10 July 2008

Writing on Reading: We Can Remember It for You Wholesale

I recently reread "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale", 1966, by Philip K. Dick and watched the movie based on it, "Total Recall", 1990. This short story is excellent and I recommend it. Briefly, the plot is: an ordinary guy wants to go to Mars but can't afford it, so he decides to go to a company that offers to implant secret-agent memories of Mars. When they attempt this, however, things go wrong, and it appears the fellow really is an undercover agent with suppressed memories. The government then tries to kill him because his 'cover' is blown but he makes a deal to have his Martian secret-agent memories suppressed and in compensation, will get some other false memories implanted. When they go to implant the new false memories...real memories of THOSE events are also already there! I admit I'm being vague, but I don't want to ruin it for you. The point is, there's a twist and then there's another twist! Wow! :) Rarely do you read a short story with well-executed multiple twists.

IMHO, the movie "Total Recall" is only superficially like the story, dealing with a seemingly ordinary fellow who wants to go to Mars, can't, and tries to get memory implants but all kinds of trouble ensues. Personally, I really enjoy this movie because it is very ambiguous. Did the protag experience the adventures or were they implanted memories? Was it real? Or was it Rekall? :) I have it on good authority that the director Paul Verhoeven was ambiguous on purpose.

Upon careful review, however, I have a new interpretation: I think the entire movie is a dream. Why? Because of Melina. The protag, Quaid, dreams of Melina in the first scene...what if he never wakes up? I don't see any other way for the SAME woman to appear in Quaid's dream, on Rekall's computer, and on Mars. If Melina is a real woman, Quaid could dream about her and interact with her on Mars--in this case the events are not implanted memories--but then how would she be on Rekall's computer? On the other hand, if Melina is an implanted memory, she would be on the Rekall computer and in the fake Mars events--but in that case how would she be in his dream before the protag goes to Rekall? Moreover, at the end of the movie, Quaid asks 'What if this is all a dream?' and Melina says, 'Kiss me quick before you wake up.'

What do you think?


Anonymous said...

I thought I understood the movie, but that was before I permitted you to implantat a false memory so now I remember that what I knew was not . . . thanks a lot!

Professor Cyclops said...

Re. Total Recall: I came to the very same conclusion as Lesleysmith for the very same reason: How could Melina be in the first scene, Quaid's dream, if the rest of the movie weren't also part of the same intricate dream? The novelization of the film says that the trip to Mars is real and offers an alternate explanation: Melina used to be a model. That's why Melina's face was visible on the monitor at Rekall. Earlier, Quaid dreamed he had been on Mars with a woman whose face he'd probably seen in a Rekall ad.
In short, the movie is all a dream. Yet the novelization is about a real trip to Mars. So, take your pick!