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Douglas goes out of consciousness; and as soon as he does, the movie picks up as if he's really an agent and needs to save Mars.

Another way to take it — is that the whole thing really happened as a schizophrenic embolism, or whatever the female doctor said it was, moments after he gets put to sleep.

Is it really a Total Recall dream or did something really go wrong with the procedure?

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The whole point is that you are left with an unresolved ambiguity. Lots of P.K.Dick stuff pokes around the idea of "reality" and how much you can really know and what you can really trust. –  dmckee Jun 27 '12 at 18:59
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@dmckee The question isn't about the PKD story but about the movie that is almost but not quite entirely unlike it. –  Gilles Jun 27 '12 at 19:00
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@Gilles: Sure. But the bit they kept was exactly the question of reality versus implanted memory. At least in the Arnie version (I have not seen the more recent one). –  dmckee Jun 27 '12 at 19:02
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Must every question on this site contain a spoiler in the title? –  Kyralessa Jun 28 '12 at 1:40
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In the movie, we aren't meant to know, so dmckee is right. In the short story, we are meant to know in the end: everything is real, or actually, more weird than the dream they were trying to implant. This is a case where I prefer the movie to the short story. –  Andres F. Jun 28 '12 at 2:19

7 Answers 7

up vote 12 down vote accepted

just like the question of how many licks it takes to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop, the answer is:

The world may never know.

As mentioned in comments, the ambiguity is intentional. We are not meant to know.

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Butbut we do know roughly how many licks it takes! –  Izkata Nov 25 '12 at 5:52

Its all real. If the idea of recall is that it implants memories, then why do things happen, Conversations between other characters for example, that Howser has no part of.

Out of universe : obviously as film goers we have to see things that aren't from the main characters perspective to keep the story moving effectively. But it ruins the concept of the story, if its a fake memory, then we shouldn't be able to see things that Howser doesn't see.

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That can be written off as a narrative device so that the film is more enjoyable. How do we explain that screen behind Quaid showing the picture of Melina as they discuss his favorite type of girl (so she can be included in the dream)? –  Stefan Sep 22 at 13:34
    
If recall can implant information, can it also read information? What if the questions are leading Quaid so that his ideal woman can be read from his mind to give exactly what he wants. He just so happens to subconsciously choose Melina –  harmingcola Sep 23 at 8:13
    
Then why bother asking question or selling packages? If they could read your mind then they could just give you your dream holiday, you would need to choose movie star or secret agent etc. –  Stefan Sep 23 at 13:19

"She's real" because he dreamed of her in the opening scene, it's all a set-up and not a fantasy. The movie would of had to be a dream/implant in it's entirety, not only after he went to Rekall. Cohagan's statement about all his planing and the popping of memory caps validates the conspiracy theory. Everything on screen is real, or none of it is.

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Why? Why can't the film be him going to Rekall and having a dream? He dreamed her and then in his fantasy memory they used his image of a dream girl as his love interest - the plot of the film turned out exactly as the salesman said the dream would. –  Stefan Sep 10 at 15:35
    
If Rekall could read your mind they wouldn't need to ask any questions, nor would the rebels need Quato to. @Stefan –  Mazura Sep 10 at 19:33

It is part of the dream and not real. The evidence for this is when they are asking what his ideal girl is like the image on screen is identical to the girl he meets on Mars and her mannerisms are the same as he requested.

The alternative is that he described a girl's looks and attitude which caused the computer to display an image which looked exactly like a girl he would meet later who also happened to have the same attitude as Douglas requested.

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Or he was unconsciously describing someone he had already met, making it real and not part of the dream. –  Izkata Nov 25 '12 at 5:54
    
But the girl looked EXACTLY like her, from just a couple of words? If it was linked to his brain then why would they need to ask him anything? –  Stefan Nov 26 '12 at 9:22
    
Could the dive bomber leave a comment as to what the issue with my answer is? –  Stefan Jul 6 '13 at 7:45

It's all in the dream or the recall machine. As seen, he was dreaming in the beginning all the machine did was make his dream a reality. They really tried reaching him but his choices make the things change in his dream. In the end you saw the sign on the advertising board, even then they were trying to reach him and he did realize it but he chose to remain "totally recalled" as the name of the movie states. At least this is my understanding hope it brings light to the whole matter.

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Wrong movie, Total Recall 1990. –  Mazura Sep 8 at 21:19

It's all a dream. Evidence, at the end Douglas looks at his right elbow and the tattoo isn't there. That was the purpose of the mark anyway so whoever is in the recall can look to their arm and tell if they are dreaming or not. If the tattoo isn't there you are dreaming if it is than it's reality. Douglas realizes it was just a dream but he chose to stay there because he likes that life better.

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Wrong movie, Total Recall 1990. –  Mazura Sep 8 at 21:19

Watching film through again now and have just noticed a few small details, like why did the dream inducer who checked through everything allow it to clear and allow the liquid to go into his blood stream. And the inducer doesn't realise until the chemical is in Douge's body. Also did anyone notice if Douge still had the small tattoo/mark on his right inside elbow from the injection point? No? Maybe because it wasn't in his dream! And lastly how the hell does the guy who induces the dream know exactly what he is (secret spy who is an intelligence operative who is working for both sides of the rebellion.) kind of impossible I think. That man must induce hundreds of people into a dream each day and the chances of him knowing Douge's dream exactly? It's like 1 in a thousand or higher chance of getting it dead on. I would believe that Douge WAS indeed in a dream and chose to stay inside it.

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Wrong movie, Total Recall 1990. –  Mazura Sep 8 at 21:21

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