NOTE: This spoiler was submitted by Dukes
“Total Recall” opens with a dream sequence. Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is dreaming that he is in some kind of compound, fighting a group of robots with a beautiful woman (Jessica Biel). When he wakes he is sweating and distressed. His wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale) asks if he’s having the same dream again. He admits that he is, but doesn’t tell her about the beautiful woman in the dream.
Lori has to rush off to work, but she tries to comfort Douglas before she leaves. She admits that their lives haven’t turned out exactly as they planned, but at least they have each other.
Douglas heads off to his own job. He works on an assembly line, manufacturing military robots. Douglas and Lori live in a futuristic dystopia where the entire earth has been destroyed by chemical warfare, except for two small areas: The United Federation of Britain, and Australia, now known as “The Colony." The UFB is a bustling metropolis where all the rich people live. The Colony is a giant multi-ethnic ghetto. Many of the people in The Colony, including Douglas, have to commute to work in the UFB. They take a giant elevator called “The Fall” that goes through the center of the earth from one city to the other. It takes about 17 minutes.
As Douglas prepares to leave, he sees a news bulletin that another public transit unit in the UFB has been blown up by terrorists from The Colony. The rebel group is led by a mysterious man named Matthias who the UFB government very much wants to apprehend. Douglas also glimpses an ad for a company called “Rekall” that can create any kind of memory in your brain. You can insert a memory of a vacation, an amazing sexual experience, or whatever you like.
Douglas makes his commute to the UFB with his best friend Harry (Bokeem Woodbine). Douglas is depressed by how predictable and routine their lives have become. He reads an Ian Fleming novel on The Fall. When the elevator passes the center of the earth, gravity reverses and the passengers experience a moment of weightlessness in which Douglas’ book floats through the air.
When Douglas arrives at the assembly line, he asks his boss if he has been accepted for the promotion he’s been working towards. His boss says the company has hired an outside guy, someone from the UFB with a fancy education. It appears Douglas will never be promoted.
While they change into their gear, Douglas asks Harry if he’s ever heard of Rekall. Harry says Douglas should stay away from that company the process can fry your brain. Douglas is training a new employee. He tells the employee to be careful not to get a rivet through the hand it happened to Douglas, and now he has a big scar on both sides of his hand. The new employee says he overheard Douglas’ conversation with Harry and Harry is wrong. Rekall gave him the best memories of his life. He gives Douglas a business card and tells him to ask for McClane.
After work, Douglas and Harry head to a local bar to get drunk. Douglas is still complaining about his boring life, and all the things he’s never done. For instance, he’s always wanted to learn to play the piano.
Douglas decides to go to Rekall. He heads over to a sketchy red-light district where he is propositioned by a woman with three breasts. He finds Rekall, and asks for McClane (John Cho). McClane explains the Rekall process: they can give any memory, but it can’t resemble real life, or it will cause mental confusion. Douglas is intrigued by the idea of being a spy in his memory fantasy. McClane says that will be no problem.
McClane and his assistants hook Douglas up to a big machine and start a chemical IV. But as they begin to upload the program, McClane sees some of Douglas’ existent memories and realizes that Douglas is apparently actually a spy. He starts freaking out and rips out the IV. Just then, a pack of soldiers, some robot and some human, burst into Rekall and get into a firefight with McClane and his assistants. McClane and his posse are killed. Douglas is surrounded, and he looks like he is about to surrender, but lightning fast he grabs one of the soldier’s guns and takes out the whole squadron. Douglas is shocked by his own fighting skills. He doesn’t know what the heck is going on.
There are more soldiers outside the door. They shoot in a ball that explodes, sending out multiple cameras that allow the military to map the room and view whatever Douglas is doing. Douglas grabs a grenade from one of the fallen soldiers and uses it to blow a hole in the floor. He drops through the floor, leaps onto a nearby balcony (in The Colony buildings are stacked on top of each other in a crazy rabbit warren of humanity), and manages to flee the remaining troops.
Douglas runs home to Lori. She is watching the news, where the “terrorist attack” in Rekall is being reported. Douglas tries to explain that he’s the one who took out all the soldiers. Lori is almost laughing because it seems so unbelievable. She tells Douglas there is no way he killed a bunch of military. The Rekall treatment must have messed with his head. He is starting to believe her, when Lori pulls him in for a hug and starts to choke him. Out of nowhere she is punching and kicking and trying to kill him.
They struggle for a minute, and Douglas manages to grab her gun and point it at her. She admits that she is not really Douglas’ wife at all. She is an undercover government agent who has been watching him for the last 6 weeks. All his memories of their marriage and their life together are implanted. His entire identity is fake. She doesn’t know who he really is, but it must be someone related to The Colony terrorists, or connected to Matthias.
Lori renews her attack, and Douglas barely manages to smash a window and flee the apartment. Lori is furious that he has escaped. She rejoins her government/military team and tells them to “put Quaid back on the grid." She speaks directly to Cohaagan, the President of the UFB. She demands to know who Douglas Quaid really is. Cohaagan tells her, and she turns pale.
Meanwhile, Douglas’ hand starts ringing, and he realizes that he has some kind of phone device implanted in his palm. He answers and a man named Hammond says that Douglas asked him to call if he ever “showed up on the grid” again. He gives Douglas the number of a bank safety deposit box. When Douglas touches his hand to glass, he can see Hammond’s face, and Hammond says Douglas needs to find “The Key." Douglas doesn’t understand what that means, but Hammond won’t answer any more questions and hangs up.
Douglas smashes a glass and cuts the phone out of his hand so the military can’t track him. Then he heads to the bank and accesses the safe deposit box. The box contains passports, a strange metal collar, a rectangular piece of black wood, and a secret switch that plays a video. The video shows Douglas, but he has different facial hair and clearly is a spy. He says he made the video as a backup, in case things went terribly wrong. He instructs his memory-wiped self to find his old apartment, gives the address, and says to locate “The Key." Again, he does not explain what the key is, or how Douglas can find it.
The apartment address is in the UFB. Douglas doesn’t know how he can get through customs without being detected. Cut to the military interrogating all entrants from The Colony. A particular Asian man is being questioned repeatedly. All his answers are perfect, until he starts to speak strangely. The soldiers force him to go through the scanner again, and this time the hologram covering his face breaks apart, and Douglas Quaid is revealed. (Apparently he used the metal collar from the safe deposit box to disguise his face it provides holographic disguises that match the pictures in his passports).
Douglas flees from the soldiers. He runs up to a freeway overpass where the cars use magnetic power to fly a few feet above the road. He is basically trapped, until a car pulls up, and the door opens and the girl from his dream says “Get in." She introduces herself as Melina (Jessica Biel). She is relieved that Douglas seems to recognize her somewhat, but freaked out that he doesn’t fully remember her. They clearly have a romantic past. She explains that his real name is Hauser. They are both part of the supposed Colony terrorist organization but she says they’re not really terrorists.
A car chase ensues, in which the military and Lori pursue Douglas/Hauser and Melina across multiple flying highways. Douglas takes the wheel while Melina shoots out the window. They are almost trapped, but Douglas disengages the magnetic system, causing the car to plummet to the regular roads far below. He flips the switch at the last second, causing the magnets to push against the metal cars below, slowing their descent. They still land pretty hard, and Melina is knocked out.
Douglas carries Melina to his old apartment. While she recovers on the couch, he searches for the mysterious key. He can’t find it anywhere. He does see a grand piano. He sits down, and is surprised and happy to realize that he actually knows how to play. He plays a certain piece until he realizes one of the keys is dead. He replaces the black key with the piece of wood from the security box. He plays the piece again, and this time a hologram appears. It’s his own face, and it’s programmed to answer any questions he might have.
Hologram Douglas explains that he used to be a UFB government agent. He was sent to infiltrate the Colony terrorists. Then he met “a girl” (clearly Melina). She convinced him that he really should be fighting on the side of the Colonists. He accessed UFB databases and found a code that will cause all the robot military force to shut down. The code is still in his brain, despite the government memory wipe. If Douglas can find Matthias, Matthias will be able to access the code.
Melina has recovered and joins Douglas in time to hear this last bit. She can take Douglas to Matthias, but just then the apartment building is surrounded by military. Douglas and Melina try to escape out another door, but they are confronted by more soldiers. Surprisingly, Harry is with them. Harry tells Douglas that everything around him is an illusion. Douglas is still at Rekall, having a brain meltdown. Harry has “come in to bring him out." Douglas looks out at the police and the crowd of bystanders and sees Lori looking extremely distraught, like a grieving wife. Harry says, “Lori’s here too. She wants you to come back to her.” Harry explains that to escape the illusion, Douglas has to shoot Melina. Melina is the part of his brain trying to confuse him and keep him immersed in the fantasy.
Douglas hesitates. He trusts Harry, and in a way the things Harry says makes sense. Melina pleads for Douglas to ignore Harry it’s a trick. Douglas looks like he might shoot Melina. Melina raises her own gun to shoot Douglas, but she can’t do it. Harry says “That’s because she’s only an illusion." Melina tells Douglas that they were cornered like this once before. Douglas grabbed her hand, and they were both shot. The bullet passed through both their hands, leaving a matching scar on either side. Douglas looks and indeed they both have the scar. Douglas raises his gun, and instead of shooting Melina he shoots Harry right in the forehead. Lori drops the grieving wife act and grabs a gun as Douglas and Melina race for the elevators.
Douglas and Melina climb on top of the elevator and enter a crazy system of shafts where the elevators run in all directions. They are pursued by Lori and a bunch of robot soldiers that are super strong and can jump extra high. Lori and a robot soldier break into the elevator where Douglas and Melina are currently hiding, and Douglas fights the robot while Lori and Melina duke it out. Douglas knocks the robot out of the elevator. Lori sticks a circular explosive on the wall and leaps onto a passing elevator. Douglas and Melina wait until the last second before the bomb explodes and manage to jump to safety into a different elevator shaft.
Melina takes Douglas to an old abandoned subway station. They are greeted by armed revolutionaries who obviously recognize Douglas/Hauser. They board the subway car, which is completely sealed so it can travel outside the safe zone of the UFB into the areas that have been destroyed by chemical warfare. Melina explains that the UFB has not been able to find Matthias in The Colony because he was never in The Colony. He’s been hiding in the contaminated zone the whole time.
Douglas and Melina ride to Matthias’ headquarters, and Douglas meets with Matthias (Bill Nighy). Matthias straps Douglas to a giant machine so he can commence the memory extraction. But when Matthias finds the code to shut off the military robots, something is wrong. The code morphs into Cohaagen’s face. Cohaagen laughs and says the whole thing was a trick, there is no code to disable the military robots. It was all a setup to find Matthias. The windows smash as a huge squadron of UFB soldiers bust in. Douglas tries to protect Matthias, but Matthias is shot and killed. Douglas and Melina are apprehended.
Cohaagen himself is with the police force. He thanks Douglas for his “help." He says that he has a backup of Douglas/Hauser’s original memories, before he became “corrupted” by his contact with the rebels, and Cohaagen plans to restore his original memory and personality. Apparently the original Hauser was a douche who will beat and torture information out of Melina. While Douglas/Hauser is being “restored," Cohaagen is going to launch an invasion of The Colony. The UFB is running out of space, and the supposed terrorist attacks, actually perpetrated by Cohaagen’s regime, have provided an excuse to take over The Colony.
Lori and Cohaagen take Melina, leaving Douglas to be memory wiped yet again by the remaining soldiers. Douglas is being strapped into the memory machine when he looks through the facemask of one of the soldiers and realizes it’s actually Hammond, the guy who called him on the hand phone earlier. Hammond pretends to strap Douglas’ down, then pulls a gun on his fellow soldiers. Douglas and Hammond attack the soldiers, killing them all, but Hammond is likewise shot and killed.
Douglas heads back to The Fall, where Cohaagen is organizing his invasion. He is filling the giant elevator with robot soldiers to invade The Colony. Douglas sneaks into the elevator and starts placing the sticky circular explosives in key points. He sets the timers for just over 17 minutes. The elevator has already started its journey to The Colony. Before Douglas can finish placing the explosives, he finds Melina and helps her escape. Just then, they are discovered by Lori and a bunch of soldiers. This happens just at the point where the elevator passes the center of the earth and gravity reverses. Everyone floats up in the air. This momentary weightlessness allows Douglas and Melina to use the propulsive force from shooting their guns to maneuver to safety, at least for the moment. Lori is still chasing as they climb the exterior of the elevator.
Douglas and Melina are trying to get to the aircraft bay so they can commandeer a plane. They reach the top of the elevator just as it reaches The Colony. All the Colonists are fleeing in terror from the invasion. Cohaagen, Lori, and a bunch of robot soldiers have come to intercept them. In the resultant firefight, Douglas and Melina are separated, and both are shot in the shoulder/arm area.
Douglas is captured. He’s surrounded by soldiers. Cohaagen says that Douglas has lost, he can’t stop the invasion. Just then, the ground opens beneath their feet and Melina rises up in a military plane. She shoots most of the soldiers and knocks Lori off the side of the elevator, but then runs out of ammunition. Cohaagen attacks Douglas with a knife. They fight, and Douglas is initially outmatched because of his injured shoulder. But he manages to grab the knife and stab Cohaagen in the guts.
Just then, the explosives Douglas stuck all over the elevator go off. They bust the cables and infrastructure, crippling the elevator to the point where it is clearly about to fall back down the shaft. The explosion likewise damages the aircraft. Melina and Douglas have to run to the edge of the elevator and jump to the safety of the frame as the elevator tips and falls down the shaft. It appears that Lori has been dragged down with it, and as the elevator explodes, Copenhaagen is definitely killed.
Douglas has lost a lot of blood, and he passes out on the frame. He hears Lori’s voice and Melina’s, then wakes in some kind of medical trailer. For a moment, he’s not sure if the whole spy scenario was a fantasy. Then he sees it is definitely Melina leaning over him. She takes his hand. But her hand is missing the matching scar. Douglas shoves her against the wall and sees it is actually Lori wearing the metal hologram collar. They struggle until Douglas grabs a defibrillator and shocks Lori, knocking her backward out of the trailer so she falls dead on the ground. The real Melina runs over and hugs Douglas. She tells him, “We did it. We won.”
The Colony is saved from the invaders. With The Fall destroyed, the UFB is cut off for the time being, giving The Colony the opportunity to develop true independence. Cohaagen is dead, and a more moderate politician has replaced him. The citizens of The Colony rejoice. As Douglas and Melina gaze across their newly liberated nation, Douglas notices a billboard for Rekall, and a shadow of doubt crosses his face.
The credits roll.