think you are, but also that you may have made choices (even paid money) during a self-making process, suggesting that you have a self that made choices to make (or remake) a self. Here that mechanism is the business called Rekall, where you're injected with chemicals affecting your brain, that is, your memories, that is, yourself. Supposedly, the sales pitch has it, you might return to your daily life -- in Doug's case, exceptionally depressing manual labor, producing sentries intended to police them, the manual laborers (see: THX 1138 or The Matrix).

Here, those laborers not only make the means of their physical oppression, but they also use their meager payments to purchase the means of their psychic oppression (chemicals that become memories). Here, as well, the state of the laborers is turned into the emplacement of workers (Doug) in the Colony and the work (and profits) in the United Federation of Britain, the only two inhabitable continents left on earth following some apocalyptic chemical warfare. The workers commute from one side of the planet to the other via a train through the earth's core called -- so odiously -- the Fall.

Most obviously, the Fall literalizes the divide between the UFB, run by the assertory Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston), and the poor, also known as the "goddamned resistance," whose leader is the barely seen Matthias (Bill Nighy). The metaphor -- necessary because the mechanics are impossible -- is better. Each morning, Doug and his worker buddy Harry (Bokeem Woodbine) strap themselves in to the train, turn upside down as gravity reverses; each evening, they reverse the trip, then get drunk before they go home and wake to do the same thing the next day.

If Doug's complaint -- they sit in the "exact same seats" on the train, go to the same bar, drink the same shit beer -- suggests his essential 99%-ness, the movie is less interested in class politics than in the question of identity. Here, that means he's a Bourneishly skilled fighter named Hauser, repeatedly surprised at what he can do and also by directives issuing from video versions of himself as Hauser, or Hauser as his proto-self: "I hope that somewhere inside of you, you're still me," one Doug tells the other. What does that even mean, you can see the wheels grinding over Doug's face: is he a double agent? A loyal Cohaagenist? A reborn rebel? When Hauser reminds Doug that his political remaking was inspired by "a woman" (Melina), who helped him to see what was wrong with the world, that is, his previous self, well, that's a romance of the cheesiest sort. In this fiction, it must be true.

This moment, enacted in Hauser's apartment, obviously recalls Arnold listening to himself as Hauser. And like that moment in the old film, it also encourages you to think about your position as a viewer of multiply reflected selves, selves that are fantasies and memories, projections and desires. Here those selves are extra-actionated, engaging in 3D-chess-space chases, parkour-style stunts, and raucous shootouts, but also hardly bloodied. This makes the question of who anyone might be at a point in time or space immaterial. When, during late scenes of supposed action-amping, the gravity reversals on the Fall turn into vague slow-motiony ballets rather than grating changes of weight and orientation. Bodies don't matter, they can't resist. They just capitulate.

4

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
9
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image