Monday, 12 October 2015

Narrative and Structure: Total Recall

Figure 1: Theatrical poster (IMDb, 2012)
  For the analysis into narrative and structure I looked into the 2012 remake of the 1990 science fiction film Total Recall. In the film, factory worker Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell), bored with his life and being haunted by strange dreams, decides to visit Rekall, a business that offers the promise of providing fantasy memories of whatever you like. Quaid's visit to Rekall leads him on a tense journey though an overcrowded post-apocalyptic United Kingdom to get answers as to who he really is.

  Act One starts off with a literary exposition describing a world where a global chemical war has devastated most of the globe save for Europe (now the United Federation of Britain or UFB) and Australia (The Colony). The exposition act shows how Douglas Quaid lives a tiring life of the same routine.

  The Inciting Incident is Douglas's visit to Rekall. Immediately as the chemicals that would give him his fantasy of a super-spy enter his bloodstream he is accused by Rekall's manager (John Cho) of being a spy and everyone but Doug is shot dead by the sudden arrival of UFB soldiers. Plot Point One comes shortly after Lori Quaid (Kate Beckinsale), Doug's wife turns out to be a UFB undercover agent who then tries to kill him. Charles Hammond, an apparent friend, tells him to open a particular safety deposit box at a bank that will give him answers after Doug escapes Lori.

  Much of Act Two focuses on Doug as he tries to unravel who he is while Lori and the UFB chase him down. The Midpoint of the film is after Doug explores an apartment he apparently used to own, where a recording of himself explains everything. Not long after there is a tense scene where a friend of Doug's (Bokeem Woodbine) explains he's still in Rekall and has to wake up or risks losing himself in his fantasy.

  Plot Point Two comes after Doug and his partner Melina (Jessica Biel) evade Lori once again and travel to meet Matthias Lair (Bill Nighy) who can give him the answers he needs and the motivation to stop chancellor Cohaagen's (Bryan Cranston) plan of leveling the Colony. 

  Act Three begins when this discussion is interrupted by Cohaagen himself who assults the base, setting off the Climax as his assault culminates in strapping Doug to a chair like the one in Rekall and plans to inject him with a serum that will convert him into his former identity minus the betrayal. After he leaves for The Fall (the primary connection between the UFB and The Colony), Charles Hammond cuts Doug loose from the chair and allows him to escape. Much of Act 3 revolves around fighting to destroy The Fall, which contains the army Cohaagen planned to use against The Colony.

  After Cohaagen is killed in the explosion that destroys The Fall, Doug wakes up in a medical unit to see Melina. Who is in fact his wife in disguise. When Doug realises he kills her and thows her body out of the ambulance that saved him.

  The film's Ending at first glance appears to be a classic partial ending: Doug is a hero, he has the girl, they both look out to the sunrise and The Colony is celebrating its first act in becoming an independent nation. The one big thing that makes this film have an open ending however is one question: Did the events of the film actually happen? Did the film end within Doug's fantasy? In the midpoint Doug's friend Harry appears between him and an army of UFB armed response soldiers explaining that he's running the risk of losing himself in the fantasy, acting like he's fully aware of the mechanics of the fantasy while Melina is screaming that it's all a UFB trick. So the question is raised if shooting Harry was a point-of-no-return. Or was Rekall's manager right that Doug was in fact as spy as he changed his tune right as the chemicals entered Doug's bloodstream.

  These questions likely stem from one moment: there is no cinematic change between the moments before and after the manager is aware of Doug being a super-spy. The way the shot is assembled it is as though, out of the blue, the manager of Rekall realises his checks missed something out. We are treated to a series of voices after the explosion of The Fall, memories about what was said about memories and Rekall as Doug wakes up in an ambulance. All seems like it might be real until Melina (who Doug had no idea of outside his dreams) appears beside him, but it turns out to be his homicidal wife and Melina is outside.

Image References

  • Figure 1: IMDb, 2012; [Theatrical Poster]; Total Recall (2012) Poster; available at (last accessed 13th October 2015)

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