What do you Remember?
Today we are going to look at three different things, sorta… kinda…
Actually it is all the same thing but in three different forms. What the hell am I talking about? Simple really, “We can Remember it for you Wholesale”, or in the more popular form, Total Recall.
For some this story will always be remembered by the movie that Arnold Schwarzenegger brought to the screen. That’s right, back before he became the governator and then aging action hero. But I digress.
Anyway, the main story was based on something Philip K. Dick wrote a while back (first publishined in 1966 in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction)and like many of his works that made it to movies, the movie people took the ideas and made something bigger or crazier or something…
The basis of the story revolves around the idea of a bucket list. Though the term has grown into fashion recently the concept has been around for so much longer. The character the reader is introduced to, Douglas Quail, is an unassuming clerk. He has big dreams but they are simply that, dreams. He has no way to achieve such aspirations based on where he is stationed in life. Philip K. Dick took that concept of the bucket list and turned it on its ear.
On its own this concept can give a strong drive to the story. But this is speculative fiction; it needs a fantastical element as the main impetus for how the story plays out. In the case of “We can Remember it for you Wholesale” the reader is presented with a business that can implant realistic memories of trips and achievements they would never be able to experience on their own. This plays on the idea that everything we experience whether real or simulated is real through our memories.
The problem that drives the story comes into play when it is realized that Douglas Quail really had been a secret agent. His real knowledge and actions are enough to have him killed if he is captured.
The technology used for memory manipulation isn’t well detailed within the story. But that alone is irrelevant compared to the thoughts behind how experience and memories play a role in how we interpret the world around us.
There is a plot twist within the story itself that can be problematic for the reader. In the effort to suppress the spy memories it is suggested that Mr. Quail adopt a different, more earth shaking memory to cover it, something that can essentially be more powerful than his other memories. Through the narrative it is discovered that the memory that is suggested is actually one he already possesses. The problem comes in that a psychiatrist suggested the memory to him. He said nothing of it first. The details were not exactly the same but close enough to cause a question of doubt in the wary reader.
In the end, with memory manipulation on this level the reader is left with questions of what is now real or what is imagined within the story. It is possible that this is not the first time that Mr. Quail has experienced this string of events.
This is the power of the narrative. We as a reader learn only what the world in front of us shows us. With that we are left much like the characters in the story and why would we take a chance that the events that happened in Quail’s (In the written version the main character is Douglas Quail but in the movies the name is changed to Douglas Quaid) memory are not the true events that had happened? For those of us who love movies and stories this is essentially Inception long before that movie came about.
As I just mentioned the name change of the main character, this would be a good point in time to jump into the movies themselves. Well that and the basic premise is out of the way, so we should get into the other stuff.
The biggest change within the movies is the way they built on the initial idea within the story. In both movies they basic thought pattern is there; boring guy has big dreams and goes to the place where he can get memories of accomplishing them, and then it turns out he has already lived them. But from there everything changes.
The initial movie (Schwarzenegger’s 1990 version) follows the path of the book a bit closer than the second movie (Colin Farrell’s 2012 version), because it has ties to Mars and spy work done on the red planet. But when you examine the movies the differences between them are simply variation on the McGuffin that drives each film. They are both involved in some kind of conspiracy that used memory manipulation to cover it up and Quaid is at the center of the entire narrative. After that the differences are really nothing more than window dressing.
This is the crazy part of the premise of each movie. They follow the path of the book to a point, but then expand on the ideas and take the viewer deeper into the narrative. When I say that everything else is window dressing, I mean to say that the other major differences happened because of the technology they had available for the special effects and story world.
In the 1990 version they based most of the movie on Mars where the characters spent most of their time underground. The vehicles and settings made it easier to have man made sets and vehicles that required only minor modifications to make them appear different and strange. This all changed with the 2012 version. CGI came into play full force in the movie. Instead of indoor sets and settings there were many scenes that appeared to be outside with futuristic vehicles and equipment. The CGI created a world outside of what we currently know.
Changes like this made it possible to create the world of the 2012 version of the movie where there was a travel pipeline through the center of the earth to allow people to cross the globe in a quick jaunt (not in the original story at all). But this is the trouble with remakes. They can’t make exactly the same movie as they have already done, or what would be the point of going to see it.
For me, one of the bigger things I loved from the second movie was the ties to the original. There were moments all through the movie that were pinnacle moments from the first, and they were used in a way to pay homage to the work that came before. The most classic is the disguise that blows up before Quaid is able to travel. In the 1990 version Arnold is disguised as a woman. In the 2012 version they have a woman who looks almost identical to the original in the same place. The dialogue in that moment is exactly the same as the first movie as well. But we find that we were played, the explosive mask is actually the person behind her.
After all that, I suppose we might be wondering what about any of this matters really. Well aside from the internet rage that comes on discussion forums about which version is better and which is more true to the source material (neither and both), there are a few things we can take away from all this.
The first is of course, how can we examine and build upon the source material of a story. When you consider there are no new stories under the sun (sad to say but all plots have already been used before you sit down to write), we have to look at the stories that have come before us and figure out how those work into the world of the stories we tell. No matter what the baseline is, no story told by two different people will ever be exactly the same. We will always have differences, some huge, some subtle but the differences will always be there.
The second thing, and probably the hardest for most of us to swallow, is we can find stories that are exactly true to their source material and they will be good stories in their own right. Sometimes it can be difficult for us to accept that the story that plays in our mind is not the same as what others might see. That is when some of the biggest story battles happen.
And now I will leave you with a final thought, boobs. Or more importantly three boobed hookers. The hooker with three breasts shows up in both movies, but she doesn’t exist in the original story. No matter how you want to look at it, the image is an iconic image from the movies. Though she doesn’t exist in the written version there is an analogue. In the text the secretary for Rekal spends every scene she is mentioned in, with her breasts hanging out. But each time we come across her, they are covered with a different color of phosphorescent paint. That is one way to stay memorable in a story…
But wait there’s more…
I know, I know, you can’t get enough of the wit and wisdom that is me. Well you are in luck. Over at The Gal in the Blue Mask I am sharing some “random” thoughts on horror. That’s right, we are getting close to Halloween and we are in the season of Cthulhumas. Time to get some jolly…