Total Recall – Goals and Obstacles
This is an analysis I wrote of the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Total Recall. Below are the events of that film, divided up into sequences. Perhaps you want to view the film before reading this — SPOILER ALERT!
Note: the – and + symbols signals if Doug Quaid is getting closer to what he wants (+) or if he is facing an obstacle preventing him from getting what he wants (-).
Total recall — the main character’s obstacles:
1. Douglas Quaid dreams about mars. Something missing in his life. Learns about rekall. Against advices visits rekall. Goes on, buys holiday package/memory implants about holiday as a secret agent.
GOAL: To go on vacation to Mars
OBSTACLE: His own hesitation (because of fear of being lobotomised)
2. Doug reacts violently on memory implants. His memory of rekall erased. Put in taxi by rekall where he wakes up. Meets colleague, gets to know he visited rekall, they try to kill him – he kills them, discovers he is good at killing. — FROM NOW ON HE SERIOUSLY WANTS TO KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON. — He talks to wife, the one he trusts the most. She tries to kill him (- he is betrayed and he does not get info from her). Men with guns appear (-, more threats), wife called them. He flees, they chase him, he gets away. One of the men with gun is Richter, who knows Quaid from Mars, Richter works for Cohagen who is a political figure, running the mine colonies at Mars.
GOAL: To find out what is happening to him, why is everyone trying to kill him?
OBSTACLES: Old colleague, Wife and Richter (Hired by Cohagen)
3. Doug finds safe haven at hotel, contacted by man with suitcase. Finds out he is tracked, he has a tracking device in his head (-, they will find him). He is told how to block the signal (+ wraps a towel around his head). Is given suitcase (minor obstacle to get suitcase, old lady) (+ is given some clue about what happens, but does not have time to have a look inside suitcase). Richter has found him, they shoot and chase him (-), he gets away (+). He goes to an old factory. Taxi robot tries to kill him (-, gives signal of where he is to agents chasing him). He checks suitcase. (big + now) He gets to know where he must go – Mars. A mystery deepens, he talks to himself, to his “old self”.
GOAL: To find out what is happening and who he is (arguably, this sequence could belong to sequence 2).
OBSTACLES: Richter and agents.
4.a. New arena, arriving at Mars. Disguised as old woman. Faulty disguise. Richter at airport/arrival area, sees Quaid, tries to kill him. Quaid gets away. Train ride into central Mars city and hotel.
GOAL: To arrive safely at Mars
OBSTACLES: Richter and airport security
4.b. Quaid gets to hotel. A clue left for him at hotel, an ad “ask for Melinda” (+). He meets taxi driver, Benny; goes to meet Melina. he talks to her — she doesn’t believe his story, their meeting ends with her threatening him with gun (big -).
GOAL: To find contacts here which might bring him closer to knowing who he is
OBSTACLES: Some rebel violence and Melina’s feelings for him.
5. Doug. at hotel, no where to go. (MID-POINT): Visit from Dr. at rekall who claims it is all a dream. Doug. not convinced – shoots doc. His wife there with men who captures him (-). He is saved by Melinda (+), killing men and he shoots his wife (“consider this a divorce”). They escape with Benny to rebel hide-out. Cohagen shuts off a part of colony…
GOAL: To get to rebels
OBSTACLES: Richter and his men
6. They are with rebels, Doug meets Kuato who extracts memories from Doug… Martian forces finds them and kills rebels. Benny is with Martian forces, betrays Doug. They are captured and Kuato is killed (big -). Before Kuato is killed, Quaid is told to start reactor, which will give air to mars and free the people from the dictatorship of Cohagen…
GOAL: To obtain information about him from Kuato
OBSTICLES: Rebels and Richter’s men, with Benny
7. Doug and Melina captured. Doug gets to know the truth, that he himself was, together with Cohagen, the master mind behind the plan, how to defeat the rebels. He had to become someone else in order to fool the rebels and infiltrate them, to then defeat them. The air supply to the sealed off part with people helping rebels is shut off. They are dying (ticking clock and a new major mission = a new act, as Doug has found out who he is. He went to mars to help himself, now his mission becomes to help others…) Doug and Melina are taken away to have their memories erased (oh-oh, major -). They succeed in escaping (thanks to Arnold’s lower arm muscles and great people-killing-skills, +).
GOAL: To escape the mind-wipe in order to save people dying.
OBSTACLES: Doctors/scientists and guards.
8. They head down towards Alien ruins. Before the ruins, a gatekeeper/obstacle: Benny. They are hurt. They kill him. Then, in the ruins: Doug remembers that the reactors will give people air. Obstacle: Richter and guards. They kill guards. Up an elevator/before the start button of reactor: Doug has to fight Richter. Doug has a helluva fight. Kills Richter. At the top floor, at the start button. Meets Cohagen. Melina and he hurt Cohagen, who is sucked out into the surface of Mars. Obstacle then becomes the pressure sucking all out into the Mars atmosphere. Before Doug is sucked out he places his hand at “start button”, the platform which activates the reactors. Doug and Melina are dying. But Mars’ red sky turns blue and is filled with air, they survive.
GOAL: To enter ruins (to travel from bottom (mines) to top of pyramid) in order to start the reactor and save people and free mars
OBSTICLES: Benny. Richter. Guards. Cohagen. A broken vent and the pressure sucking them out towards the atmosphere, which at time does not contain air.
END: the rebels and people of Mars are freed. Doug gets his girl and has found out who he is. But, he does not know… is this real or is it a dream?
A way to look at obstacles Doug faces in the story
The main character goes somewhere at a particular point in the story. On the way towards the “check points of the story” (e.g., finding a safe haven from chasers, getting to mars, getting down to reactors) he faces obstacles, and these obstacles often come in the form of GATEKEEPERS. Benny is a gatekeeper they have to defeat in order to enter the ruins and the reactor. The guards with Richter are new gatekeepers preventing Doug and Melina to enter the top floor (top of pyramid) from where the reactor can be started. Then there is a final show down with the dictator himself, the final gatekeeper, standing between them and a free Mars.
To Paul Joseph Gulino’s book “Screenwriting – The Sequence Approach”, which provided many of the tools for how to tackle the obstacles of analysing Total Recall successfully.