Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Recall/Rekall: Memories Of Dreams & Total Recall

The first ten minutes completely convinced me that Len Wiseman’s Total Recall would be an anti-capitalist film, and the film does that intentionally, because it’s mirroring the deception of appearances so prevalent in our political culture today. The film is, however, wholly capitalist and accuses the Obama administration of dark deeds and plans. Two definite yet small background props alert us to this: a piece of paper and a tin can.
As always, this post contains spoilers! The film begins under the scenario that global chemical warfare has rendered most of the earth uninhabitable, and only “Great Britain” (Europe) and Australia are habitable; workers from Great Britain are transported through the earth’s core to Australia everyday to work in factories, then transported back.  The vehicle allowing transportation of workers so rapidly is called “The Fall,” and this is imperative to the film and its political agenda.
The reason I was so easily fooled in the first ten minutes is because the Resistance movement in the film advocates “workers rights” and Carl Hauser (Colin Farrell) is passed over for a promotion at his factory by someone from the outside who is better educated and schooled, which could both be taken as anti-capitalist stances, but that’s the genius of the film: the Resistance fighters are making people realize that socialism doesn’t treat workers fairly and it’s in socialism that workers don’t get to advance, but have to stay on the assembly line all their lives, the real purpose of capitalism is to give workers--not only their rights--but advancement chances and opportunities for self-fulfillment. Even though Dennis (Colin Farrell's other name) has been working overtime and exceeding all his quotas, hard work isn't rewarded in socialism.
The opening sequence which turns out to be a dream. Carl Hauser and Melina (Jessica Biel) are escaping. Melina unplugged Carl from a machine and woke him up, after turning out the power in a state run hospital. Symbolically, these actions alert us to the implied viewers of the film: those who supported/voted for President Obama in 2008 who have been hooked up to the machine of the liberal media. Once the "power" has been turned off his campaign, however, the "Resistance" (capitalism) can help carry out the plans for people to take control again. As Carl and Melina escape, a gunshot goes through both their hands, making it possible for her to identify herself to him later after he's been brainwashed.
The Fall, the transport system, is targeted by the Resistance with their slogans, “Workers deserve equality, The Fall exploits us all,”  and that’s why one would believe that it’s a socialist film because those are the platform points of Marxism; Total Recall wants us to recall that workers rights and opportunity is also the platform of capitalism, and the chance to capitalize on your skills, talents and hard work.  To really drive this point home, Lori (Kate Beckinsale) later tells Carl, do you really think someone with your background and education could end up with someone like me? Because in socialism, there is no class mobility, there are only two classes: the proletariat (the workers) and the party members (the elite that live better than the workers).
Lori is an anti-terrorist cop who is “married” to Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell). What really happened is that Carl Hauser (Colin Farrell), the government’s most elite agent, infiltrated the Resistance movement and then turned against the government when he realized what the real situation was (what the Resistance really stood for and the lies the government was feeding him, rather like the resistance movement the Tea Party and the liberal media). Carl was captured and his memory “erased” and he was given a new set of memories, including that he (now Douglas Quaid) had been married to Lori for seven years and they had been childhood sweethearts when in fact, Lori hadn’t known him except for the last six weeks of the story. Kate Beckinsale was a good choice for this role for two reasons: first, her usual roles are those involving fight sequences and she’s really advanced her craft in this area; secondly, we’re used to seeing her as a vampire (the Underworld series) and several shots invoked that image we, the informed viewers of films, have of the actress, especially the last shot of her dead, dressed all in black with blood coming from her face, really seemed to summon that vampire image for the audience and how that vampire is tied to what she works for: socialism. Lori is a great character because of the subtle ways in which she injects doses of socialism into the film: who gets everything they fantasize about, she asks Dennis? "Fantasize" would be a way to understand how socialists see and understand the American Dream, but it's precisely through his dreams that Dennis discovers he's really Carl and the best secret agent in the world.
The Fall; first, why is the government’s primary transport called “the Fall?” It’s a perfect, yet ambiguous play on words, possibly referencing several things at once without any means of pinpointing which exactly. It could refer to the “fall” in the US credit rating being the vehicle driving America towards socialism, or, because The Fall is destroyed by crashing and burning, it might refer to the Wall Street crash of 2008. It could also refer to the "fall" from power which many Americans experienced towards the end of the Bush administration, making it possible for Obama to take office (and this is what I personally think it refers to): there is the fall from the top of the economic ladder, the fall in personal savings, personal worth and assets, etc. Let's remember, there is also a "fall" in Men In Black (when Will Smith's character has to "get really high" and then fall so he can go back into the past) and a dramatic fall in The Avengers when Tony Stark (Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr) falls from outer space back onto the street of New York and is saved by the Hulk.
Carl Hauser starts out wimpy like the Amazing Spider Man, Captain America, Aaron Cross (The Bourne Legacy) and only after his "memory cap" has been popped does he start remembering who he is. Why is this theme recurring so much nowadays? There has been a shift since the 1950s that I will discuss next week, but, in short, these men's bodies and powers are being utilized as symbols for the economy, which has been weak and sluggish, but through circumstances, now becomes super-powerful (the history of film will help us understand this better). Being able to play the piano is the “key” to understanding how, doing what he wanted to do (when he's still wimpy Dennis Quaid he says he wishes he knew how to play the piano and doesn't realize he knows how until he gets back to his old, glamorous apartment and sets down to the piano and starts to play), and not being commanded by the control center government is the “key” of discovering who he is (one of the piano keys is an actual key to unlocking a pre-memory wipe message from himself).
Besides Lori's talk about "fantasizing" about wanting things, and her remarks that the factory worker Dennis Quaid wouldn't have been good enough to get her in real-life, what else establishes the film as socialist? A piece of paper. As Dennis/Carl begins figuring out what has been going on, Carl goes to a bank with a safety deposit box and takes out a Bourne Identity styled briefcase with weapons, passports and money; on one of the bills is a picture of Obama, meaning, the society which Carl Hauser had turned and started fighting against owed its existence to the Obama administration which has "funded" everything the Cohaagan government is now in a position to do. It's a quick reference and takes only a second, but this tell-tale sign, along with the next symbol, makes for a powerful commentary.
Carl Hauser with who used to be his boss, prime minister Cohaagen, who has planted most of the bombs blamed on the Resistance (rather like rioting and looting blamed on the Tea Party) and now plans to launch an invasion of the colony to take that over and bring it under his control as well. He doesn't have to be taken as a symbol of Obama, but he certainly is the fruit borne of the Obama administration. Cohaagen tries stabbing Hauser in the back, only to have Hauser use Cohaagen's own knife to kill him, which is probably what's going to happen in the November elections.
Carl has to go to the "no-zone" where the Resistance leader Matthias (Bill Nighy) hides out, which just happens to be a devastated New York City (we can tell by the ad for Phantom Of the Opera on a bus, which happens to be the second reference this year to the musical, the other being in Oliver Stone's Savages). Of all the repeating motifs in films, perhaps devastation (or threat to) New York City has been the most common, please consider, for example, The Dark Knight RisesThe Avengers and Men In Black. Why? As the financial capital of the world, New York City is also the ultimate symbol of capitalism itself, the Big Apple where everyone can take a bite out of the American Dream. For NYC to be destroyed is for the American way of life to be destroyed, and that's clearly the intention of Total Recall if you look carefully on one shelf,...
As Carl waits to go in to see Matthias, on a shelf with some tins of food is a royal blue can with SUCCESS written in gold letters. Yes, that is the ultimate association we are to make with the Resistance (and it's not a coincidence that President Obama gave an anti-success speech not long ago, the "You didn't do that," speech) because success as such doesn't exist in socialism and, as Total Recall wants to make us fully aware of, when success doesn't exist, neither does the human person, in more ways than one. For example, when Dennis/Carl goes looking for Rekall, he talks to a prostitute with three breasts; why? it's not radical capitalism and a marketing game she's entered, she's had her breasts altered because she doesn't exist as a human, she's only an animal whose dignity of the human body doesn't matter. This is part of the "war on women" which Total Recall puts into the political landscape today in order to make women think of what's going to happen to us. 
Total Recall invokes a number of films (regrettably, I have not seen the original Total Recall and I am confident there are references to that film, I just wasn’t able to catch them). Memento (leaving messages for one’s self and not being able to remember), Inception (Cobb and Fisher), The Truman Show (second reference this year with The Cabin In the Woods) as well as the vast body of common references shared with films being released now. It's important to keep track because it allows us to catch references we might miss otherwise, as well as validates points we see in one film that we find being made in another film later.
Like so many films, including the socialist films Dark Shadows, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, The Descendants, Savages and Ice Age 4, Total Recall challenges how we remember our history and what the original purpose of the country was. First, there is the repeated idea of who we are in the person of Dennis Quaid/Carl Hauser--who we are as a country (I will be better able to articulate this next week on my Hollywood Scorecard No. 2 I will be posting after I have seen The Bourne Legacy). Secondly, there is the clash and war between two different ways of life symbolized by marriage partners (Dark Shadows, The Descendants). This is the very real and important intellectual battle raging in the country right now of whether or not the US was meant to be a socialist country--and the "founding fathers" hijacked it for their own greedy purposes--or if America was always meant to be a capitalist country from the very start and the founding fathers created a government framework which would facilitate a free market. Total Recall comes definitely on the side of the later.
Jessica Biel as the First Liuetenant to Matthias in the Resistance. Her position, countered against Lori's in the socialist government, adds a more professional dimension to the war on women being battled out between today's two political parties, rather like Jennifer Lopez's character in Ice Age 4. In Total Recall, the two women symbolize the different identities of America, Lori being the "fake wife" and enforcer of the socialist government, while Melina is the natural love of Carl and the fighter in the Resistance/capitalist movement. This is similar to the wife's cheating on her husband in The Descendants, and the two men sharing the O. in Savages, even one of the strippers "sharing" his wife with the Kid in Magic Mike.  As in Ice Age 4, part of the core of the political discourse today is what is natural and what is unnatural.
There's another reference the film makes: Marilyn Monroe's 1955 comedy The Seven Year Itch. Lori makes the comment, after Dennis/Carl realizes he isn't really married to Lori, about him having the "seven year itch," and in Magic Mike, Channing Tatum wears Monroe's iconic dress from the film. These two decidedly capitalist films invoking the same film draws our attention to a underground discourse: like The Seven Year Itch, American voters got upset with the policies of the Bush Administration and have "had a fling" but there really wasn't a fling afterall, just the illusion of one; as the dutiful husband runs off after his family and to be reunited with his wife in the end (instead of pursuing a no-future romance with Marilyn Monroe) so, too, the American voter will go back to the rightful and genuine marriage America made: capitalism.
The socialist city of the future.
One of the Resistance's political slogans in the film, "wake up to the truth," can be applied to all of us, fallen asleep in the easy American way of life, and now--if we haven't all ready been woken up by the "fall" of our economic personal power--films such as Total Recall, The Avengers, Men In Black and The Dark Knight Rises are certainly trying to awaken us to realize the consequences of the current polticial dissension in the atmosphere. The implied viewers of the film, those audience members the film particularly wants to address, are those who voted for Obama in 2008 who are now being called upon to be “double agents” in the real sense of the word.
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