A film from another era, located on the threshold of digital technology and its infinite plasticity, Total Recall (1990) – adapted from Memories for Sale, a science fiction short story by Philip K. Dick published in 1966 – is not. least one of the first fantasy films to situate its action on concomitantly divergent levels of reality.

Seduced by the duality of the story – which can be read from start to finish in two different ways – the Dutch director Paul Verhoeven (RoboCop, 1987) exacerbates both the violence and the political significance.

Arnold Schwarzenegger plays, in an undetermined future where humanity has colonized the Solar System, a worker named Douglas Quaid, who dreams of going to the planet Mars without having the means. For lack of anything better, he resorts to the company Rekall Inc., which offers its clients the opportunity to inseminate them with amazing memories: he agrees to a two-week contract of Martian memory during which he would have been a secret agent on a mission on this planet.

Repeated twists and turns

While Quaid is anesthetized, the protocol is abruptly interrupted when specialists realize that he is a real secret agent, whose memory has been deliberately erased. Awakened without being given a reason, the man will then be constantly chased and confronted with bloody adventures which lead him, in fact, to the Red Planet, where a consortium, fought by the local resistance, shamelessly exploits resources and populations.

The fascination that arises from this film is due to its Möbius ribbon aspect, ingeniously maintained throughout the plot by repeated twists and turns. Two hypotheses, suggested by the story itself, allow us to understand the plot without one ever taking precedence over the other. The first is that the spectacle we are witnessing is nothing other than the memory program installed by Rekall Inc., in which the interruption of the programming process would precisely be the inaugural point of the implemented sequence. The second is that Douglas Quaid was indeed awakened during the operation, that he is a secret agent named Hauser looking for his memory.

Verhoeven wants this helical plot to be open and operational until the end, the better to indulge in multiple twists to the orthodoxy of the blockbuster. The film is a subtle and corrosive reflection on the mental influence of the Hollywood spectacle, on the consenting alienation that results from it.

Playing on power (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and charm (Sharon Stone, who plays his wife), Total Recall seems to exorcise the synthetic future of images, and possibly of the world, this near moment when nothing and no one will be able to thwart a program that has become indistinguishable. A film for cinephiles, that is to say, for those possessed and smugglers.