like it because it comes to my mind and I want to express it.‘ intones controversial Dutch movie director Paul Verhoeven. He’s talking about his favourite subject — violence. Ultraviolence. in fact. His films are a catalogue of endless mutilation, injury and dismemberment of the human body by any ofthe varied means at his artistic disposal. “Perhaps I’m born genetically with this bad DNA inside me, but I like it,’ he says. Staring intently through large glasses and speaking in a European-inflected English accent. he has the air of a particularly obsessive cinematic mad doctors. one whose experiments involve much suffering in the name of science. Or possibly entertainment.
Mayhem. if not slaughter aplenty. is the keynote of his latest magnum opus. the Schwarzenegger-starring sci-fi spectacular Total Recall. where our Arnie plays an everyday construction worker plagued by nightmare visions ofa previous experience on Mars. which by this time has been turned into a very huge. very decadent mining community beset by political strife. The twisty. thoughtful narrative (adapted from Philip K. Dick’s short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale by the Alien team of Ron Shussett and Dan O’Bannon) soon brings him to the offices of Recall Incorporated. a unique travel service specialising in mentally implanting vacational fantasies so allowing their customers happy memories of a holiday they never actually went on.
In Arnold‘s case. however. something goes wrong because the procedure actually unlocks the Martian connection. and as his everyday reality falls apart he reassumes his true identity as a heroic freedom fighter. His every move tailed by would-be assassins. he journeys back to Mars to join the rebel fight against the unscrupulous authorities and discover the red planet’s dark secret. Unless. that is. the whole thing is a memory implant. and he‘s just gone through what‘s technically known as one major mind-fuck.
It‘s this ‘two-layer‘ aspect. slam-bang action plus (charitany speaking) a darkly humorous philosophical angle. that Schwarzenegger had seen in Verhoeven‘s first Hollywood production. the surprise critical and commercial bonanza that was Robocop’s crunching techno-shockfest and which persuaded him that the deeply disturbed man from The Hague was just the right director to take charge ofthe massive Total Recallproject. On the other side of a 55 million dollar outlay and a ten-month residency in Mexico City‘s Churubusco studios. that came crammed with auteur tantrums and severe bowel frolics. independent producers Carolco got the Verhoeven vision in full. teeming with sicko incident and powered along by outbreaks of gee-ain't-this-fun brutality.
Verhoeven‘s Martian chronicle is peopled by scores of unpleasantly disfigured mutants, an urban jungle where dwarf bimbos with machine guns are a major health hazard. and death takes many ingenious forms. One baddie is unceremoniously parted from his forearms. another has a terminal difference of opinion with the wrong end of a power drill, and those who escape the ubiquitous patter of bullets. peppering anything that moves. might at length find themselves expiring in a puff of ﬂesh when the
planet‘s atmospheric caprices cause their bodies to explode under pressure.
Although the American censors disagreed and asked for a number of minor cuts. Verhoeven. it seems. never feels that he's gone too far. never steps back to consider the cavalcade of wrenching bone. blood and gristle.
‘No. Why should I do that? I'm just doing what I like. I‘m portraying what‘s in my mind. If you use moral parameters to work within. you couldn‘t create anything. Look. we‘re talking movies here, we’re not talking real life. You can‘t compare the situation ofsitting safely in a cinema with anything you face out there in reality. The rules ofthe cinema are not the same as real life. I mean. this movie is nonsense. isn't it‘.’ Nobody's killed there. It‘s all light on a ﬂat screen.‘
For Verhoeven the violence we see on our film and television screen has little or no influence on inciting similar aggression in society at large. People are violent. he says. it‘s how we are. Yet. for this viewer being asked to laugh off the virtuoso display of entertaining torture that Total Recall offers us. feels as if it reduces human life to a cheap and bloody guffaw over the popcorn.
The Dutchman remains the pessimist. ‘People don’t object too much to eating animals.‘ he continues. choosing another moral tack. ‘but I think that it‘s much more barbaric than shooting someone to pieces in a film where it‘s all imagination. People accept that millions of animals muct be killed every day. I had that scene in Total Recallwhere the dead man is used as a shield against a hail of bullets to make the point that the human body without a soul is just a piece of meat. That’s why you burn it or put it in the ground.‘
Total Recall ( 18) plays the Orient: and l/( 'l clzaiiis plus selected cinemas across central .S'cotlaiulfnmz
Fri 10 August. See Film Imlex aml Listingsfor further details.
The List ll)» l(».-\ugust 19905