There is one thing about the two Total Recall movies which I have wondered about all the time.

In the original film a doctor came to Quaid to try to persuade him that he is not in reality but stuck in a memory. The doctor had nearly succeeded, but when Quaid saw a bead of sweat, he immediately knew that this is reality. In the remake it was the same setting, but his best friend and tear.

How could he be sure that this was reality only because of a bead of sweat or tear? As far as he knows, the implanted memories are super-realistic, and seeing someone sweat or cry should be no proof that this is reality. So is there maybe an explanation in the book or somewhere else (or I missed it in the movies) why he is sure that this is reality only because of a bead of sweat/tear?

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    In the original, it always struck me as very poor reasoning on the MC's part. The doctor might be sweating because he was nervous or worried about being able to save the MC. While the MC blasting him would not do the doctor harm, it would do the MC harm. So it would be reasonable for the doctor to be nervous for the MC.
    – StarPilot
    Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 5:16

2 Answers 2


I haven't seen the remake, but I think the idea in the original was that the doctor from Rekall (Dr. Edgemar) should have no reason to sweat (indicating fear) when a gun was pointed at his head, since the gun was just part of Quaid's fantasy, and Edgemar told Quaid he was really "monitoring you from the psychoprobe console" and that he had been "artificially implanted" in Quaid's fantasy "as an emergency measure".

So, the fact that he did sweat led Quaid to conclude he must be lying when he said being shot "won't make a difference to me". Of course, Quaid's logic is not necessarily sound, so we in the audience needn't take this as proof--even if Edgemar was projecting his words and overall appearance into the fantasy, it could be that Quaid's own mind was capable of filling in details about what he looked like, including the drop of sweat.

Director Paul Verhoeven pointed out this possibility in the commentary on the DVD and blu ray (he is addressing Schwarzenegger, so when he says things like 'you invented yourself' he presumably means something Schwarzenegger's character invented):

Verhoeven: you could argue that in his dream, because he wants to stay within his dream, he cannot get out of his dream anymore, the one they sent in to help him, basically, that you invented yourself this transpiration [perspiration?] on the head, isn't it? To convince yourself that you had to kill him.

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    That was always my take. It's impossible for us to know whether Quaid imagined the sweat because he desperately wanted to believe in the dream. If you (audience) choose to believe that possibility, it makes TR a different movie, and whether this plot point was by design or a lucky accident, that was a great aspect of this movie. I wish we had more quality open ends like that in SF movies; there is too much spoon-fed linear storyline design, with no allowance for interpretation. Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 4:07
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    @EuroMicelli: If you like this aspect, read the works of Philip K. Dick (who wrote "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" -- the novel Total Recall was based on). Almost all his works explore the question: "what is real"? Some of my favorite sci-fi movies are adaptations of his novel: Total Recall, Bladerunner, Minority Report, Paycheck etc.
    – slebetman
    Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 4:46
  • good answer regarding the original. I guess for the remake they just thought, lets copy this scene and change it a bit, we dont care if it makes sense. Because a tear in this situation would be a thing i would expect when stuck in a memory.
    – kl78
    Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 7:37
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    @slebetman, Yes I like his works. I read We Can Remember it for You Wholesale years before TR came out and recognized the connection immediately. As it's usually the case, the PKD original story is far, far, better than the movie. Must read. Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 11:34
  • Sometimes it can be too subtle. Lots of people don't even realise that Minority Report has an open ended ending.
    – JamesRyan
    Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 11:47

In the Arnie film, the Doctor character states that he doesn't care and that it's basically all the same to him whether Quaid shoots him or not. This is an especially unsettling claim given all that's happened in the past couple of days and given that he literally has a gun in his face:

QUAID: All right. Let's say you're telling the truth, and this is all a dream.. Then I can pull this trigger, and it won't matter.

Edgemar remains preternaturally calm. His eyes and voice express his unselfish concern for Quaid.

EDGEMAR: It won't make the slightest difference to me, Doug, but the consequences to you would be devastating. Total Recall: 1990 Script - Abridged

When Quaid sees the bead of sweat, he suddenly realises "Hey, this guy really is sweating, he must actually be scared [and hence, this is reality]" so he shoots him.

  • Also a good answer, but i accepted Hypnosifls, because it is more detailed
    – kl78
    Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 7:40
  • @kl78 - I don't have an issue with that. Have a look at the linked script. Ive edited the scene pretty heavily to focus on the dialogue so see if you feel there's anything else that you'd want me to include
    – Valorum
    Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 7:46

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