14 Things We can Learn About the Future From 1990's "Total Recall"

You didn't think that 2015's The Martian had taken the "Best Mars Movie of all Time" title, did you? If you had, then you must have totally forgotten about 1990's Total Recall, starring bodybuilder-turned-superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger. Sort of like James Bond in space, but more 90's and less British and set in 2084. 

The 125-word synopsis:

68 years from now, Arnie plays a construction worker named Douglas Quaid who one day decides he wants to go on an adventure to Mars. Instead, he ends up at a place called Rekall that offers implanted 'memory vacations'.
But of course, things go terribly wrong—it turns out that Quaid is actually a secret agent named Hauser, and Hauser knew some stuff about alien artifacts on Mars that could get him killed, which resulted in his memory being wiped and being replaced with memories of his life as Douglas Quaid, a mere construction worker.
When this is discovered, Quaid (formerly Hauser) goes on a Mars killing spree in which he encounters triple-breasted women, psychic mutants, the truth about his past, and an ancient Martian terraforming device. 

Science Fiction doesn't get much better, or much more 90's. And if the film's vision of the future turns out to be correct, there are a few things you should know about life in 2084.

In the future, Mars is teeming with guns, criminal activity, violence, and active rebellions. Rather than gun violence issues being solved this generation, the issue will remain unsolved for decades to come, returning to a level of normalcy in which nobody even talks about it anymore.

Gun violence will be rampant on Mars in 2084.
Image Credit: Total Recall (1990)

In fact, things will get a whole lot worse, with widespread gun usage across multiple planets. And lots of guns makes for a great spy/action movie. But it also creates a confusing future in which, despite having become a multi-planetary species, crude firearms remain humanity's go-to weapon of choice. 

Even more confusing is that, despite the insane number of guns available on Mars, strewn throughout the human Mars colony is an abundance of non-bulletproof glass windows looking out upon the Martian landscape. And these windows are prone to shattering upon catching any stray bullet at all. 

Unsurprisingly, being sucked out onto the airless surface of Mars via explosive decompression is quite common, leading to death by vacuum exposure. But what can you do, right? Bulletproof glass isn't cheap, and our future Mars colony will need to be built on a budget—and inhabited by a plethora of heavily armed trigger-happy individuals.

In this brave new future, death lurks around every corner. You'll just need to accept the fact that if the bullets don't get you, the near-vacuum of Mars certainly will.

It's never actually explained how they do it, but travel through the Solar System is hyped up to be a relatively simple affair (allegedly they travel via spacecraft at top-secret speeds). Getting from Earth to Mars is as simple as cutting to the next scene, and apparently getting to Saturn is no different.

At one point, while Arnie (or Quaid, or Hauser, as he's also known) is droning on at his wife about how badly she wants to go to Mars, she quips 'well how about we just go on a cruise to Saturn instead? It's supposed to be beautiful'. 

Saturn will be a hot destination for space cruises.
Image Credit: NASA

As if traveling through the goddamn Solar System were just soo easy. As if we'll have invented exponentially faster methods of space travel within the next generation of humankind. As if Saturn weren't ten times further away then Mars and took ten times longer to get to. As if, by 2084, people will forego traveling via spacecraft and instead begin teleporting to and fro.

As if it were so easy to achieve such a cosmic utopia—that's also riddled with guns.

But why go all the way to Mars or Saturn when you could just stay home and take a mental holiday? With memory implants anything really will be possible—at least within your own brain. Take a trip across the galaxy, spend a weekend with the woman of your dreams, or experience what it's like to be an interplanetary spy searching for ancient alien artifacts on Mars. 

An obvious contraption for creating false memories, circa 2084.
Image Credit: Total Recall (1990)

The only downside? There's a small possibility that the procedure could screw up and render the customer completely insane.

Have you heard what happens to mentally unstable people in 2084? It's fantastic...

In the scenario that your brain does get launched into the nth dimension during your stay-cation procedure, there's always a lobotomy to set you right back down on the straight and narrow. 

After having been developed in the 1930's and largely falling out of favor by the 1950's, lobotomies are now considered to have been horrifically misguided procedures in the early days of neurosurgery. You know, back when our understanding of the human brain was still relatively primitive and we still had no idea how to implant false memories... 

In 2084, everyone will look like they're from the 90's.
Image Credit: Total Recall (1990)

Alas, as with all great trends, lobotomies will be making a comeback with a vengeance in the late 21st century. Because cutting out chunks of brain solves everything, and it'll be the go-to procedure if your perception of reality begins to get a little wonky. Doesn't the future sound wonderful?

Some people may have a tough time accepting the idea of sitting in the passenger seat of a car that drives itself autonomously. Lucky for them, in the future, self-driving taxis will include placeholder mannequins that sit in the driver's position and can rotate 180 degrees to talk to their passenger—just like a real taxi driver. 

The chauffeur of the future. Mannequins be stealin' all our jobs.
Image Credit: Total Recall (1990)

Self-driving cars (minus the mannequin) are probably the one innovation from Google that actually make an appearance in the film. As is to be expected, things like smartphones, the internet, modern vehicles, and accurate GPS system are just a series of fads that will die off at some point in the future. 

As if #1 weren't enough of a problem, man-made explosive devices will be regularly detonated inside of human habitats on Mars. Which is extremely short-sighted considering how fragile these Martian windows already are. 

In the future, rebels will regularly attack civilian targets on Mars
Image Credit: Total Recall (1990)

As if stray bullets weren't enough to cause explosive decompression, actual explosives are sure to do the trick. And, unsurprisingly, nobody seems to be raising any concerns about how often these things are going off. It's as if the terrorism pandemic of the early 21st century sort of just went away and everyone forgot about it. Oh well.

In Arnie's future, the administrator of Mars has somehow built himself a monopoly on breathable air. He literally owns all of the breathable air that exists on Mars. This allows him to set prices, control the market, and, in case any district decides to rebel against him, he can literally suffocate them to death. 

In fact, the whole plot of the movie ties into this monopoly on breathable air. It's revealed at some point that a recently discovered giant alien artifact is capable of terraforming the entire atmosphere/climate of Mars, thus turning the surface of the red planet into an environment that is habitable for human beings—without the need to pay for air. 

Obviously, if the device were turned on, the administrator of Mars would lose his monopoly on air. And he doesn't want that. That would just be too beneficial to the people he's in charge of overseeing.

This is what will happen when we run out of air.
Image Credit: Total Recall (1990)

What's even more puzzling here is the fact that this same administrator, the de-facto ruler of Mars, also runs an extensive Martian mining operation (presumable to ship materials back to Earth?). One terraforming the surface of the entire planet would make certain mineral deposits much more accessible, meaning that the economic returns of such a transformation should greatly outshine any potential short-term benefit in maintaining an air monopoly. 

With a breathable atmosphere, plants could be grown on the surface of Mars, and massive tourist resorts could be built to drive more income. Mars could essentially become the Mexico of the Solar System. Also, this insane alien technology could potentially be reverse-engineered and put to use in other ways, perhaps even allowing the colony to tweak Mars' environment to any desirable configuration.

There are endless possibilities here, but this bad guy just has no clue. Are bad guys in the future significantly stupider?

You'd think that, with all of these insane mutations due to solar radiation, the Mars colony would invest just a little bit of money to upgrade the radiation shielding on some of its more shoddily-constructed habitats. Again, think of the economic returns—the cost of health care alone must be astronomical (or Martian?) in scale.

An easy (and inexpensive) solution would be simply covering vulnerable structures in a layer of Martian soil, which would also get rid of those pesky shattering windows. Two birds, one asteroid. But nobody's doing it, and people on Mars will begin to look like freaks.

On Mars, all of the lower-income people will become mutants.
Image Credit: Total Recall (1990)

But perhaps the administrator of Mars also owns a monopoly on hospitals that specialize in treating radiation-induced mutations. In that case, it may actually be a clever business move to continue building structures with awful radiation protection. He should start his own funeral service while he's at it (more on that here), in order to capitalize on all of the people being violently sucked out onto the surface of Mars during games of bullet vs window. 

Arnie discoveres catacombs beneath the Mars colony.
What a great place to dispose of bodies on Mars...

Image Credit: Total Recall (1990)

What the fuck is going on? What does this even mean? Why are there human skeletons laying around in a cave on Mars? Were they buried alive, or just put there after they'd already died? Did they die of old age, or did they die of force labor? Is Mars some kind of interplanetary forced labor camp, or are people free to leave? This is the most confusing future ever.

This one is just puzzling. For some reason, whether Arnie's on Earth or Mars, it always looks as though he's traversing through normal Earth gravity. And this phenomenon is never even brought up—as if everyone simply forgot the fact that Mars' gravity is barely over 1/3rd Earth's gravity. So will we somehow manage to ship an extra planet's worth of mass to Mars in order to make its gravity more Earth-like? Did nobody bother to mention this fact in the footnotes of the movie?

Earth is significantly larger than Mars. But in the future, maybe not?
Image Credit: NASA/JPL

Also, the way space travel is depicted in #2, it sort of looks like we'll be able to just teleport everywhere in 68 years or so. Maybe, in the future, we'll teleport a LOT of rocks from Earth to Mars in order to balance out the gravitational difference between the two planets. Now that would make a whole lot more sense.

That may be something to consider if terraforming Mars were your goal and technology actually made it feasible to move that much rock (though this would, in turn, really mess up the orbital dynamics of the inner Solar System). But alas, terraforming is NOT the goal of the future Mars colony (as was made clear in #7). So, what gives? Is Mars going to just decide one day to start eating nothing but McDonalds for the rest of its life? 

For the reasons outlined in #1, #6, #7, #8, and #9 (seriously, WTF), Mars is literally going to be a shit-hole by 2084. Suddenly, Elon Musk's plan to colonize Mars within the next few decades sounds like pure evil.

Apparently, wrist-mounted hologram projecting devices will be capable of creating holograms that are able to appear in entirely different rooms that are completely blocked off by walls and/or line of site.

In the future, you can fool your friends with hologram replicas of yourself.
Image Credit: Total Recall (1990)

How exactly is that possible? Where is the light of the hologram image coming from? Is it somehow projecting a quantum field that can miraculously re-arrange photons into any desired configuration/image? If that's possible, it may help explain the teleportation assumption from #2 and #10

But possessing this level of technology brings up a range of inconsistencies. Like, why won't we be able to figure out basic inexpensive radiation shielding? Why are chemically-induced explosions (gunpowder, bombs) still the weapons of choice for humanity? Why are there no flying cars? 

I'm beginning to think that, in the future, what really happens is we discover magical witches that are capable of teleporting people/objects to other planets and summoning holograms that are really just ghosts from another dimension.

Step aside, technology. Witchcraft is making a comeback—along with lobotomies. 

In the future, we will discover a giant alien artifact on Mars capable of melting Mars' icy core (we have yet to discover that Mars has said icy core) and turning its gasses into a breathable atmosphere nearly identical to that of Earth. 

In a matter of seconds, Mars goes from red to blue. Thanks, Arnie.
Image Credit: Total Recall (1990)

But why will it be just sitting there waiting to be turned on? You'd think these aliens would have turned it on before they left the planet or died. And wait, there was an alien civilization that we haven't yet discovered evidence of? 

We've got like two working remote-control robots on Mars and we still haven't found evidence of an ancient alien civilization? Those robots need to stop taking selfies and do more science. 

Another equally strange thing here is that these Martians purportedly breathed the same atmospheric composition as we do on Earth. Why else would they build a machine capable of creating the exact atmosphere that we need to survive in? Does that mean that Martian life originated on Earth, or Earth life originated on Mars? I mean, what came first, the chicken or the egg? 

Also, this machine is sufficiently advanced that it's capable of releasing an entire planet's worth of breathable atmosphere within a matter of seconds. So if these aliens were such good engineers, why are they all dead? And why didn't they press the 'on' switch earlier?

The horrors of solar radiation.
Image Credit: Total Recall (1990)
Arnie: Just for shits, lets throw in a freaky little mutant that lives inside his brother's stomach and can read minds. 
Producer: Didn't you make a movie just like that with Danny DeVito?
Arnie: You mean Twins? No, this is completely different. 
Producer: Alright, sounds futuristic enough to me.

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