"We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" - Philip K. Dick's Memorable Short Story
"We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" is widely regarded as one of Philip K. Dick's most renowned short stories. Although it shares its fame with "The Minority Report," another of Dick's works that received a big-screen adaptation, "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" holds a special place in the hearts of science fiction enthusiasts.
Publication and Film Adaptations
The story made its debut in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in April 1966, captivating readers with its inventive narrative. Notably, "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" was not just adapted for film once, but twice. The first adaptation came in 1990 with the release of the movie "Total Recall," starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. The story was revisited in 2012, when a remake bearing the same title hit the screens, this time featuring Colin Farrell as the lead character.
The plot of "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" can be summarized as follows. (Please note that the following plot summary contains spoilers.) Set in the near future in Chicago, the story revolves around Douglas Quail, who finds himself trapped in a monotonous job while yearning for the opportunity to visit Mars. Aware that such a journey is financially unattainable, he decides to approach a company called Rekal, Inc. Their intriguing service involves implanting false memories that make individuals believe they have experienced events they actually haven't.
Quail's Encounter with Rekal
Curiosity drives Quail to visit Rekal's headquarters, where he meets a representative named McClane. McClane explains that Rekal can fulfill two of Quail's desires simultaneously: the dream of traveling to Mars and the longing for an adventurous life. Rekal offers to implant false memories of Quail being a secret agent sent on a vital mission to Mars, ensuring an exciting and fulfilling existence.
These implanted memories are designed to be more vivid and enduring than genuine experiences. Once the process is complete, Quail will remain unaware that his memories of visiting Rekal are false, firmly convinced that he has indeed embarked on a significant mission to Mars.
The Awakening of Real Memories
However, during the implantation procedure, a shocking revelation occurs. The process unexpectedly triggers Quail's suppressed memory of a previous trip to Mars, a journey he had completely forgotten due to a deliberate memory erasure to protect classified information. Despite his amnesia, Quail had actually worked as a special agent on Mars.
Interrupting the implantation, Rekal refunds Quail half the payment and hastily arranges for his transportation home via a robot cab. Upon returning, Quail's wife reveals her decision to leave him because of his persistent inquiries about Mars. The situation worsens when two Interplan agents arrive at Quail's residence, declaring his knowledge of confidential information as a threat to their organization.
The Dilemma and a Second Chance
Facing imminent danger, the agents offer Quail an alternative: undergo another memory implantation at Rekal, effectively overwriting his true recollections of Mars and his secret mission. Given the grim alternative, Quail reluctantly agrees to the proposal. Rekal decides to implant a memory based on Quail's childhood dream of encountering benevolent extraterrestrial beings who initially planned to invade and colonize Earth but changed their minds upon experiencing Quail's compassion.
However, an unforeseen twist emerges during the implantation process. The Rekal technicians realize that the memory they are implanting is not false either. Quail had indeed saved the world from an alien invasion by displaying tolerance and acceptance towards the potential invaders.
Thus, "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" takes readers on a journey through the blurred lines between reality and imagination, raising intriguing questions about memory, identity, and the nature of truth.
Analysis: Exploring Themes and Characters in "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale"
The transformation of Philip K. Dick's "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" into the film (or films) Total Recall brought about significant changes, with only the initial concept and early sequences bearing resemblance to the original story. While Dick's intention was to create a short story rather than a blockbuster action thriller, it is the core idea that makes the 1990 Paul Verhoeven film particularly intriguing.
Themes of Memory, Reality, and Fantasy
The themes explored in "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" revolve around the nature of memory versus reality and the allure of fantasy over actuality. One of the reasons this story stands out as a thought-provoking piece by Dick is its ability to raise profound questions. If we were offered the opportunity to implant memories of a more exciting life that we would genuinely believe, would we seize it? Would you? Moreover, can we truly be certain that our current reality is not, in fact, a fabricated memory or false existence?
This contemplation of memory and reality is a prevalent motif in much of Philip K. Dick's body of work. However, in "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale," the two false memories that Quail receives play a pivotal role. Interestingly, these memories turn out to be not entirely false after all. One memory is centered on Quail's self and indulges in the most self-centered form of wish-fulfillment. Quail yearns to live out his adolescent fantasies of becoming a secret agent, engaging in heroic acts, and battling enemies in exotic locations. In a different era, he might have longed to be a humble clerk turned explorer, emulating figures like David Livingstone or Sir Richard Burton.
On the other hand, the second memory harkens back to Quail's innocent childhood, emphasizing kindness and empathy towards others. While he agrees to have the supposedly false memory of saving the world implanted to satisfy his longing for significance, this secret-agent identity, whether real or not, pales in comparison to his childhood encounter with the rodent-like aliens. Both memories involve "saving the world," but one carries a less glamorous, more inadvertent, and yet ultimately more positive and affirming essence.
The Character of Douglas Quail/Quaid
In the film adaptation, Douglas Quail's surname is changed to Quaid, likely to avoid the comical undertones associated with the name "Quail" and to better suit the portrayal of a muscular Arnold Schwarzenegger. However, Philip K. Dick's storytelling frequently features seemingly insignificant and unremarkable protagonists thrust into extraordinary circumstances. The name "Quail," which evokes images of a small bird and the connotation of cowardice, perfectly embodies the archetypal Dick protagonist.
In conclusion, "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" delves into the complexities of memory, reality, and the allure of alternate lives. Through the development of contrasting memories and the portrayal of a protagonist trapped between truth and illusion, Philip K. Dick prompts readers to question the nature of their own existence and the choices they would make if offered the chance to alter their memories.