Total Recall and YA Literature

I watched Total Recall on channel four, where it was interrupted midway through by an awkward newscast that lasted half an hour. Apart from reminding me of why I hate watching things on TV rather than streaming them, it gave me time to reflect. What I realised, as that man wittered away about the state of the world, about the rounding up of Ozie’s, about the arrival of the Watcher Clan, was that the reason I was enjoying Total Recall so strongly was for the same reasons I adore much of YA literature. It was about the discovery of places that are built around implausible ideas, and yet feel distinctly plausible nevertheless. In the case of Total Recall the ideas circle around capitalist extremes taking place on mars, strange mutations, and the discovery of alien artefacts. In the Hunger Games there are the themes of an elite society, a battle to the death teenagers are forced to take part in. The Knife of Never Letting Go has its noise, the ability to hear everyone else’s thoughts. They’re all, conceptually, rather unlikely ideas. The joy comes in discovering the uncomfortably realistic world that has been built around them.

The world of Total Recall feels not at all dissimilar to our own. More than most sci-fi it doesn’t feel as preposterous thanks to its reliance on many ideas, rather than just the one. The central concept that drives the story, that memories can be changed, implanted, and taken away, is not core to the whole society. It’s just one idea alongside many that form a rich, textured universe we barely even scratch the surface of during the film. It makes the world seem more tangible because it’s complicated. You have to grasp more than one simple idea to understand how things are the way they are.

This complexity feels strange in the midsts of a Schwarzenegger action film. I tend to tune out of big long fight scenes because I know that in the end, the good guy will have won and nothing else about the story will have changed. What kept my sleep-sticky eyes glued to the screen during Total Recall, however, were the things going on in the background. The world worked. Doors that had to remain shut to keep the oxygen in check remained shut, and became part of the action. Poor streets packed to bursting with street sellers and mutants were beautifully textured, an ocean of foreign materials, products and voices. Even the bad guys, all suits and careful glares, give you little insights into the world. Even at its most violent, Total Recall lets you investigate its world.

Lots of good YA does this same thing. They take your hand and drag you kicking and screaming through their world, giving you just enough information to piece it all together and not enough so that you can see the cracks. Throughout it all, however, they tether you alongside characters you root for, and care about, and want to see win. Total Recall, for me, stumbled in this department. I found the main character a bit of an Ozie, if I’m honest. He was violent and angry and a bit rubbish. But even that makes sense, once the plot unfolds. And that’s the most important, and most difficult thing. Creating characters that make sense. When your leading an audience through a world they’ve never seen before, it’s difficult not to give them a straight out cypher, someone who knows as little as The Watcher Clan knows about us. Katniss belongs in the world of the hunger games just as Schwarzenegger’s Douglas Quaid is absolutely a product of Total Recalls world. He lives and breathes the lives he’s had, and belongs in a way that only makes the whole place feel more real. He has ties to the world, such as a dream to visit mars, a wife and a daily routine. He is rooted in humanity, but the sort of humanity that would exist should our own society become closer to this imagined one. He belongs in this implausible world, which is impressive to say the least.

One more thing that’s worth mentioning when it comes to the film, something the YA literature I’m so pointlessly comparing it to doesn’t replicate, is the disgusting, beautiful effects work. Something these ancient movies do so well is effects, creating creatures and bodies that feel so much more realistic than the CGI crafted beasts of today. One scene in which you see a mutation take place is so intense, so clearly there, it made me want to run to the phone and go tell the police I had an Ozie right here, right in my bedroom. So tangible are the results, so fun to watch, it’s unthinkable that we don’t use more practical effects today.

I’m going to have to end this review in a second because I’ve only got fifty holo-credits left and I want to save some to call my mum later, but I think I’ve got most of my points across. I know a lot of people think we’re weird, digging so far back through the archives to watch movies like this. Total Recall, however, is a prime example of why this kind of archaeology can be worth it. It’s a brilliant film, and one that inspires me to do more of this kind of research.

So yeah, thanks for reading. Next week I’ll be reviewing the original Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Today’s reboot series of novels is of course a phenomenon, so it’ll be interesting to see if the originals hold up. Did you know the original is only three books long? Fascinating. Anyway, goodbye, and as always, keep yourself safe.

6 thoughts on “Total Recall and YA Literature

  1. I feel the same way why I watch movies on a tv channel..notably somewhat irritating for its abrupt cut of a movie which transitions to adverts. Gosh I remember watching this movie and being terrified of its inhabitants that roam such a world. False memories into people’s brain is a challenging feat to over come if ever..and the memory of the face popping scene and three breasted lady is forever imprinted in my mind. Paul Verhoeven is terrific director who’s made some brilliant movies .

    ” in 30 seconds you’ll be dead and I’ll blow this place up and be home in time for cornflakes”.

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    1. I had no idea Paul Verhoeven made this film as I was watching it, the only other film of his I’ve seen is his nazi movie ‘Black Book’ which I thought was good, so maybe I should check out some of his other stuff. And the imagery in Total Recall is very striking, I can see how it stayed with you, the eye popping in particularly is something I can remember uncomfortably clearly when I think about it.

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      1. If they’re anything like Total Recall I think I might really enjoy them, I love sci fi when it’s done well, films like Arrival make me really pine for more good space things. perhaps I should be looking backwards to older sci fi like Paul verhoeven’s work rather than waiting for something new to turn up.

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      2. Arrival surprised me with it’s lovely entrance to such a sci fi movie. I think that’s a wide move to make. Movies like The Thing, Ghostbusters and Back to the Future and Blade Runner of a few to mention were just very special in how the writing was introduced and it really took my heart.

        I could suggest District 9 (2009), The Martian (2015), Ex Machina (2015), Moon (2009) that were very entertaining movies of the genre to be made. ☺

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      3. You have just made my list of movies to watch a whole lot bigger 🙂 I love The Martian book so I’ll probably start there

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