Philip K Dick
Movie - Total Recall (1990)

Based on Story - We Can Remember It For You Wholesale

Story Version Notes
The original story, "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale", was only about 20 pages long. So fairly short. Douglas Quail and his wife Kirsten live a quiet life, and Douglas dreams of seeing Mars. Kirsten is rather unsupportive and bashes his dreams every chance she gets. He goes into Rekal, which implants artificial memories. Douglas wants not only to have memories of going to Mars but also of being a secret agent with Interplan.

The Rekal people realize quickly that there are REAL memories of a Mars trip and secret agent in Quail's brain. They explain that while the government might have erased Quail's memories, they didn't erase his *desire* for both which is why he kept dreaming about Mars and secret agents. They decide just to leave Quail as is, and figure Quail will figure those memories he does now remember are just botched bits of the "memory overlay" that never actually happened. They give him back half his money.

Unfortunately, Quail doesn't like this. He figures the memory was botched, he wants a full refund. Rekal gives it to him and tries to warn him not to tell others of his "Mars Trip". Quail is convinced this is just a bad memory implant. But back home, he does actually find a box of Mars items and starts to wonder what is going on. He asks his wife, who has a fit and stalks out. At the same time, a cop shows up and tells Quail he has a transmitter in his head. The cop tells Quail that he was indeed a spy and had gone to Mars. Quail remembers now that he was a very good assassin.

Quail talks with the cops via his head-implant and agrees with them that if they tried to wipe out his memory he'd just dream of Mars again. So he asks them to replace it with something even more exciting - being a millionaire, being a Don Juan - so that the chance of him dreaming of Mars "instead" would be slim. They agree.

After a battery of tests, the psychiatrists say that they've found an ideal childhood fantasy of his. He's 9 years old and space aliens meet him. They like him so much that they agree not to destroy Earth while he's alive. Everyone agrees this is the perfect memory to keep him happy. But of course, when they try to implant the memory, the find out it is true, and that they best keep him alive as long as possible.

Lisa's Reaction to the Story Version
This is a very cute, straightforward story. Quail wants to live an exciting life instead of being a boring worker with a nasty wife. He finally tries for it and finds out he DID have an exciting life, and wants things to just quiet down again. He wants this so much that he walks back to them open-armed, asking them to at least try to cure him before they kill him. He doesn't try to run or go to Mars to find out who he assassinated or anything else. And it turns out he has even more memories tucked into his brain that are even more important than a simple assassination.

The story is a short one so there really isn't a lot of character development. You feel sorry for Quail and this sad life he has gotten. His wife doesn't seem to be a "fake", she's just who he ended up with after his adventure. The spies do actually hope to just 'fix' him until he finally remembers the assassination, and even then they're willing to work with him to handle this in a non-lethal manner.

The final resolution is a little glib. If the aliens thought the 9 year old was worthy of saving, shouldn't they figure that maybe others of the race were too? That they shouldn't try to wipe us all out? But the point was to have a plot twist, not necessarily to have a fully logical situation. I just hope poor Quail ends up with a better job and nicer wife going forward.

Movie Version Notes
The 1990 movie version of Total Recall starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone. In the movie version of the story, Douglas Quaid doesn't want a memory of being a spy on Mars. He just wants a memory of a trip to Mars. But of course when the people at Recall try to implant that, they realize he was a spy. Instead of the complex "let him believe we mistakenly implanted it - refund half his money" plotting of the story, the movie just has them dump him into a cab. Quaid goes home quite convinced he was on Mars, and the bad guys from the Mars Corporation show up to kill him, now that he's regaining his memory. He takes them out and a spy-friend of his gives him equipment to remove the head transmitter and get over to Mars.

Once there, he tries to figure out who he was, running into Melina (Rachel Ticotin) - an underground rebel. Once again we have a very Metropolis-like setup (same as in Minority Report) where those with money have lovely homes and luxury while those without money are on death's door. Quaid gets in to see the head of the rebels, Kuato, and at this point it turns out that Quaid was actually a double agent. He had been working for the Corporation to find out who Kuato was, and ALL of this - including the memory override, his life with fake-wife Lori, etc - was part of a deliberate plot for Quaid to break the rebels.

The "new" Quaid is a rebel-lover, though, and he breaks into the alien artifacts that the Corporation has been hiding. It turns out they are able to turn Mars into an air-rich world, so that the Corporation no longer has a power hold over all of the poor people. Quaid and Melina are happy together in a Hollywood Ending.

Lisa's Reaction to the Movie Version
First, the minor changes. They turned Quail into Quaid. They turned wife Kirsten into Lori, who in the movie was lovey-dovey instead of nasty. Instead of the government benignly being after Douglas, being willing to help him out, it is now the Mars Corporation after Douglas, both trying to kill him and trying to 'egg him on' to get to Kuato so Kuato can be killed. This Corporation was risking an AWFUL lot on the sequence of events that 1) Douglas' repressed desire to go to Mars would be so strong that he'd seek an overlay, that 2) The overlay would fail in such a way that he'd get a bunch of his memories back, that 3) he wouldn't be psychotic as a result but would merrily head over to Mars to research it, 4) in his bungling state, even though he was undoubtedly a spy, he'd be brought right into Kuato's presence, 6) Kuato would indeed be killed, and 6) at the end they'd be able to sort out Quaid's brain enough to return him back to his pre-memory-messing evil state. That's all very hard to believe.

Next, as if all of that wasn't bad enough, the point of the original story was that this Mars thing was just a PRELUDE to the real story. In the book, Quaid didn't even go to Mars. The Recall trip was enough to reveal he was a spy, at which point he pretty much shrugs his shoulders and says "OK well hopefully you can fix me so I don't remember my spy days." At which point they realize there was something even MORE important than his spy days in his brain. But in the movie version, it's all about him being a spy and saving the underclass of Mars from an air monopoly. That whole Metropolis situation wasn't in the book at all.

Since probably 99% of the movie wasn't in the original storyline at all, it's a good thing they didn't keep the same title to try to claim it was the same story. Of course I imagine if the original title HAD been Total Recall, they might have kept it for the same reason they kept the title on the other wildly altered story-to-movie transformations of Dick's tales. I imagine the only reason they changed it in this case was that We Can Remember It For You Wholesale was too long to fit on movie posters.

They did have aliens at the end, but instead of the aliens planning on coming to kill all Earthlings, the aliens were a kind, benevolent race that conveniently left an entire, functional air-making machine in place but not running. Why would they build it but not turn it on? If they built it millions of years in the past, what's the chances that the aliens back then knew the exact mixture of oxygen/etc. that us Earthlings would need to breathe and have a machine to make it? Why not turn on the machine back then so that a great planet would be waiting for us, instead of leaving us a nasty planet that we had to turn on ourselves?

I did like the bit where Douglas has to decide if he really IS on Mars, talking to the Recall agent, or if this is just some sort of hallucination he's having in his brain while his body is back on Earth. To judge by a sweat bead is silly though. If he WAS psychotic, and believed he was on Mars, then he could easily have projected that sweat bead on the Recall agent as part of his psychosis. It would match the mind-state he would be in. I also have to say that people's eyes wouldn't bulge like that on Mars even if there wasn't air.

I like the movie a lot, and have seen it many times. But as a version of a Philip K Dick story, it misses the boat. It's a great standalone sci fi story, though, with fun twists and turns, and fun 'background technology'. A personal favorite of mine is the wall-screen in their kitchen.

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We Can Remember It For You Wholesale is in the Selected Stories book from

Philip K Dick Stories Made Into Movies
A Scanner Darkly
Blade Runner
Minority Report
Total Recall

Philip K Dick Homepage