Total Recall: The Sequel
Copyright © 2005 by Stephen W. Potts. All rights reserved.
When Arnold Schwarzenegger ran for the governorship during California’s recall election in October 2003, he limned himself as the Übermensch challenging the entrenched institutions and “special interests” of a corrupt republic. Naturally he played off of his Hollywood image as a people’s hero, a cunning brute who in movie after movie took on ruthless higher powers — alien predators, vicious capitalists, reality show hosts — and beat them bloody for the betterment for all.
Culture critic Gary Indiana, in his new book Schwarzenegger Syndrome, takes on the celebrity image that the body-builder turned actor carefully crafted in order to turn politician. It is the one we see in numerous films, such as the 1990 vehicle Total Recall, inspired by author Philip K. Dick‘s short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale.” Here — you totally recall — the Schwarz begins as Everyman Douglas Quaid, married to a boring job and a bitchy but beautiful wife, played by Sharon Stone (whose career would open up under this movie’s director Paul Verhoeven in the subsequent Basic Instinct). Quaid has a fantasy about being a secret agent on Mars, and in this near future world he visits a shady operation, the eponymous Total Recall, that can implant a convincing memory of this alternate life.
When the fantasy appears to come true, Quaid first blows away his wife amid gore and humorous ripostes and heads for Mars. The Mars colony turns out to be a Langian Metropolis where an oppressed class labors and suffers under a vicious capitalist named Kohaagen. Because he runs his operation with no concerns for the health and environmental conditions of his workers, they thus end up distorted by horribly disfiguring mutations. Wandering among them, Quaid is mistaken for one Hauser, a thug who led Kohaagen’s brutal police action against a worker rebellion. Quaid soon learns that he is in fact Hauser, his memory wiped to better infiltrate the opposition.
Quaid links up with a rebel romantic interest, Malina, before almost single-handedly overcoming Kohaagen, sending him to a horrible death on the Martian surface, and liberating an entire planet’s worth of atmosphere. The movie ends with Quaid and Malina, surveying a newly living, breathing Martian landscape.
So much for the image as Savior of the People. In reality, the Schwarz’s biggest political backers expected him to make an end run around the democratic process and a Democratic legislature by buying special elections, just like the election that put him into power, funded by a monied Republican recall campaign. The millions paid out by corporate contributors, as he promised them from coast to coast, would generate privately backed initiatives and petition signatures and hours of television advertising to propel these propositions into law. Schwarzenegger got a lot of mileage out of threatening the Democratic leadership of the state legislature with irrelevance, as Caesar-like he took his case “directly to the people.” He assumed, as did everyone up to now, that his celebrity appeal made him unstoppable.
Only a few months ago petitions were circulating online and in several states aimed at a constitutional amendment to “Help Arnold” (oh yes, and maybe other immigrants) by removing the obstacles between the foreign-born and the White House. Shortly thereafter, however, the Schwarz began to get into trouble when he targeted as “special interests” the public servants of California — to wit, teachers, nurses, firemen, policemen — in order to attack their pensions, protections, and unions. At the same time, he was accepting millions of dollars in contributions across the country from those in the private sector who saw California — with its relatively advanced consumer, environmental, and labor protections — as the perfect battleground for turning back the clock in preparation for this century’s global economy (see “The Empire Strikes Home“).
Unfortunately, when he called his own private election for this upcoming November to pass his agenda, two-thirds of the people of the state concluded that the election was a waste of scarce California resources. It hasn’t helped him that the teachers, nurses, and other public servants he has alienated regularly show up at his PR events to rally against him, or that they appear in frequent TV ads to observe “our special interest is the education of your children” or “the care of your sick and aged.”
In the middle of July Schwarzenegger’s true relationship to special interests finally became an issue throughout the state, when it emerged that at the beginning of his governorship, just as he generously refused to accept his half million dollar state salary, he was signing an eight-million dollar agreement with a company, American Media, that produces body-building magazines. Under the terms of the contract, he would produce regular columns and “further the business objectives” of the publisher. Among other acts, that apparently required the Schwarz to veto a piece of legislation that would have forbade the use of nutrional supplements in the state’s high school athletic programs, a bill that had no political opponents except his corporate cronies.
We don’t hear quite as much now about changing the Constitution to make Arnold president. Some may even wonder whether — like his celebrity predecessor, wrestler and Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura — he wouldn’t rather go back to the entertainment industry, where endorsing products (and groping starlets) is part of the job.
Therefore, we offer hereafter a vehicle tailored for his return to the big screen, one that updates the actor’s public image. What could be more appropriate in this age of sequels than Total Recall II?
As the movie opens, a few years have passed. In the head office of the company that runs the Mars colony, we see Schwarzenegger’s character in charge, having been lifted by popular acclamation to that position after the death of Kohaagen. A secretary with three breasts, her dual cleavage plainly visible over her tailored office suit, announces that Malina has arrived. Not waiting for permission, a more mature, better dressed Malina enters, and wastes no time in warning the hero that another rebellion is hatching among the workers. They are not happy that their expectations for better wages, better health care, and better working conditions have been squashed on the grounds that there is insufficient money in the company’s budget. It has become increasingly clear that, despite the nominal change in leadership, policies have not altered significantly since Kohaagen’s demise. And, on a personal note, Malina suspects that Quaid has been groping his triple-breasted mutant secretary. As his advisor in public relations to the people, she doesn’t know how much longer she can make excuses for him.
Lighting up a cigar, he informs her he doesn’t have time for such nonsense now; he is expecting some corporate representatives from Earth who want to relocate to the thinner but potentially more business-friendly atmosphere of Mars and are promising him millions of dollars in “investment.” “Hasta la vista, baby,” he adds, as she turns away in some disgust. No sooner has she left than a corporate flunky enters the office.
When are you going to tell her?
That you’re really Hauser after all.
[Close up.] Let her figure it out for herself. [Puts cigar in mouth and grins lasciviously.] Now where’s my secretary? I need some oral dictation.
Actually, playing heavies hereafter could be a good career move for the Schwarz. In retrospect, he was never more convincing than as the relentless robot in the original Terminator.